How to Choose a Breakfast Cereal

Read labels to find the healthiest cereals.
Read labels to find the healthiest cereals. David Young-Wolff / Getty Images

I love breakfast cereal. It's so easy -- all you need is your cereal, a bowl, a spoon, some sort of milk, and breakfast is ready. 

The only tricky part is choosing the cereal when you go shopping.  The breakfast cereal aisle at your grocery is loaded with colorful boxes and bags of dry cereal. The bright colors and cute characters on the packages all compete for your attention. But, not all cereals are good for you.

In fact, many of them are just puffed candy in a box, with a few vitamins added to make them seem healthful. How do you know which ones are good and which ones are maybe not so good?

Let me help you out here. This is what you need to look for to know which cereals are best for you:

  1. Look for the Nutrition Facts label on the side or back of the package. This is where you'll find all the information you need to know. You're going to look at sugar, fiber, vitamins and minerals, and the ingredients list.
  2. Choose a breakfast cereal that has five grams of sugar or less per serving, and use fresh berries, sliced fruit or raisins to add sweetness to your cereal. Avoid cereals with lots of sugar -- some cereals have ten grams of sugar (that's about three teaspoons), or more, in one serving. A serving ranges from 3/4 to one cup of cereal. Think about how much cereal you really eat -- you may actually eat two or three servings at a time.
  1. Choose cereal that is high in fiber -- at least three grams per serving. You'll find the most fiber in high-fiber cereals such as shredded wheat, oat cereals, puffed wheat and bran cereals. Usually, the more sugar cereal has, the less fiber it has per serving. The sugary cereals typically have about one gram per serving.
  1. Look for cereals that are fortified with vitamins and minerals. If you eat a healthful diet rich in fruits and vegetables, whole grains, healthy protein sources, and non- or low-fat dairy products, you probably don't have to worry about getting enough vitamins and minerals. If your diet isn't so good, or you're buying cereal for a child who is a picky eater, getting those extra vitamins and minerals is a good idea. The amounts of fortified nutrients vary among cereals but look for cereals with added calcium, vitamin D, folic acid (the synthetic form of folate) and vitamin C.
  2. Look over the ingredients list. You want to see the words "whole grain" or "whole wheat" listed as the first ingredient. You may also wish to avoid cereals that contain artificial flavoring and colorings.
  3. Round out your breakfast by adding a slice of whole grain toast with a little peanut butter, or a hard-boiled egg, and a glass of 100-percent fruit juice. Don't ruin your breakfast with high-fat and high-calorie foods.

    Tips for a Healthier Breakfast:

    1. Don't shop when you're hungry or you'll be tempted by the sweet-as-candy cereals.
    2. Buy low-fat milk for your cereal, or try almond, rice or soy milk. 
    3. Add extra fiber to your cereal with fresh sliced fruits or berries.
    4. Serve your cereal with a slice of whole grain toast topped with peanut butter or a poached egg for extra protein.

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