How to choose a healthy breakfast cereal is becoming more of a rocket science with each passing day. Bright cereal boxes with promises of protein, fiber, whole grain, and other superhero breakfast nutrients are enough to drive anyone crazy. It keeps coming back to – which healthy breakfast cereal should you choose if you don’t have time to cook a nutritious breakfast every day. Should price be a deciding factor? Should you go for the highest fiber content? Does high fiber content mean safe sugar levels for daily consumption? How can you ensure that the breakfast cereal of your choice isn’t just a bowl of sugar cookies in disguise? Here’s a quick look at how you can choose a healthy breakfast cereal:
Short on time? Skip to the end of the post for a quick recap of how to choose a healthy breakfast cereal.
What’s the cereal’s calorie count? Check for calorie count per serving. An average size for reference should be 60-80 gms. If a box mentions xyz calories per 30gms, then multiply that calorie count by two to get the relevant count for 60gms.
Whole Grain Vs. Refined Grain
Always choose whole grain breakfast cereals: Whole grain is your best bet for adequate fiber content. Oatmeal is a clear winner in this category. A healthy breakfast cereal must have at least 5 grams of fiber per serving. What kind of grain does the cereal have? You want whole wheat or wheat bran, or oats that are whole and not pre-cooked or pre-mixed with artificial flavours. Such cereals are low in fat content and rich in fiber. Refined grain cereals tend to have very low fiber content, whereas whole grain cereals tend to have about 7 plus grams of fiber content per serving.
Bran deserves a separate mention: Bran-based cereals mostly have a low glycemic index which means that they keep you full for longer, while energising you through the day. Studies have shown that corn flakes have twice the glycemic index of bran cereals. This means that they aren’t as high performing when it comes to energy supplies, and weight management. Several studies have also connected bran intake to weight loss, whereas refined grain has been directly linked to weight gain in adults.
Sugar in breakfast cereals: How much is too much? Sugar content is usually where most cereal box nutrition labels trick you. First off, it’s usually mentioned way down on the nutrition labels list. Hunt for it. Each serving size should contain less that 5 grams of sugar. When a cereal has high sugar content, it usually also has low fiber content. Also, most artificially flavoured cereals contain up to 10 grams of sugar per serving. This boils down to nearly three teaspoons of sugar per breakfast cereal bowl!
How much protein should a breakfast cereal have? Each serving size should contain at least 3 grams of protein.
Oils, fat and other unwanted ingredients
What to avoid: Some cereals are designed to attract people with the promises of chocolate, caramel, and other dessert-like flavours. These are high in preservatives, hydrogenated oils, artificial colours and dyes. Avoid them. The challenge in selecting a healthy breakfast cereal usually begins and ends with avoiding transfats, saturated fats, artificial flavours, refined grains and high sugar content. Always pick cereals that have less than 10% total fat (in the entire box and not per serving size) listed.
Vitamins and Minerals
What should you look for? Breakfast cereals are especially important for people who don’t get three to six nutritious meals a day. Therefore, look for cereals that contain healthy doses of calcium, vitamin D, folic acid, vitamin C, and potassium. The ideal potassium content should be more than 120 milligrams. Of course there is a limit to how much potassium a person should have in a day (for an average person=3,400 milligrams). Potassium helps regulate bodily fuids and blood pressure, and is a useful addition to the day’s nutrutions.
An aside, but equally important: The cereal’s packaging also says a lot. For instance, some health buffs only buy cereals that have window boxes that allow them to look at the cereal before purchase. Important clue: If the cereal is shaped like teddy bears, chances are it’s not healthy. Avoid cereals stocked in prominent aisles (these tend to be full of artificial flavours. Don’t ask us why!), cereals that come in bright boxes with cartoon characters and cereals that that have long and tiny print ingredient lists.