It’s one of the easiest and most traditional breakfast options out there: cereal. Unfortunately, ingredient lists and nutrition labels on cereal boxes often look very similar, if not identical, to the packaged cookies or cakes in the aisle over.
Do you scan the calorie count and decide your cereal choice is healthy, because it only has 100 calories per serving? While low-cal and low-fat may be a good way to go, remember to check out the sugar content on your next cereal purchase.
Sugary cereal labels can be tricky because they’re advertised as a healthy way to start your day. Yes, many of them are made with whole grains and are high in fiber. And, yes, they are often low fat and are fortified with vitamins and minerals.
However, some of the most popular cereals on your grocery store shelf have so much sugar it is similar to eating bowl of ice cream for breakfast.
Here is some more detail on five common, high-sugar cereals:1
High-Sugar Cereal #1: Post Golden Crisp
It’s marketed toward children, and has several health claims: “Excellent source of six B vitamins… and vitamin D,” “Good source of iron and zinc,” “10 essential vitamins and minerals,” and “Fat and cholesterol-free.” It’s also relatively low in calories, with just 100 calories per ¾ cup, or around 130 calories per 1 cup.
However, if you take a look at the cereal’s nutrition label, you will see that there are 14 grams of sugar in ¾ cup, which means 1 cup of Golden Crisp has nearly 19 grams of sugar.
Unfortunately, only one in every four kids’ cereals meets the guidelines recently proposed by the federal interagency working Group on Food Marketed to Children, which is a panel of federal nutrition scientists and marketing experts.2
High-Sugar Cereal #2: Honey Nut Cheerios
Believe it or not, one cup of this classic cereal has more sugar than three Chips Ahoy! Cookies. The company General Mills is correct when it markets Cheerios as “low-fat,” because it has only 2 grams of fat per 1 cup (and about 150 calories dry). But, they fail to mention the 12 grams of sugar that comes with each 1-cup serving.3
High-Sugar Cereal #3: Kellogg’s Raisin Bran
The name sounds healthy, right? In reality, it actually has more sugar than the brand’s Frosted Flakes (almost 15 grams of sugar per 1 cup). Raisin Bran has a whopping 18 grams of sugar per 1 cup (and about 200 calories). Kellogg’s marketers describe the cereal as a “balance of crispy wheat bran flakes.”4
High-Sugar Cereal #4: Quaker Oats OHs
“Oh so perfect,” is how this particular sugary cereal is advertised. It is only about 150 calories (dry) per 1 cup. Regardless, the fact that it is “naturally cholesterol free” with “9 essential vitamins and minerals,” is somewhat hampered by the fact that each 1 cup serving of OHs has 16 grams of sugar.5
High-Sugar Cereal #5: Post Selects Blueberry Morning
It’s marketed as a non-fat and high-fiber cereal. While that is indeed true, the 16 grams of sugar per each serving size (1 ¼ cup) should not be overlooked. That’s almost 13 grams of sugar per every 1 cup of Blue Morning cereal you eat (and around 175 calories dry). The cereal’s website says, “A heart-healthy lifestyle is all about choices,” and it may just be a good idea to opt for a cereal lower in sugar.6
So, What Should You Look For When Navigating Through The Cereal Aisle?
Healthy cereals do exist, and there are three important factors to look for: cereals high in fiber, cereals with a short ingredient list, and cereals with no or a small amount of added sugars. Honey, molasses, fruit juice concentrate, brown sugar, corn sweetener, sucrose, glucose, lactose, high-fructose corn syrup, and malt syrup, all count as added sugars.
Interestingly, these healthier cereals are usually not at eye level on the shelves, but they are often high up near the top. Also, look for cereals with no saturated or trans fat, and cereals made with whole grains.
Some common low-sugar cereals include Post Shredded Wheat, Post Bran Flakes, Fiber One Original, Kellogg’s Unfrosted Mini Wheats, and General Mills Cheerios Original. Add your own berries to sweeten up your morning meal and get in those antioxidants.7
Finally, remember to be conscious of your cereal’s nutrition label. It’s easy to overshoot the serving size of your cereal when you’re pouring it into your bowl early in the morning. One cup of cereal is usually about equal to the size of a baseball.8
Do you eat cereal for breakfast? Or do you opt for something else?
- High Sugar Cereals Aggressively Marketed At Kids, Despite Pledge. Medical News Today. Jun 2012. ↩
- Nestle, Marion. Food Politics. ↩
- Sugar In Children’s Cereals: More Sugar Than A Twinkie. Environmental Working Group. Dec 2011. ↩
- Kellogg’s Raisin Bran. Kellogg’s. 2011. ↩
- Quaker Cereal OH!S. Quaker. 2012. ↩
- Post Selects Nutrition Information. ↩
- Nestle, Marion. Food Politics. ↩
- Shield JE, Mullen M. Portion Distortion. ↩
Funny about the #1 sugary cereal. When I was a kid it was called SUGAR Crisp. Perhaps too honest a name…so they changed it?
Interesting, I didn’t know that
Wow I’m surprised that Frosted Flakes, Pops, Honeycomb, or Lucky Charms isn’t listed.
Definitely one of the points of this article, I think, Margena. Most boxed cereals are garbage. This list is a great reminder to ignore claims and healthy “spin” and read ingredients.
The industrial cereal product manufacurers Kellog, General Mills, Post etc are essentially committing fraud by claiming that their products are healthy, when there is plenty of medical evidence to show that this junk contributes to metabolic syndrome and early cardiovascular death. The advertising industry works to keep the public in ignorance, but ultimately, each individual must be responsible for learning the nutritional basics to stay healthy. Thanks for this informative article; more people need to know these things.
High sugar or not – I would avoid all mainstream cereals as most of them are derived from GMO corn and artificial ingredients.
I agree. In general, there are a lot of other better choices.
I usually eat boiled eggs/plain yogurt or avocadoes for breakfast. My spouse (and her family) are committed cereal eaters. So far our young boys are going down this path, but there is still time for me to convert them…Anyway, I don’t understand the appeal of cereal. The occasions when I ate it for breakfast I’d be starving again in a couple of hours.
Can someone please share a list of good healthy non-industrial cereals products..
Not sure what your criteria for “non-industrial” would be, and I don’t have a list, but from what I can tell the Ezekiel brand cereals seem like one of the best boxed cereal choices. I think it’s tasty just by itself with coconut or rice milk, etc., but you could definitely chuck on blueberries or some other topping, or even mix a serving in with some healthy yogurt.
Most of what is listed probably isn’t what you would want for breakfast. I will add that while Raisin Bran my have more sugar than Frosted Flakes, it is much lower in added sugar. When you dehydrate grapes, you will defiantly increase the amount of natural sugars per gram. That said, mix your carbs with a protein and you can throw the glycemic index out the window making Raisin Bran a better choice than most of the breakfast cereals out there.