Decoding the cereal label.
Many people turn to cereal as a quick and easy breakfast option. But finding an all-around healthy cereal is no easy task. As you walk down the grocery store isle, countless cereal choices stare you in the face. Which do you choose—a kid-friendly package or the one high in fiber? Each cereal claims its own health advantage. Some are high in vitamins and minerals, are low in sugar, or are made with whole grain; while others are rich in fiber, lowers risk of heart disease, and are low in sodium. But here’s the tricky part. While a cereal may claim to be full of vitamins and minerals, it may also be extremely high in sugar. And another cereal may claim to be made of whole grains, while also being full of artificial colors and flavors.
The next time you’re shopping for cereal, look for one that meets all of the following criteria, and your family’s cold breakfast will be made as healthy as possible.
Made With Whole Grains
The main thing to look for on the nutrition label of a cereal is whether it’s made from whole grains. A cereal box may say it’s made with whole grains but only contain a small amount. Look at the list of ingredients for a clearer picture. In cereals with plenty of whole grain, whole grain is the first ingredient listed. Common whole grains for cereal include whole grain oats or wheat. Rice or rice flour is not a whole grain. Also, be wary when you see boxes that advertise how many grams of whole grain they contain. Compare the grams of whole grain to the serving size.
A diet with plenty of whole grains will lower your risk of heart disease, diabetes, and weight gain.
Rich in Fiber
Cereals made of whole grain or bran are a good source of fiber. Adults should eat 20–35 grams of fiber a day. Look for a cereal that has at least 5 grams of fiber per serving. If your breakfast isn’t high in fiber, you’re probably not getting enough. Watching your waistline? Fiber helps you feel satisfied for longer, which keeps you from snacking, overeating, and ultimately gaining weight. Fiber also keeps your digestive tract healthy and lowers your risk of heart disease, high cholesterol, and diabetes.
When cereal shopping with fiber in mind, beware! Some cereals may advertise high fiber content, but if the cereal isn’t made primarily from whole grains or bran, the fiber in the cereal does little good for your body.
Low in Sugar
If the ingredients listed on your cereal box look like the ingredients listed on your package of cookies, it’s time to switch cereals. Added sugars contain no nutritional value and only contribute to weight gain. A cereal label will tell you how many grams of sugar it contains. However, this number includes both natural sugars (from whole grains and fruit), so it’s difficult to know how much added sugar a cereal contains.
If a cereal has 20 grams of sugar per serving, multiply that by four (there are four calories in a gram of sugar). This means there are 80 calories per serving just from the sugar. Women should eat no more than 100 calories of sugar a day and men less than 150.
Added sugars are often disguised in the ingredient label as high fructose corn syrup, corn sweetener, syrup, molasses, and words ending in “ose.”
Cereal with real fruit is high in natural sugar, but this is a healthy kind of sugar. Just beware of fake fruits. Look on the nutrition label to find the specific kind of fruit that the cereal claims to contain. Those “strawberries” in your cereal may not be strawberries at all. They may be a ball of food dye, flavoring, and gelatin.
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