How to Pick the Healthiest Breakfast Cereal
Between packing lunches, walking the dog, showering and just trying to get out the door on time, cooking breakfast can easily fall by the wayside. Cereal is a no-brainer breakfast (OK, and sometimes dinner), but it often leaves you hungry again by midmorning. We combed the aisles for boxes packed with filling whole grains and modest amounts of sugar to prevent that cereal crash.
Learn how to pick the healthiest breakfast cereal, and get helpful nutrition pointers to keep in mind at the store. Plus, check out our six picks for the best cereal (and after tasting more than 40 varieties, we feel pretty confident about our choices).
Get More Fiber
Breakfast-cereal eaters are more likely to hit their daily recommended requirement for fiber (25 to 38 grams for adults, depending on age and gender), according to a 2014 scientific review. Some brands use added fiber, such as inulin, aka chicory root, which is similar to the quality of the fiber you'd get from grain. But eating whole grains can have additional benefits, such as lower BMI and improved cholesterol levels. Look for cereals made with 100% whole grains, like oats, wheat and barley, with at least 4 grams of fiber per serving (which is typically ¾ to 1 ¼ cups). The ample fiber content will keep you feeling full and help you meet your daily goal.
Choose More Protein
Think of protein as fiber's sidekick to satisfaction. Getting at least 15 g at breakfast is a good benchmark to kick-start your day and keep you satisfied until lunch—but most cereals don't have even close to this amount. Cereals that have nuts, seeds and/or legumes are great for boosting the protein count. Aim to get at least 5 g of protein per serving—adding a cup of dairy milk (8 g) will help you get closer to that 15 g goal. If you opt for nondairy milk, keep in mind they often contain significantly less protein. Some, like coconut and rice have less than 1 g per cup, almond has 1-2 g, oat has 4 g and soy has the most for plant-based at 6-9 g. But other dairy-free add-ins, like a tablespoon of flaxseeds (3 g), can get the count up.
Be Mindful of Sugar
Cereal benefits from a touch of sweetness, but beware of too much added sugar, which can cause blood sugar spikes and an eventual crash. Stick to ones with 7g or less of added sugar per serving to help stay under the recommended limit of 25 g daily for women. Also, be mindful of cereals with barley malt extract as an ingredient. That's just another name for sugar—don't let the word "barley" confuse you.
Be Mindful of BHT
Butylated hydroxytoluene (BHT) is a chemical preservative that keeps packaged foods fresh by preventing fats from breaking down. While considered safe by the Food and Drug Administration, the preservative has been linked to cancer in some animal studies and lands on approach-with-caution lists by watchdog groups (even when it's just in the packaging, as it can migrate into food). A replacement for BHT is mixed tocopherols (vitamin E), a preservative that gets safer ratings (All of our cereals on this list contain vitamin E, not BHT).
6 Healthy Cereal Options
Kind Cereal Apple Cinnamon
220 cal, 7g added sugar, 5g protein, 4g fiber
Made with oats, sorghum, quinoa and amaranth, these flakes are dotted with apple chips and pumpkin seeds for a wide variety of flavors in every bite.
Winning category: Best Fruit & Nut
200 cal, 0g added sugar, 6g protein, 7g fiber
Whole wheat and barley combine in this cereal that's great for adding crunch to a bowl of yogurt.
Winning category: Best Tiny Nuggets
140 cal, 2g added sugar, 5g protein, 4g fiber
The toasty, lightly sweet flavor of this classic never goes out of style. Plus, the oat-based cereal is gluten-free.
Winning category: Best O's
210 cal, 6g added sugar, 6g protein, 8g fiber
These airy, crispy squares have 4 times more fiber than all other types of Chex. Their mild, sweet flavor is perfect for topping with extras, like fruit.
Winning category: Best Squares
Kashi Autumn Wheat Whole-Wheat Biscuits
200 cal, 7g added sugar, 7g protein, 7g fiber
If you're a fan of frosted wheat biscuits—but not a fan of how much sugar they tend to have— this one's for you.
Winning category: Best Biscuits
Cascadian Farm Raisin Bran
210 cal, 7g added sugar, 5g protein, 7g fiber
We like the large, crispy flakes and the fact that this brand has more raisins per spoonful than others we tried.
Winning category: Best Raisin Bran
Parts of this article originally appeared in EatingWell Magazine, November 2021.