Shelf-stable and with no cooking required, cereal is a breakfast winner when it comes to convenience. But nutritionally? Not so much. In fact, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recently proposed changes to the definition of “healthy” that would disqualify many popular breakfast cereals (Honey Nut Cheerios, Special K Original Cereal, and Raisin Bran, to name a few) from including the term on their packaging.
“Never judge a cereal by the front of the box,” says Gretchen Spetz, RDN, the owner of the Functional Kitchen, a private nutrition practice in Cleveland. “The manufacturers aren’t there to help you be healthy. To get the real scoop, you need to scan the ingredients and nutrition facts label for sneaky sugar sources and hidden processed ingredients. What you do want to see are ingredients like whole grains, oats, whole wheat, and brown rice, which tend to be higher in fiber than more- processed carbohydrates.
The good news is that the right cereal pick made with the right ingredients can serve up a healthy, nutrient-rich breakfast in a flash — and yes, help you meet your weight loss or weight maintenance goals.
“Cereal can be a good option for weight loss if it’s made from whole grains and has minimal or no added sugars in it,” says Dana Ellis Hunnes, PhD, MPH, RD, a senior clinical dietitian at the UCLA Medical Center in Los Angeles. This type of cereal can keep you satisfied and satiated while you cut calories, she adds.
A review published in May 2022 by the journal Frontiers in Nutrition analyzed studies that looked at the health benefits of cereal grains and found trustworthy evidence that the fiber and bran in cereals made of whole grains lowers plaque buildup in the arteries (known as atherosclerosis), and that whole grain cereals that are high in fiber help improve bowel function, too.
Many cereals have the added benefit of containing vitamins and minerals like folate, vitamin D, and iron, which Dr. Ellis Hunnes notes can fill gaps in your diet.
To make the right decision, Spetz recommends looking for cereals with at least 3 grams (g) of fiber (5 g or more is considered “high-fiber”), less than 10 g of sugar, and less than 200 milligrams (mg) of sodium per serving. Actual serving sizes vary depending on the cereal, so it’s important to check the nutrition facts label and measure out the recommended portion. “If you’re just pouring directly into the cereal bowl, that could be double or even triple the real serving size,” Spetz notes.
Here are seven choices that meet most of these parameters and are good breakfast (or snack) options, whether you want to lose weight or just start off your day with a nutritious meal.