Cold cereals are an easy, convenient food. Many boast impressive health claims or try to promote the latest nutrition trend. But you may wonder whether these cereals are as healthy as they claim to be.
Breakfast cereal is made from processed grains and often fortified with vitamins and minerals. It is commonly eaten with milk, yogurt, fruit, or nuts (
Here’s how breakfast cereals are typically made (3):
- Processing. The grains are usually processed into fine flour and cooked.
- Mixing. The flour is then mixed with ingredients like sugar, cocoa, and water.
- Extrusion. Many breakfast cereals are produced via extrusion, a high-temperature process that uses a machine to shape the cereal.
- Drying. Next, the cereal is dried.
- Shaping. Finally, the cereal is shaped into forms, such as balls, stars, loops or rectangles.
Breakfast cereals may also be puffed, flaked, or shredded — or coated in chocolate or frosting before it is dried.
Breakfast cereal is made from refined grains, often by a process called extrusion. It is highly processed, with many ingredients added.
The modern diet provides easy accessibility to packaged and processed foods loaded with added sugar. Excess consumption of added sugars can be harmful to health.
Most people eat more than the daily recommended limit for added sugars, which can contribute to increased risk of several chronic diseases (4,
Notably, most added sugar in the American diet comes from ultra-processed and packaged foods, which include sugar-sweetened beverages, baked goods, candy, and breakfast cereals. Breakfast cereals are actually the seventh biggest contributor to added sugar intake among adults in the USA (4).
In fact, most cereals list sugar as the second or third ingredient.
Breakfast cereals made with refined grains and sugars have a high glycemic index, which means it can cause a sharp spike in your post-meal blood sugar levels.
On the other hand, choosing a high-fiber breakfast cereal made with whole grains and has little to no added sugars can help promote better blood sugar control. Reading the nutrition facts label can help you identify how much added sugar is in a serving of the cereal (
Most breakfast cereals are loaded with sugar and refined grains. High sugar consumption is harmful and may increase your risk of several diseases.
Almost all breakfast cereals are marketed as healthy, but many may not actually be ideal for optimal health.
It’s wise to read past any purported health claims and look at the nutrition facts label and ingredients list to make an informed decision on your breakfast cereal choice.
While cereals packed with added sugars aren’t ideal for health, they may still be a good source of iron, folate and other B vitamins as most refined breakfast cereals are fortified with these nutrients. Check the package labeling carefully to identify if your cereal has been fortified with any nutrients (4,
Again, choose a breakfast cereal with the least amount of added sugar per serving to maximize on nutrition.
Breakfast cereals often have misleading health claims printed on the box — yet are filled with sugar and refined grains.
If you choose to eat cereal for breakfast, here are some tips to help you select a healthier option.
Limit added sugar
Try to choose a breakfast cereal with under 5 grams of added sugar per serving. Read the food label to find out how much sugar the product contains.
Aim for high fiber
Breakfast cereals that pack at least 3 grams of fiber per serving are optimal. Eating enough fiber can have numerous health benefits (
Pay attention to portions
Breakfast cereals tend to be crunchy and tasty, and it can be very easy to eat more than the specified serving size.
Keep in mind that that the nutrition information provided on the packaging is per “serving”, and often times this serving may be a lot smaller than what you may think a reasonable serving size is (
Read the ingredients list
Ignore the health claims on the front of the box, making sure to check the ingredients list. The first two or three ingredients are most important, as they comprise the majority of the cereal.
However, food manufacturers may use tricks to hide the amount of sugar in their products.
If sugar is listed several times under different names — even if it is not in the first few spots — the product is probably very high in sugar.
Add some protein
Protein is the most filling macronutrient. It increases fullness and reduces appetite.
This is likely because protein changes the levels of several hormones, such as the hunger hormone ghrelin and a fullness hormone called peptide YY (
Greek yogurt or a handful of nuts or seeds are good choices for extra protein.
Another easy way to incorporate protein into breakfast cereal is to eat it with milk or a protein-rich milk alternative like soy milk. Unfortunately almond milk and oat meal are not great sources of protein.
If you eat breakfast cereal, make sure it’s low in sugar and high in fiber. Pay attention to portion sizes, and always read the ingredients list. You can also enrich your cereal by adding your own protein.
If you are hungry in the morning, you should eat breakfast. However, it’s best to choose whole, single-ingredient foods.
Here are a few great choices:
- plain oatmeal with raisins and nuts
- Greek yogurt with nuts and sliced fruit
- scrambled eggs with vegetables
Whole eggs are an excellent breakfast choice because they’re high in protein, healthy fats, and nutrients. What’s more, they keep you full for a long time and may even boost weight loss.
One study in overweight and obese adults found that those who ate a breakfast of eggs and toast had increased fullness and were less hungry for up to 4 hours later, compared to those who ate cereal with milk and orange juice (
Other studies note that incorporating eggs into your regular breakfast routine can increase the overall nutrient density of your diet, meaning your diet is more nutritious (
However, a study from 2022 found no differences in fullness levels after breakfast between those who ate an egg breakfast or a cereal breakfast with the same amount of protein (
This suggests that breakfast cereals can have the same satiety-promoting (and in-turn weight loss) benefits of eggs if it contains as much protein as the egg breakfast does.
It’s best to choose whole foods like eggs for breakfast, as they’re very nutritious and filling. High-protein breakfasts may help reduce cravings and promote weight loss.
Breakfast cereals are highly processed, often packed with added sugar and refined carbs. Their packages regularly have misleading health claims.
If you eat cereal, read the ingredients list and approach health claims with skepticism. The best cereals are high in fiber and low in sugar.
That said, many healthier breakfast options exist. Whole, single-ingredient foods — such as oat porridge or eggs — are a great choice.
Preparing a healthy breakfast from whole foods is not only simple but starts your day with plenty of nutrition.