The most healthful cereals are made with whole grains and not much else. If you're trying to lose weight, control cholesterol or diabetes, or just need a lot of energy, your best bet is a hot cooked cereal of whole grains, such as oatmeal; or barley, brown rice or wheat berries cooked and served like oatmeal. Flavor it with raisins or other dried fruits, cinnamon, and perhaps a handful of nuts such as pinenuts.
If you prefer cold cereal, you need to check the list of ingredients carefully. The FIRST ingredient should be a whole grain. Then scan through the entire list and if you see the words "partially hydrogenated," put the box back on the shelf. We recommend that you avoid foods with partially hydrogenated oils (or "trans fats"), and they still show up in a few cereals (see the list below.)
Once you've eliminated all the brands made with refined grains or partially hydrogenated oils, check for ADDED sugars (you want little or none) and fiber (you want a lot.)
Raisins or other dried fruits will add a lot of grams of sugar to the listing on the nutrition panel; they are not distinguished from added sugars, so you can only estimate the amounts. Check the list of ingredients instead.
The fiber content listed on the nutrition label can be confusing because it's based on serving size, and very light cereals (such as puffed wheat) show little fiber per serving, but an acceptable amount when you adjust for weight. Cereals made from bran (the outer covering removed from whole grains) will have higher fiber content than cereals made from whole grains (which have the germ and starchy parts of the grains as well as the fiber), but they can be hard to digest.
Update on Partially Hydrogenated Oils (Trans Fats):I'm delighted to report that partially hydrogenated oils have been taken out of most cereals. My original list included 56 brands with PHO's; my most recent check found only seven! The disappearance of PHO's from cereal shelves shows that consumer pressue CAN make a difference. Still, read through the list of ingredients to make sure.
Is it really whole grain? Manufacturers have also responded to the call for more whole grains in our diet, so you will find a lot more choices that meet my recommendation of "whole grains as the first ingredient". However, many that claim to be "whole grain" still include refined grains. You may need to do some detective work to see what you're getting. One-ingredient whole grain cereals (i.e., shredded wheat, puffed wheat, oatmeal) are sure bets. If you see milled corn, corn meal, wheat flour or rice in the list of ingredients, you're getting a mixture of whole and refined grains.
Note: The list below includes only major national brand cereals. Many minor brands and store brands meet the guidelines listed above; read the labels and add your own favorites to the "recommended" list.
Recommended: Cereals made with all or mostly Whole Grains (No trans fats, little or no added sugars; but check the list of ingredients -- recipes can change.)
Cheerios - General Mills Chex, Wheat or Multi Grain - General Mills Cinnamon Toast Crunch - General Mills Cinnamon Grahams - General Mills French Toast Crunch - General Mills Golden Grahams - General Mills Grape Nuts - Post Grape Nut Flakes - Post Great Grains, all varieties - Post Healthy Choice Mueslix - Kelloggs Healthy Choice Almond Crunch with Raisins - Kelloggs Healthy Choice Low Fat Granola - Kelloggs Healthy Choice Toasted Brown Sugar Squares - Kelloggs Kashi (all varieties) - Kashi Company Life - Quaker Mini-Wheats, all varieties - Kelloggs Muesli - Familia Nutri-Grain, all varieties - Kelloggs Oatmeal Crisp, all varieties - General Mills Oatmeal Squares - Quaker Organic Healthy Fiber Multigrain Flakes - Health Valley Puffed Wheat - Quaker and others Shredded Wheat, all varieties and sizes - Post and others Smart Start - Kelloggs South Beach Diet Toasted Wheats Total - General Mills Uncle Sam - U.S. Mills Weetabix Wheaties - General Mills Barbara's, Cascadian Farm, Mother's, Nature's Promise and other smaller brands that specialize in "healthful" cereals (but always check the list of ingredients).
Recommended: All Bran or High Bran Cereals (no trans fats, little or no added sugars. )
100% Bran - Post All Bran, all varieties - Kelloggs Bran Flakes - Post Chex, Multi-Bran - General Mills Complete Wheat Bran Flakes - Kelloggs Complete Oat Bran Flakes - Kelloggs Cracklin' Oat Bran - Kelloggs Crunchy Corn Bran - Quaker Fiber 7 Flakes - Health Valley Fiber One - General Mills Fruit & Bran - Post Granola, Low Fat - Kelloggs Oat Bran - Quaker Oat Bran Flakes - Health Valley Oat Bran Flakes with Raisins - Health Valley Organic Bran with Raisins - Health Valley Raisin Bran - Kelloggs Raisin Bran Flakes - Health Valley Raisin Bran, Whole Grain Wheat - Post Raisin Nut Bran - General Mills Shredded Wheat 'n' Bran - Post Total, Raisin Bran - General Mills Weight Watchers Flakes 'n' Fiber 100% Natural Granola - Quaker
Not Recommended - Cereals Made from Refined Grains
Many of these also contain a lot of added sugar
Apple Jacks - Kelloggs Cap'n Crunch, all varieties - Quaker Chex, Rice or Corn - General Mills Cocoa Frosted Flakes - Kelloggs Cocoa Blasts - Quaker Cocoa Pebbles - Post Cocoa Puffs - General Mills Cookie Crisp/Chocolate Chip - General Mills Corn Pops - Kelloggs Corn Flakes - Kelloggs and others Count Chocula - General Mills Crispix - Kelloggs Frosted Flakes - Kelloggs Fruity Pebbles - Post Honey Bunches of Oats - Post Honey Comb - Post Honey Nut Clusters - General Mills Kix - General Mills Lucky Charms - General Mills Product 19 - Kelloggs Puffed Rice - Quaker Reese's Peanut Butter Puffs - General Mills Rice Krispies, all varieties - Kelloggs Special K - Kelloggs Total Corn Flakes - General Mills
Checked 1212/164; however, list has not been updated recently. Brands, products and ingredient lists may have changed. Apply the selection criteria from the text (above) to any new cereals you are considering.
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