Modern packaged breakfast cereal got its start in the early 1900s when John Harvey Kellogg, physician and vegetarian, cooked up a roughage-based dish to promote intestinal health. Over the years, as cereals with more sugar and less fiber gained popularity, many health-conscious eaters began to shun the cereal aisle. But a bowl of flakes can still be a healthy option if you choose your cereal carefully. Here's how to pick the best box.
1. Get "Whole"
For a decent serving of whole grains, the list of ingredients should begin with "whole wheat" or "whole oats." Whole corn, while also a whole grain, "isn't considered to be one of the better ones," says dietitian Lynn Grieger, R.D., a nutrition expert for ivillage.com, as it contains less fiber per serving than other grains.
2. Find the Fiber
Seek out a box with at least 3 grams of fiber per serving, advises New York City-based Gayle Reichler, R.D, a dietitian and wellness coach at Exhale Mind-Body spas. Perhaps surprisingly, she cautions against overdoing fiber in cereal. Spread the 20 to 35 grams a typical adult should eat each day over the course of the whole day to prevent discomfort, she says. If your favorite cereal doesn't provide enough fiber, mix in a high-fiber variety.
3. Shy Away from Sweetness
Sugar is sugar. Whether it comes in the form of cane sugar, maple syrup, brown sugar, concentrated fruit juice, molasses, or corn syrup, nutritionally it doesn't make much difference, says Grieger. To keep sugar intake down, Reichler suggests looking for cereals with the sweetener listed fourth or lower in the list of ingredients.
4. Don't Worry About Protein
Most Americans get adequate protein from other sources throughout the day, so breakfast cereals need not be protein-packed. However, to maintain healthy blood-sugar levels and to add some healthy omega-3 fats to your diet first thing each morning, Reichler recommends tossing a handful of chopped nuts into your cereal bowl.
Mix-ins can turn a basic cereal into a truly nutritious meal. Here are some of the healthier possibilities.
Flaxseed provides omega-3 fatty acids and 3 grams of fiber per tablespoon.
One ounce of almonds (about 23 nuts) will enrich your cereal with protein, vitamin E, and magnesium.
One of the best plant sources of omega-3s; a handful of walnuts has about 3.8 grams.
Rich in antioxidants, berries are probably the tastiest cancer-fighting food around.
A quarter-cup of raisins adds iron, potassium, and polyphenols (antioxidants also found in tea and red wine).