Since they were introduced in 1941, Cheerios have been a staple in households across the United States.
They remain one of the most popular breakfast cereals on the market and are now available worldwide.
Although they’re marketed as nutritious, you may wonder whether Cheerios are a healthy choice — and how the different varieties compare.
This article explores Cheerios’ nutrients, flavors, and downsides to help you determine whether they’re a good fit for your routine.
Cheerios contain many important nutrients
Cheerios are primarily made from whole grain oats.
Whole grains contain all parts of the grain, so they tend to provide more nutrients than refined grains. What’s more, eating fiber-rich whole grains may help lower cholesterol and reduce your risk of heart disease (
Notably, 1 cup (28 grams) of Cheerios provides 45% of the Daily Value (DV) for iron, which many people are deficient in. This mineral plays a critical role in oxygen transport throughout your body (
However, keep in mind that many of these nutrients, including iron, vitamin B12, and vitamin D, are added during processing and not naturally occurring.
One cup (28 grams) of plain Cheerios without milk provides (
- Calories: 100
- Fat: 2 grams
- Carbs: 20 grams
- Fiber: 3 grams
- Sugar: 1 gram
- Protein: 3 grams
- Vitamin A: 10% of the DV
- Vitamin C: 10% of the DV
- Vitamin D: 10% of the DV
- Vitamin B12: 25% of the DV
- Calcium: 10% of the DV
- Iron: 45% of the DV
- Zinc: 25% of the DV
As you can see, Cheerios are very low in calories and lack protein and fat. For these reasons, they don’t provide a balanced meal on their own.
With 1 cup (244 grams) of 2% cow’s milk, you’ll get an extra 122 calories, 8 grams of protein, and a boost of fat, calcium, and vitamin D (
If you choose nondairy milk, which is typically low in protein, add a handful of pumpkin seeds or sliced almonds to your cereal for a plant-based source of protein.
Adding protein to any meal or snack can help you feel more full.
Finally, Cheerios are very affordable compared with many other breakfast foods.
They make a good finger food for toddlers and don’t pose much of a choking hazard because of how easily they soften when wet.
Cheerios can be a great way to get more whole grains and iron into your kid’s diet. Still, it’s important not to rely too heavily on them. You should aim to incorporate numerous whole foods from each food group to support optimal growth and development.
Cheerios are primarily made from whole grains and pack a wide array of important nutrients, including iron, fiber, and vitamin D.
How many varieties of Cheerios are there?
Cheerios come in an assortment of flavors. In fact, there are at least 15 varieties — with seasonal ones appearing on occasion.
Most are made from a base of whole grain oats, but some varieties include other grains, added sugars, and extra ingredients.
Some of the most popular Cheerios flavors are:
- Plain. These are the original Cheerios and most basic option. The first ingredient is oats. They contain just 1 gram of added sugar and no extra flavorings.
- Honey Nut. One of the top selling varieties, these are sweetened with sugar and honey, plus a hint of almond flavor.
- Chocolate. This kind is made from corn and oats, as well as cocoa powder and sugar.
- Apple Cinnamon. Made primarily of whole grain oats and sugar, this type also includes apple purée and cinnamon.
- Frosted. Made with whole grain oats and cornmeal, these are sweetened with a vanilla flavored sugar coating.
- Multigrain. This variety combines whole grain oats, corn, and brown rice. It’s sweetened with slightly less sugar than other varieties.
- Ancient Grains. This type is sugar-sweetened and made from whole grain oats, quinoa, and rice.
You may notice that many of the flavored Cheerios varieties harbor added sugar. If you’re trying to reduce your sugar intake, it’s best to limit your intake of the sugary flavors or simply opt for the plain variety.
Cheerios are available in a wide variety of flavors. While most comprise a base of whole grain oats, some include extra ingredients like added sugar.
Although Cheerios are generally a nutritious choice, they fall short in certain areas.
Very low in protein
Breakfast cereals are often marketed as a complete meal option. However, the majority of them are very low in protein — and Cheerios are no exception.
Protein is a crucial part of a healthy diet. Including a source of high quality protein with each meal is one of the best ways to ensure you’re meeting your body’s daily protein needs.
The recommended intake for protein is a minimum of 0.36 grams per pound (0.8 grams per kg) of body weight. For someone who weighs 150 pounds (68 kg), that equates to a daily total of about 55 grams of protein (
A 1-cup (28-gram) serving of plain Cheerios with 4 ounces (120 mL) of whole or low fat cow’s milk provides only about 7 grams of protein, most of which comes from the milk.
If you intend to eat Cheerios as a meal, consider pairing it with a source of protein, such as eggs, Greek yogurt, or tofu scramble. You could also add a handful of nuts or a spoonful of nut butter to your bowl for a boost of protein and healthy fats.
May pack added sugar
Several types of Cheerios harbor large quantities of added sugar.
For example, 1 cup (35 grams) of Honey Nut Cheerios contains 12 grams of sugar — a whopping 12 times as much sugar as the plain variety (
Excess sugar intake is linked to an increased risk of chronic diseases, such as heart disease, cancer, and diabetes. Furthermore, it can contribute to the overconsumption of calories and unhealthy weight gain (
The American Heart Association recommends limiting your daily added sugar intake to 9 teaspoons (37.5 grams) for men and 6 teaspoons (25 grams) for women (
Although occasional sugar intake is not likely harmful, it’s a good idea to be mindful of how much you’re eating, especially if Cheerios are a staple in your diet or you routinely consume more than one serving at a time.
Opting for the plain variety is your best bet for keeping your sugar intake low.
Cheerios are considered a processed food
Cheerios are a processed grain product, meaning that the ingredients used to make Cheerios undergo significant processing to create the final product.
Although Cheerios are made with whole grain oats, which sets them apart from other cereals made with more refined grains like corn flour or white rice, many Cheerios varieties are packed with unhealthy ingredients like cane sugar, corn syrup, and preservatives (
What’s more, due to the processing that the oats undergo to make Cheerios, eating a bowl of Cheerios is not the same as enjoying a bowl of whole oats.
One study in 30 adults found that eating Honey Nut Cheerios resulted in a much larger blood sugar and insulin response compared with the consumption of equal portions of less processed grain products including steel cut and old fashioned oats (
Although Honey Nut Cheerios are high in added sugar and thus much more likely to increase blood sugar than unsweetened grain products, studies have shown that the processing of whole grains in general significantly impacts blood sugar response, with more refined products yielding larger blood sugar and insulin spikes (
Although occasionally enjoying Cheerios won’t harm your health, it’s best to choose less processed options whenever possible, especially if you regularly consumed sweetened Cheerios varieties.
For example, instead of your morning bowl of Honey Nut Cheerios, try a bowl of rolled oats topped with berries and a dollop of natural nut butter instead.
Cheerios are a low protein, processed grain product, and some flavors are high in added sugar. You can balance your nutrient intake by adding a source of protein and moderating your consumption of the higher sugar varieties.
Cheerios can be included as part of a balanced diet
Cheerios can be a healthy and nutritious part of almost any diet, but it’s important to balance your diet with other nutrients and practice moderation if you prefer the higher sugar varieties.
For more protein, consider serving your Cheerios with high protein dairy or nondairy milk plus a scoop of nut butter or handful of nuts. Hard-boiled eggs and omelets also make excellent sides.
Topping your cereal with berries or sliced fruit can boost your vitamin and mineral intake while flax meal, hemp seeds, and chia seeds can add fiber and healthy fats.
Just make sure you include a diverse selection of whole foods throughout the day to meet all of your nutrition needs.
While Cheerios can be part of a healthy diet, you may want to pair them with a source of protein to make a more balanced meal. It’s best to avoid or limit your intake of the high sugar options.
The bottom line
Cheerios are a classic breakfast cereal made from whole grains. They’re not only low in fat and calories but also affordable and packed with essential vitamins and minerals.
Yet, Cheerios are a processed food, and some flavors are loaded with sugar.
As such, you should minimize your intake or choose low sugar varieties like plain or multigrain. You can also bump up the protein content with nuts or nut butter.
While this breakfast cereal can certainly be part of a healthy diet, be sure to also eat a variety of whole foods to meet your body’s nutrient needs.