cereals

The toughest meal to plan when you're trying to watch your carbs has got to be breakfast. Waffles, pancakes, and biscuits each sing their siren songs, but cereal is the hardest to resist. Simple, fast, and filling, no one wants to give up that morning bowl of Cheerios!

If you’re counting carbs…

Unfortunately, most of the favorites contain 20 grams of carbs per serving, or more, so eliminate those if you want to keep your meal plan going strong. Be sure to check the serving size of your favorite choices as they can vary!

The Good

Most low-carb cereals aren't terribly low in carbohydrates. Cereals contain mostly grains, and grains are carbs.

Special K (22 grams), Wheaties (22 grams), and Cheerios (20 grams) represent sizable chunks of your daily allotment of carbohydrates, even though they're low in sugar and high in fiber. But if you stick to the recommended serving size, there's no reason you can't enjoy a bowl or two of these best-option cereals per week.

The Bad

These are tricky! Some cereals seem like better options because they're made from whole grains, but many are still very carb dense.

Kashi GoLean (30 grams), Wheat Chex (38 grams), and Life Cereal (25 grams) aren't big winners in this category, even if they are delicious. When it comes to the whole grain market, the best bets are cereals with nuts and fruits in them. These options will keep you fuller longer and give you more nutritional bang for your buck because they also contain protein and various vitamins and minerals.

The Ugly

While you probably know to stay away from Trix, Lucky Charms, and Count Chocula, some of the most carb-rich cereals are the ones that look like they'd be the healthiest. 

Raisin Bran (45 grams), Frosted Mini-Wheats (48 grams), and Oatmeal Crisp (46 grams) all top the list of cereals on the market with this highest amount of carbs. They do have their benefits, though. Many of these are higher in fiber and lower in sugar than their competitors with less carbs.

Who needs carbs?

Carbohydrates are one of three main nutrients the body needs to function. The other main nutrients are fat and protein. Carbohydrates break down into glucose, and are important because they provide the body with the energy it needs to work properly. Every cell in the body can use glucose for fuel!

There are three main types of carbohydrates found in foods: starches, also called complex carbohydrates, sugars, or simple carbohydrates, and fiber.

Complex carbohydrates are broken down more slowly than simple carbs, so they provide the body with a steadier and more long lasting supply of energy. They are found in whole grains, beans, and starchy vegetables such as corn and potatoes.

These carbohydrates also provide fuel for the healthy bacteria in the colon, which play a role in your overall immune function, metabolism, risk for chronic disease, and digestive health.

The body absorbs simple carbohydrates quickly, so they provide a fast, short-term energy boost. Fiber is important because it helps keep your digestive tract healthy. You can find simple carbohydrates in milk, fruits, and processed foods with added sugars.

How many carbs should you eat?

While everyone needs to eat carbohydrates, some people need more carbs than others. People who are very active need to eat more carbs than people who are sedentary. Those with diabetes also usually need to limit the amount of carbohydrates they consume during each meal to help keep their blood sugar levels in check. Finally, people on low-carb diets such as the Atkins or South Beach diets may limit their carbohydrate intakes in an attempt to boost weight loss.

No one should think of carbs as “bad,” But they should think carefully about the amount of carbs their body needs each day to stay healthy. The amount of carbohydrates you need depends on your age, sex, health status, and activity level.

Some health experts recommend people get between 45 and 65 percent of their daily calories from carbs, with more active people erring on the higher side and less active people eating fewer carbs. For example, an active woman between the ages of 19 and 25, who is aiming to maintain weight, should consume about 2,600 calories that include 293-423 grams of carbs a day. They should then get 15 to 25 percent of calories from fat and protein.

A standard portion of carbohydrates provides about 15 grams. Examples of standard portions include one slice of bread, 1/3 cup of rice, 1/2 a banana, or one small potato. This means that for a daily range of 293-423 grams of carbs, someone would need to consume 19 to 28 standard portions per day.

It is important to remember that a calorie does not equal a calorie, and a carbohydrate gram doesn’t equal a carbohydrate gram. In other words, your body will be much better off when you choose healthy carbs over high sugar, low fiber carbs.

Tips and tricks for a low carb breakfast

Try Oatmeal
Oatmeal has 27 grams of carbohydrates per serving, but it's high in fiber and has been proven to be heart healthy. Add some cinnamon and a handful of pecans and you have an iron-rich breakfast that will keep you full until lunch.

When it’s low-carb cereal you’re after, some of your best options aren’t the most exciting on the surface. Try jazzing them up and staying fuller for longer by throwing in sliced almonds, roasted hazelnuts, or walnut halves.

Some sliced banana, a couple of raisins or craisins, or seasonal berries make fun additions to your morning bowl of goodness, but they will also add more carbohydrates. Low carb toppings include chia seeds, nuts and seeds, flaxseed, unsweetened coconut flakes, and even cocoa nibs!

The appeal of cereal is that it's fast to eat when you’re in a time crunch, but don't let its convenience wreck your diet plans. Stock your pantry and fridge with other healthy low-carb options.

Try prepping a Greek yogurt parfait with avocado and a handful of walnuts for an easy breakfast you can eat while commuting. Hard-boiled eggs make a great breakfast, too, and you can boil a dozen in advance.

Another quick, low-carb option for breakfast is a handful of nuts and a piece of fruit!

What to look for

If you’re counting your carbs, it’s important to check the labels of the foods you eat. You should look for the term “total carbohydrate,” which includes starches, sugars, and fiber. This can help you balance the number of carbs you eat during each meal. Spreading your carbs evenly throughout the day helps ensure your body has a steady supply of energy to power you during the day.

Just because you're watching your carb intake doesn't mean they should disappear entirely from your diet. Whatever you choose to do, aim to include healthy carbohydrates every day.