Published on February 10, 2017

Pick a healthy cereal to start your day

By Bonnie Brost

A walk down your grocery store' cereal aisle can be both overwhelming and confusing.

The messaging on the front of cereal boxes is the one of the best examples of the power of marketing in our culture. The marketing and package design efforts of cereal companies are key reasons that cereals still take up a full aisle. Companies constantly redesign packages and add phrases such as "high fiber" hoping that we will notice and add their products to our carts.

The next time you're shopping, take a moment to turn the box or bag over and check the nutrition facts on the label. That' where you'll discover just how truly healthy a product is.

The invention of breakfast cereal is credited to Dr. John Harvey Kellogg, who ran the Battle Creek Sanitarium. It was an early version of a wellness center in Michigan. Dr. Kellogg was an avid vegetarian who wanted to develop a ready-to-eat meal based on cereal grains to replace the heavy meat breakfast of the late 1800s. He also wanted something to help provide better digestive health to his wellness customers. 

As cereal became a popular convenience food, companies had to compete for sales. To improve flavor, they refined the grains and added sugar. As a result, cereal has become a prime source of added sugar in our diets.

Cereal sales peaked in the 1990s. With the damning of carbohydrates, sales of breakfast items like yogurt and breakfast bars have spiked. In response, cereal companies have been working overtime to make cereal appeal to today' consumers by using more whole grains, decreasing sugar and creating a more healthful breakfast option.

Cereal can indeed be a healthy choice for breakfast or a snack if you choose one that is 100 percent whole grain, low in added sugar and a good source of fiber. Check the nutrition facts and pick cereals that have less than 7 grams of sugar and at least 5 grams of fiber. You also need to stick to the portion size listed. For many cereals, that' only one-half cup. Look for the whole grain symbol on the package or "bran" in the list of ingredients.

A healthy cereal can provide nutrients that we are often deficient in. These include magnesium, zinc and selenium. Your body does not run well without enough of these nutrients, but the good news is that they are found in whole-grain products such as whole wheat, oats, brown rice and others. You should get at least 48 grams of whole grains each day. 

A breakfast that includes cereal will be more filling and more healthful if it also includes a little protein and some fruit. Adding milk provides some protein, but Greek yogurt adds much more so considering using it in your cereal instead of milk. Fresh, dried or frozen fruit can easily be added to your cereal to meet the goal of consuming two or more cups of fruit a day.   

Bonnie Brost is a licensed and registered dietitian in the Wellness Program at the Essentia Health St. Mary'-Heart & Vascular Center in Duluth. Contact her at bonnie.brost@essentiahealth.org.

Healthy cereal options

Looking for a healthy cereal? The Nutrition Action Health Letter, from the Center for Science in the Public Interest, rated the best cold cereals in its November 2016 issue.

Name Portion size Calories Total sugar Fiber Amount of whole grains

Kellogg' All Bran Complete Wheat Flakes

¾ cup

90

4 grams

5 grams

  19 grams

Post Bran Flakes

¾ cup

100

4 grams

5 grams

  16 grams

Kellogg' All Bran Original

1/2 cup

80

6 grams

10 grams

None

Nature' Path Organic Flax Plus Multibran Flakes

¾ cup

110

4 grams

5 grams

12 grams

Post Shredded Wheat Original

2 biscuits or 1 cup

170

0 grams

6 grams

49 grams

General Mills Wheat Chex

¾ cup

160

4 grams

6 grams

41 grams

Uncle Sam Original

¾ cup

210

0 grams

10 grams

43 grams

Post Grape Nuts

1/2 cup

210

4 grams

7 grams

52 grams