Healthy Breakfast Cereal: 4 Rules for Picking a Good One

Finding a good-for-you cereal is totally possible.

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Americans grab 2.7 billion boxes of cereal of the grocery store shelves every year, so it’s safe to say people love quick and easy breakfast options. (And let’s be honest, cereal makes a pretty satisfying late-night snack, too.)

Of course, you know the nutritional value of breakfast cereals can range anywhere from “cardboard” to “candy,” so if you’re trying to stock your pantry with healthier breakfast options, follow these four rules from the American Heart Association.

  1. Check the ingredients list: Some type of “whole grain” should be listed first, whether it’s whole wheat, whole-grain corn, whole oats, or brown rice. (This should go without saying, but avoid any cereal that begins its ingredients list with sugar.) Eating whole grains may lower cholesterol levels, according to the American Heart Association, and reduce your risk of heart disease, stroke, obesity, and type 2 diabetes.

  2. Check the fiber: This is one of the best ways to check your cereal quality because fiber is one of the first things to get removed during extreme food processing. Look for a cereal that has at least 10 percent of your daily value of fiber per serving (20 percent is even better). Dietary fiber helps keep you fuller longer, compared to refined grains, so you’ll eat fewer calories throughout the day. (Learn more about the importance of fiber here.)

  3. Check the sugar: Realistically, your goal should be finding a cereal with seven grams of sugar or less per serving. If your cereal is high in fiber (meaning it has at least 20 percent of your daily value), it can have up to nine grams of sugar. That’s because fiber counteracts sugar in the body and slows down your digestion of those refined carbs.

  4. Check the sodium: A heart-healthy box of cereal should contain 240 milligrams of sodium or less. Although you may not think of breakfast cereal as salty, companies use sodium for preservation in processed breakfast cereals. (Here’s why too much sodium takes a toll on your health.)

For the best nutrition from your breakfast cereal, pair it with a low-fat or soy milk, or sprinkle it on Greek yogurt for a protein boost. (Here are more tips for adding protein to breakfast.) Whether on milk or yogurt, don’t forget to toss in your favorite fresh fruit for extra vitamins and minerals. Berries are the obvious choice, but sliced bananas, grapes, or peaches can also make a flavorful and nutritious breakfast.

Learn more ideas for quick and easy breakfasts here.