06/11/2012 05:38 pm ET Updated Aug 11, 2012

Choosing the Right Breakfast Cereal

The cereal aisle in a supermarket can be as intimidating as walking into a room of complete strangers. There are literally hundreds of varieties of cereal on the market in the United States, and the number continues to increase. Not to mention that food companies spend hundreds of millions of dollars marketing cereal toward consumers, specifically children. These marketing tactics often make it difficult for the average consumer to determine which brands are beneficial and which ones they should pass on. Think of this as your cereal code book. Following the criteria below will help you make better choices when it comes to your cereal bowl.

Sugar Content

One serving of cereal should contain fewer than 10 grams of sugar. Trader Joe's makes a tasty fruit and nut medley that only contains 8 grams of sugar, providing just the right amount of sweetness. It's also sweetened with dried cane syrup instead of high fructose corn syrup, which is an added bonus.

Whole Grain

Plenty of food companies will claim that their cereal provides a serving of whole grain but unless it's one of the first ingredients, it's not the case. Single-grain cereals like shredded wheat, puffed wheat or rolled oats are safe bets if you're not sure. If the cereal contains milled corn, corn meal, or rice, then you're getting a mixture of whole and refined grains.


Cereal gets a bad rap due to its high carbohydrate content, but as long as a portion of those carbs are coming from fiber, you're in the clear. Most good-for-you cereals will contain anywhere from 7 to 12 grams of protein per serving. I love to take 1/2 cup of Nature's Path Smart Bran cereal and mix it into a flavored Greek yogurt. A half cup contains more than 20 percent of your daily requirement. I featured Nature's Path in my May Bestowed box, because they are a socially-responsible company, and their products are free of preservatives, chemicals and additives. Remember, the fiber in a cereal is what's going to keep you full until your next meal.


This is the missing component in most of the leading cereal brands. Some of the most popular cereals claim to contain whole grain and be great for your health but only contain a measly 1 to 2 grams of protein. Besides fiber, protein ensures that your breakfast choice will go a long way in satiating you through the morning. Brands such as Kashi Go Lean contain a whopping 9 grams of protein. That's more than you'll find in one large egg! Aim for brands that have at least 3 grams per serving.

When looking at nutrition labels keep in mind that all cereal companies use different serving sizes. An ideal amount of cereal is about 1/2 cup to 3/4 cup. It's tempting to fill the bowl to the brim, but it's simply too much! Implement these criteria into your cereal purchasing decision and you'll feel satisfied with the suggested serving size.

For more by Heather Bauer, RD, CDN, click here.

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