Breakfast Cereal Reality Check

Some breakfast cereals aren’t breakfast, they’re really dessert pretending to be breakfast.  Breakfast cereal can be a great choice for a quick meal, or it can be a nutritional disaster, or something in between.  And just reading the health claims on the front of the cereal box may not be very helpful.  Breakfast cereal is big business, and those front-of-the-box health claims are carefully constructed to convince you that this box of cereal is the best possible choice you could make.  Yale’s Rudd Center is a wonderful source of info on cereal: Cereal F.A.C.T.S.  Let’s do a reality check on breakfast cereal.

First, a word about sugar.  Blood sugar is an important way that our body decides if we’re hungry or not.  When you eat dessert (aka lots of sugar) for breakfast it’s as if you’re putting your blood sugar on a roller coaster ride – – up, up, up, then down, down, down.  And what do you crave when your blood sugar is low?  Something to bring it back up – more sugar.  This is a bad cycle, and often leads to increased weight and poor food choices.  Making sure you are eating a real meal – not dessert – for breakfast is a good way to keep the stability of your blood sugar nice and level and keep you fueled up and ready to go for your day.

To choose breakfast cereal, the key is to read the nutrition label – the small print on the side of the box.  Pay particular attention to two items and you’ll be on the right path:  fiber and sugar.

A good rule of thumb is to make sure that the ratio of sugar to fiber is never greater than 2.  How does this work?  Say a serving of cereal has 10 grams sugar and 5 grams fiber – 10 divided by 5 equals 2.  That’s an OK choice.  If your cereal has 15 grams sugar and 3 grams fiber, 15 divided by 3 equals 5.  That’s not the best choice.

Look for cereals that include only whole grains rather than refined grains, have a good sugar to fiber ratio, and contain natural flavors rather than artificial colors and flavors.

Here are two helpful cereal lists compiled by the Ruud Center.
Bottom Ten Cereals
Top Ten Cereals

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