Can You Eat Cereal If You Have Diabetes? Here's What a Dietitian Has to Say

Go ahead and enjoy cereal! Here’s how to include cereal as part of a healthy, diabetes-friendly diet.

If there's one ubiquitous breakfast, it's cereal. But considering cereal can be a higher-carb and high-sugar breakfast, you may not know if cereal is a healthy choice if you have diabetes. This condition affects 37 million people in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

First, eating breakfast, in general, tends to be a healthy choice. Among people with diabetes, skipping breakfast has been associated with worse measures of heart health, according to 2020 research in BMJ Open Diabetes Research & Care.

As for cereal, it's delicious and convenient. And yes, you can eat it if you have diabetes. Most people, even if they have diabetes, can enjoy all foods in moderation. But whether cereal is a good choice for you depends on the specific cereal you choose. If you're going for cereal, look for one made with whole grains (which will increase its fiber content) and fewer added sugars.

Adding foods that supply healthy fats and protein to your cereal can also help you feel full and satisfied longer. The total amount and type of cereal you can eat will depend on your personal goals regarding managing your blood sugar. Here, we'll look at the nutrition in cereal, and what to look for and limit when choosing the best cereal for your blood sugar.

an illustration of a woman waking up out of bed and thinking about a bowl of cereal for breakfast
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Cereal Nutrition

Cereal is an accessible, affordable and shelf-stable food, making it an easy choice for many people with diabetes. There's also a huge variety of different types of cereal. However, not all cereals are nutritionally equal. While most are high in carbohydrates, they can differ greatly in added sugar and fiber. Here is a comparison of three types of cereal.

Fiber One Original Bran Breakfast Cereal

According to the USDA, a 2/3-cup serving (40 g) provides:

  • Calories: 90
  • Carbohydrates: 34 g
  • Total Fat: 1 g
  • Saturated Fat: 0 g
  • Protein: 3 g
  • Fiber: 18 g
  • Total Sugar: 0 g
  • Sodium: 140 mg

Bob's Red Mill Old Country Style Muesli

According to the USDA, a 1/4-cup serving (35 g) provides:

  • Calories: 140
  • Carbohydrates: 23 g
  • Total Fat: 3 grams
  • Saturated Fat: 0 g
  • Protein: 4 g
  • Fiber: 4 g
  • Total Sugar: 5 g
  • Added Sugar: 0 grams
  • Sodium: 0 mg

Lucky Charms Cereal

According to the USDA, a 1-cup serving (36 g) provides:

  • Calories: 140
  • Carbohydrates: 30 g
  • Total Fat: 1.5 g
  • Saturated Fat: 0 g
  • Protein: 3 g
  • Fiber: 2 g
  • Total Sugar: 12 g
  • Added Sugar: 12 g
  • Sodium: 230 mg

How Cereal Impacts Your Blood Sugar Levels

When a person has diabetes, consuming carbohydrates can cause their blood sugar levels to rise beyond what's normal for people without diabetes.

When people without diabetes consume carbohydrates, their pancreas releases insulin, a hormone that tells the body's cells to take up the sugar from the blood. When people with diabetes consume carbohydrates, either their pancreas does not release enough insulin or their cells do not respond to the insulin secreted, per the CDC. This can cause high amounts of sugar from carbohydrates to stay in the blood rather than being absorbed to fuel the body. Cereals tend to be high in carbohydrates, and many are low in protein, fat and fiber, making managing blood sugar even more challenging.

That being said, it depends on the type of cereal: some may not impact your blood sugar as quickly if they contain fiber-rich carbohydrates and are low in added sugar. When selecting a cereal, the amount and type of carbohydrate will determine how it impacts blood sugar levels.

Can You Eat Cereal If You Have Diabetes?

Cereal can be part of a healthy diet for people with diabetes. The type of cereal, amount you eat, and what foods you pair with the cereal are all important factors that affect your blood sugar.

What to Look For

When selecting a breakfast cereal, look at the ingredient list. The cereal's ingredients are always listed in order from greatest to smallest amounts, according to the Food and Drug Administration. You can look for words like "whole grain" to know what type of starch is in the cereal. Common whole grains may include whole wheat, oats, barley and rice. Aim for cereals with ingredient lists that begin with whole grains.

What to Include

In addition to whole grains, look for cereals high in protein, fiber and healthy fats. Aim for 3 grams or more of protein and 3 grams or more of fiber per serving. Some cereals may include nuts or seeds, which can also add healthy fats, protein and fiber. For example, cereals may include ingredients such as almonds, cashews, chia, flax, hemp or quinoa.

You can also increase your intake of protein, fiber and healthy fats by adding them to your cereal. According to the American Diabetes Association, foods good for managing blood sugar levels include whole grains, nuts, berries, milk and yogurt. Easy ways to add protein and some fat include pairing your cereal with Greek yogurt, nuts, nut butter or cottage cheese. Topping cereal with fruit, like a handful of berries, can add fiber and natural sweetness.

What to Limit

Limit the amounts of refined carbohydrates, which are often found in really sugary cereals. For a good guideline to follow, choose a cereal with less than 5 grams of added sugar per serving, or even no added sugars. You can always add your own flavor boosts, such as fruit or nut butter.

Limit saturated fats too. Look for cereals with less than 3 grams of fat unless it's a healthy unsaturated fat source, such as nuts or seeds.

The Bottom Line

As part of a balanced meal, a serving of cereal can be nutritious, delicious and convenient, even if you have diabetes. Reading the Nutrition Facts label and ingredient list can help anyone select a nutritious cereal made with whole grains, fiber, protein and healthy fats and low in added sugar. Choosing to pair cereal with other foods can also help people with diabetes better manage their blood sugar.

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