While healthier cereals are appearing on the food shelves more frequently, food companies continue to aggressively market unhealthy cereals. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) reports that some cereals contain a full day's worth of sugar. And with so many health claims and buzz words, figuring out which cereal to choose can be overwhelming. To make the healthiest cereal choices, consider the following:
1. Dessert for Breakfast?
If a cereal looks like a sweet treat or a dessert, you should probably avoid it. Cereals that are heavily frosted or chocolate covered are most likely going to be high in sugar and low in nutrition.
2. Beware of Buzz Words
"Natural," "Antioxidants," and "Energy" are all buzzwords that should not be given a second glance. These terms can be used very loosely and have not been defined by the FDA or the USDA.
3. Read the Label
Always read the label. Be sure to look at the serving size and calorie amount. Some servings may be as small as a ¼ cup. Most people don't eat just ¼ cup of cereal. Some cereals, granola in particular, can list very small servings with very high in calories.
4. Go for Whole Grains
Look for the yellow Whole Grains Council "whole grain" stamp on a food or look at the label to make sure the first ingredient says whole grain (with the name of the grain following). Watch out for tricky statements like "stone ground," "100% wheat," "multi-grain," or "seven grain"--these are not necessarily whole grain.
5. Know Your Fiber
You may assume that the more fiber a cereal has, the better, however recent research is finding that added fibers such as inulin, soluble corn fiber, guar gum, and polydextrose may be increasing the fiber grams in the food they are added to, but doing very little, or nothing, when it comes to affecting appetite. Whole foods, with natural occurring fibers, appear to be the most beneficial when it comes to helping people feel fuller and eat less. When choosing a cereal, choose one with a minimum of three grams of fiber, though five grams or more is better. It's preferable that the fiber comes from whole grains rather than added fibers-you can find out by checking the ingredients list. Added fibers won't hurt you, but don't count on them to make you feel any fuller.
You've probably heard to watch the sugar on cereal. However the nutrition facts label on cereals, or any food, does not tell you the difference between naturally occurring sugar--as in fruit--or added sugars like brown sugar, molasses, brown rice syrup, cane juice, or high-fructose corn syrup. Take a look at the ingredients list and if you see added sugar at, or near, the top of the list, look for a different cereal.
7. Healthy Picks
Below are just a few examples of healthy cereals to choose from:
• Nature's Path Organic Cereals
• Kellogg's All-Bran Bran Buds
• Newman's Own Sweet Enough Cinnamon Fiber Flakes
• Kashi Berry Blossoms
• Post Bran Flakes
• General Mills Total Cereals
• Kashi Good Friends
• General Mills Fiber One
• Kashi GOLEAN
• Post Wheat'n Bran Shredded Wheat Spoon Size
• Post Raisin Bran
• Quaker Toasted Multigrain Crisps
• Kellogg's Frosted Mini-Wheats Bite Size
• Post Grape-Nuts Flakes
• Alpen Apple Spic Muesli
Mandy Seay is a bilingual registered and licensed dietitian who holds both a bachelor's degree in nutrition and in journalism. After gaining 30 pounds while living abroad, Mandy worked to lose the weight and regain her health. It was here that she discovered her passion for nutrition and went on to pursue a career as a dietitian. Mandy currently works as a nutrition consultant and freelance writer in Austin, Texas, where she specializes in diabetes, weight management and general and preventive nutrition. She recently published her first book, Your Best Health, a personalized program to losing weight and gaining a healthy lifestyle. Please visit Mandy's website at Nutritionistics.com.