Healthy Cereal: 5 Criteria for Picking Yours

Article posted in: Diet & Nutrition

Among the colorful, character-donning boxes that line your grocery store’s shelves, filled to the brim with sugar-coated pieces of “food,” healthy cereal could seem like a myth.

…And, because you’ve probably heard that breakfast is “the most important meal of the day” reiterated countless times, there’s pressure to make the right choice.

A study published in the European Journal of Neuroscience found that skipping breakfast is associated with greater responsiveness in the brain to highly palatable, high calorie foods… a recipe for diet destruction.

Cereal is a longtime breakfast favorite, and for good reason: It’s quick, easy and delicious. The good news is that not all cereals are diet destroyers. The right, healthy cereal for you is out there, waiting to help you keep your weight loss plan running smoothly.

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The Nutrisystem cereals—like all of our foods—are perfectly portioned and prepared with the best balance of nutrients, taking all of the guesswork out of choosing the perfect one. Whether you opt for the NutriFlakes, the Granola Cereal, or something else, you’ll know you’re making a good choice to help get your day off to a great start.

For those not on the Nutrisystem program—or those who find themselves in the cereal aisle, picking out something new—there are five basic guidelines to inform your cereal selection.

These are the five criteria for choosing a healthy cereal:

1. Fiber

Your morning bowl of cereal is a great place to get some of the fiber that’s important to your overall daily goal of 25 grams (for women; men should get 38 grams per day). Aim for a fiber count of at least three grams per serving. To achieve this, you should be looking at whole grain cereals. The Whole Grains Council has made this a bit easier by putting a yellow stamp on cereals that have at least a half serving of whole grains.

2. Iron Fortified

Iron deficiency is the most common nutritional deficiency worldwide. It is also one of the easiest to solve. Even if you’re not anemic, you are likely not getting as much iron as you should in a day. Use your morning meal as an excuse to get some more iron by looking for the words “fortified with iron” on your cereal box. Just make sure you’re consuming some vitamin C, too, as it plays a key role in helping your body’s absorption of iron. Pair your iron fortified cereal with some fresh fruit like orange slices for the maximum benefit.

3. Sugar

You probably already know that sugar is lurking in a lot of cereals on the shelves. However, labels are getting more and more difficult to read. Sugar is disguised with names like fruit juice concentrate, evaporated cane juice, dextrose or coconut palm sugar and sometimes, manufacturers will use more than one of these names to separate out the sugars, so that their products appear to contain less. When you add it all up, it’s a lot less healthy than you thought. Try to avoid cereals that also have dried fruit because it is typically coated in sugar. When in doubt, go with the fresh stuff.

4. Calories

Cereal alone can be low in calories. But, once you add in milk (or a milk substitute), top your bowl with some fresh fruit, and maybe even enjoy it with a big glass of orange juice on the side, the count rises fairly quickly. As a rule of thumb, try to select a cereal that is around 150 calories per serving—and then stick with that one serving. It’s important to measure out a single serving, rather than pour a big bowl full, because it’s very easy to get as many as two or three servings into a bowl, without realizing.

5. Sodium

Is there salt in your cereal? That may sound kind of funny, but the fact is that there is sodium hidden in a lot of foods and cereal is a common culprit. While shoppers tend to look at the label for calories, fiber and sugar, they rarely remember to check the sodium content. Keep sodium intake from your cereal under 230 mg, which is 10 percent of your daily value according to the new Dietary Reference Intakes (DRI) guidelines from the National Institutes of Health.