Cereal is one of the fastest and least costly breakfast choices. Unfortunately, your basic box doesn’t always get high marks for nutrition — and proposed changes from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) would even disqualify several popular brands (such as Honey Nut Cheerios, Special K Original Cereal, and Raisin Bran) from including the term “healthy” on their packaging.
Cereal is typically high in carbohydrates and low in protein, which doesn’t make for a balanced meal, notes Sherry Roberts, RDN, MPH, CDCES , a registered dietitian-nutritionist and certified diabetes care and education specialist with CRM Counseling, a coaching and wellness company in Centerville, Minnesota. She claims that many foods also have extra sugars.
The news isn’t all negative, though: A study released in the March 2022 issue of JAMA Network Open discovered a link between cereal fiber and older people’ reduced chance of heart disease and inflammation. You can make your dish of cereal into a wholesome, well-rounded meal in a variety of ways by avoiding common cereal pitfalls. Use these dos and don’ts as a guidance to help you begin your day in a healthier manner.
1. Do Select Whole-Grain Options for Plenty of Fiber
Choosing a cereal composed of whole grains is the first step in making it healthy. According to the AHA, whole grains are excellent sources of fiber, which reduces your chance of heart disease, stroke, and type 2 diabetes while also lowering blood cholesterol levels. Cereal can be an excellent way to boost your intake of fiber, which many people don’t get enough of, according to registered dietitian-nutritionist Paula Doebrich, MPH, RDN, owner of the private business Happea Nutrition in New York City.
Ginger Hultin, RDN, a registered dietician and nutritionist with a practice in Seattle and the author of Meal Prep for Weight Loss, advises consumers to check labels carefully to see that whole cereals such as whole wheat, quinoa, bulgur, and millet are mentioned as the first components.
Additionally, Doebrich advises looking at the nutrition information label to confirm that each portion of the cereal offers about 20% of your daily value (DV) for fiber. Avoid grains that provide no more than 5% of the daily worth. According to the FDA, the new nutrition facts label includes this proportion so you won’t need to do the calculations.
2. Don’t Choose Added Sugars
Cereals for breakfast sometimes have surprisingly high sugar content. For instance, a portion of Kellogg’s Smart Start Antioxidants cereal contains a substantial 18 grams (g) of added sugar. That almost meets the AHA-recommended daily additional sugar limits of 25 g for women and 36 g for males. It’s always best to adhere to cereals with less extra sugar because they typically have fewer calories and more fiber, advises Doebrich. Roberts advises selecting breakfast foods with no more than 5 g of extra sugar.
3. Do Add Fruit for More Flavor, Fiber, and Nutrients
Your breakfast bowl of cereal can easily gain in taste and nutrition by adding fresh, frozen, dried, or unsweetened fruit. Especially if your preferred grain is deficient in fiber, says Doebrich.
According to projections from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, one cup of fresh blueberries, for instance, contains roughly 4 g of fiber. (USDA). Additionally, you’ll receive 29 micrograms (mcg), which is 24.2% of the DV for vitamin K, and 14.6 milligrams (mg), which is 16.2% of the DV for vitamin C. Additionally, Doebrich adds that foods like blueberries, strawberries, bananas, and blackberries offer sweetness without the need for additional sugar.
4. Don’t Overfill Your Bowl
It’s simple to pour double or even treble the portion size of cereal unless you’re measuring it out, which will significantly reduce the number of calories you consume each day. For instance, the original All-Bran has 120 calories per two-thirds cup portion. If you eat too much, you might end up with a dish that contains 240 or 360 calories, not including any additional ingredients like milk, berries, nuts, or seeds. Doebrich advises weighing your cereal if you’re attempting to reduce weight. It will make it simpler for you to stick to your diet by assisting you in tracking your food consumption, she claims.
5. Do Boost Protein With Yogurt
Yogurt can be used in place of regular milk to make porridge healthy. Greek yogurt has about three times as much protein as milk but almost as much calcium. According to the USDA, one cup of basic, nonfat Greek yogurt has nearly 21% of the daily value (DV) for calcium and 25.2 g of protein. Protein, according to research, promotes fullness. So, if you include a protein source in your cereal, you might feel satisfied with a smaller portion size than if you omitted it, resulting in a reduction in the total number of calories you eat. According to a study in the August 2020 issue of Reviews in Endocrine and Metabolic Disorders, this may aid in weight control.
6. Don’t Choose a Low-Protein Milk Alternative
Soy may be your best choice if you’re searching for a plant-based substitute because it “also provides plenty of protein,” according to Doebrich. If you use almond or wheat milk, you might be losing out on something because other plant milks are typically lower in protein. According to the USDA, almond milk, for instance, only has 1.3 g of protein per cup. Comparatively, a cup of nonfat cow’s milk with the same quantity of calcium has 322 milligrams (nearly 25% of DV), 8.4 g of protein, and nearly 25 g of protein. Whatever you prefer, just make sure to select an unsweetened variety of plant-based milk because they can also contain additional carbohydrates, advises Hultin.
7. Do Sprinkle On Some Nuts and Seeds for Protein and Healthy Fats
I advise my customers to add an ounce of nuts to their cereal to add taste and nutrition, claims Hultin. She explains that an ounce is roughly the size of the palm of your clasped hand.
Protein, fiber, and good lipids are all found in nuts. According to the USDA, 1 ounce (oz) of pistachios (without shell) contains 4.3 g of polyunsaturated lipids, 5.8 g of protein, and almost 3 g of fiber. According to the AHA, mono- and polyunsaturated fats can aid in lowering levels of low-density lipoprotein (LDL, or “bad”) cholesterol in your blood, which can decrease your chance of heart disease and stroke.
You are welcome to select your preferred seed, but if you need suggestions, Hultin suggests walnuts, almonds, and hazelnuts are all excellent choices. Remember that almonds are high in calories, so limit your intake to 1 oz for 160–180 calories, according to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.
Don’t like nuts? A excellent option is seeds. According to the USDA, one ounce of chia seeds, for instance, contains 6.7 g of polyunsaturated lipids, 9.8 g of fiber, and 4.7 g of protein, or 35% of the daily value. A few additional seed options are flax, sunflower, hemp, and pumpkin. Stick to an ounce or two of seeds per day, advises Harvard Health, as they are also high in calories.
8. Don’t Skimp on Vitamins and Minerals
According to the National Cancer Institute, many grains have been fortified, which means additional minerals have been added to them. Doebrich says, “Fortified cereals supply significant minerals that are frequently lacking in our meals.
Iron, calcium, zinc, and folate are typical dietary supplements that are added to grains. The FDA authorized cereal producers to raise the amount of vitamin D supplementation on January 5, 2023. Given that study indicates that approximately 50% of people globally don’t consume enough of the “sunshine” vitamin, food fortification is crucial.
A trained nutritionist should be consulted to determine which nutrients you need more of and how much to look for in fortified foods and supplements because some fortified grains contain high amounts of vitamins and minerals.