Cereal can be a great choice for breakfast or any other meal of the day. It also makes a fantastic snack before you go to bed at night. However, not all cereal is created equal and some types just don’t have a place in a healthy diet. Choosing the wrong kind can derail health goals, but opting for a healthy version helps you satisfy nutrient requirements and enjoy a filling and delicious meal. Here’s how to know if your favorite cereal is a good one or if it should be saved for a treat.
1. Check the Fiber Content
Fiber is a nutrient that makes a food satisfying. It bulks up when you eat it, helping you feel full for longer. It’s also important for promoting healthy digestion and regulating your cholesterol levels. Because cereal is a pretty complete meal, you need to make sure it contains an adequate amount of fiber per serving. Experts say you want at least three grams per portion. Add some sliced fruit for even more fiber.
2. Watch out for Sodium
You might be surprised to find that some types of cereal contain more salt than is healthy. Too much sodium in your diet can lead to hypertension, which is a contributor to heart disease. When you choose cereal, read the nutrition label and make sure the type you choose contains less than 240 milligrams of sodium per serving.
3. Go Easy on the Sugar
Cereal is notorious for being high in sugar. All that stuff you ate as a kid (I’m looking at you Lucky Charms and Frosted Flakes) is likely too high in the sweet stuff, which can lead to obesity and insulin resistance, not to mention the dental consequences. A healthy cereal contains less than 7 grams of sugar per serving. Anything higher than that and you won’t want to eat it on a regular basis.
4. You Need Some Protein
Protein provides your body with energy and helps keep muscles healthy, regulates hormone production and balances blood sugar levels. The right cereal will contain at least three grams of protein. The milk you pour over the top will add a bit more, giving you a rounded meal that you can feel great about eating.
5. Opt for Whole Grains
Cereal that is made with whole grains is generally higher in nutrients and lower in the bad stuff. This isn’t always the case so be sure you balance whole grains with the right amounts of sugar, protein, salt and fiber. You’ll have to read the ingredients list and make sure the first ingredient is some type of whole grain.
6. Stay Away from Artificial Ingredients
Brightly colored cereals like Fruit Loops and Fruity Pebbles are likely filled with artificial coloring, which hasn’t been well studied and could contribute to health issues. You also want to avoid added flavorings and preservatives to ensure that your bowl of cereal is optimizing your health rather than compromising it.
7. Don’t Ruin It with Extras
Choosing the right cereal is great, but if you ruin it by covering it with sugar or full-fat milk, you could ruin the good you’re doing. Instead, top your cereal with low-fat milk and fresh fruit for some natural sweetness and a dash of great flavor. You might also like soy or coconut milk if you are lactose intolerant.
What’s your favorite kind of cereal? Does it qualify as healthy?