Health Habits: Choosing Cereal for the Family

Cereal is an easy breakfast choice.  It is fast, convenient, and tastes good.  Some cereals are fortified, benefitting some populations more than others.  Fortification benefits those who may have increased nutrient needs, such as pregnant or breastfeeding women, young children, and vegetarians. People who eat fortified cereal for breakfast are getting B vitamins, vitamin A, D, folic acid, zinc, iron, and calcium.  These are the vitamins and minerals are added to cereals but they are not naturally occurring in the food.  The purpose is to add nutritional value and add health benefits.

The vitamins and minerals that fortify cereal help with growth and development, food metabolism, and various other functions in the body.  The fortification of cereals does not mean they are healthy.  Cereals are highly processed and loaded with sugar and refined carbohydrates. Sugar and refined carbohydrates should be consumed minimally, especially for those who are diabetic or prediabetic. They are processed, meaning that they are low in fiber and digested fast.  Rapidly digested sugar and carbohydrates can lead to swings in blood sugar levels.  Unstable blood sugar levels may promote overeating by stimulating hunger and parts of the brain linked with reward and cravings.  

What about the low-fat or whole-grain cereals that claim they help lower cholesterol levels?  Health claims in cereal boxes are also misleading.  Turn the cereal box over to the nutrition label and ingredients list. The ingredients listed on a product are in decreasing order.  If the first ingredients consist of refined grains and sugar, look for another breakfast option.  Research has shown that diets high in sugar increase risks for heart disease. Some cereals are marketed as cholesterol-lowering but contain 12 grams (almost 3 teaspoons) of sugar per cup of cereal.  The average American eats more than twice the amount of cereal per sitting.  

Furthermore, highly fortified cereals target children. Supermarkets receive slotting fees from some companies, to place the sugary products at eye-level to children.  You may notice this the next time you’re stocking up on food for the week.     So what are you to do?  Choose cereals that are high in fiber and low in sugar.  A good rule of thumb when purchasing cereal is 3 grams of fiber and 6 grams of sugar or less, per serving. Fiber helps promote satiety due to the length of time digestion requires. Protein is a nutrient cereal lack, so add a side of protein for a well-rounded meal.

Fortified foods provide a nutrition boost, but consumers are better off choosing whole foods such as oatmeal or eggs.  Highly processed cereal is ok in moderation or as a snack once in a while.  The point is that there are better and healthier options out there.  For long-lasting satiety meals with protein, fat and carbohydrates are best.  Try some of the combinations below:

Scrambled eggs with avocado toast (whole wheat)

Oatmeal (made with milk), apples, and almond butter

Egg Muffin Sandwich: 2 slices of bacon and an egg on a whole wheat English muffin

Low or non-fat Greek yogurt with granola and fruit

For more information or help with finding food solutions for you and your family, contact Lisa Orr, RDN, LDN at


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