The cereal aisle is a hallowed space, a sanctuary lined with brightly colored boxes all calling our name. Around 7:00-7:30 every morning (and night for that matter) they call our name, the time at which we are most vulnerable. They beg us to pour them into our bowls and cover them in milk. Oh how we love this aisle and it’s brightly colored boxes. In fact we love it so much the average American eats about 160 bowls of cereal a year. And if we are not careful the contents of those colorful little boxes could add 15 lbs. to our waistline over that same time!
So how do you find a cereal that is good for you? Here are three simple rules you can follow to make sure you’re choosing healthy cereals for you and your family:
Beware of the label lingo: Those colorful boxes come with some colorful health claims too! “A good source of calcium!” “Now made with whole grains!” “Smart Choice!” Well, guess what, Fruit Loops – yep that’s right Toucan Sam’s favorite cereal, was once labeled a “Smart Choice” but has 12 grams of sugar per serving and less than a gram of fiber. That does not sound like the smartest choice to me! So skip the front of the box and head for the nutritional facts on the side. Choose cereals that meet the following criteria:
First ingredient is whole grain: Check the ingredients list and make sure the first ingredient is preceded by the word “whole” (whole wheat, whole grain corn, etc.). You can assume oats and brown rice are automatically whole grain. If the first ingredient is bran (oat bran, corn bran, wheat bran, etc.), that’s fine too.
At least 3 grams of fiber per serving: A high-fiber diet has been shown to protect against heart disease and may reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes and metabolic syndrome. Choosing cereals with at least 3 grams of fiber per serving helps you get a good start to your day and keep you fuller longer.
No more than 8 grams of sugar per serving: So you have a cereal that meets the first two criteria, you have a healthy cereal right? Wrong, put that box back down. Whole grains and other healthy ingredients do not alone make a healthy cereal. Most of the sugars in breakfast cereals are added sugars but cereals can also contain natural sugars from raisins and other dried fruits. Too much sugar in the morning — regardless of the source — is not a good way to start off your day, and can pack on the pounds!
So next time you take a trip down that hallowed aisle, lined with all those brightly colored boxes, make a smart choice! You and your waistline will be happy you did!