Convenient and satisfying, cereal is always going to be a breakfast staple for most guys. (Full disclosure: I’ve been known to scoop up cereal for dessert and without a shred of guilt about it.) But if you’re not careful you can end up with a nutrition bomb floating in your milk. With a little research, however, it is possible to find and enjoy a healthy cereal.

Yes, much of the mainstream cereal on the market is a lot closer to candy than a nourishing way to fuel the most important meal of the day. And shall we remind you that you are no longer a kid so your breakfast shouldn’t include colored marshmallows, wah-wah.

Choose wisely, though, and cereal can be nutritious enough to anchor a breakfast of champions (I kid you not). Some options on the market are packed with whole grains, dietary fiber, and even muscle-friendly protein without being sullied with heaps of sugar. It’s just a matter of knowing what to watch out for on package labels, in person or virtually, so you end up with a healthy cereal.

To make a solid selection from the cereal aisle, here’s what to look for to pick a nutritious one.

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Go for the ‘Whole’ Thing

Whole grains can provide a healthy foundation for healthy cereals. When your cereal of choosing is made with grains be sure to look for a whole grain as an ingredient near the top of the list, which can include whole wheat or whole grain oats. The ingredients on packaged foods like cereals are required to be listed in order of amount from largest to smallest. So when a whole grain is up top it’s present in higher amounts.

Compared to the refined grains used in many boxed cereals, whole grains are higher in fiber, protein and important micronutrients, like magnesium and selenium. Why the nutritional upgrade? Those processed grains lose much of their nutritional value during the milling process.

And be aware of label wordplay. “Multigrain,” “cracked wheat,” and “100% wheat” do not guarantee that you’ll be spooning up whole grains.

Limit the Sweet Stuff

Packaged cereals can bowl you over with heaps of sugar. And it’s not just those with cartoon characters on the box that are problematic. Here’s more proof that eating too much added sugar is bad news for your health: A 2024 study published in the Journal of Preventive Cardiology found that among the 3,154 adults followed over 20 years, those who consumed a diet high in added sugars also had lower intake of whole grains, fruits, vegetables, and lean proteins and showed a 38% greater risk for metabolic syndrome, a cluster of conditions like high blood pressure that raises heart disease risk, compared with those who ate a diet lower in added sugars.

You don’t need to steer clear of sugar completely to have a healthy cereal, but to keep intake in check look for options where the amount of added sugar listed on the Nutrition Facts panel is 6 grams or less. Don’t get fooled by ingredients like malt barley extract, dextrose, sucrose, maltose, and fruit juice concentrate. These are just euphemisms for sugar. It’s acceptable if the total sugar count is higher than what is listed under grams of added sugar on the Nutrition Facts panel if some of the sweet stuff hails from dried or dehydrated fruits (these are not classified as added sugars). “Crunch,” “clusters,” “fruity,” or “vanilla” in the product description are tip-offs that you might be getting high amounts of sugar.

Seek out Fiber

Breakfast cereal is a good way to work more fiber into your diet, which can help close any intake gap in your diet. A report in the British Journal of Nutrition which examined U.S. National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey data determined that fewer than 10% of American adults are meeting the Institute of Medicine’s suggested daily fiber consumption, which is 14 grams of fiber per 1,000 calories, and this shortcoming is placing them at a greater risk for poor health. A recent investigation in the journal discovered that cereal fiber can be protective against inflammation and the onset of heart disease. And let’s not forget that by slowing down digestion and keeping blood sugar levels better balanced, fiber-rich cereals will make your breakfast more satiating making you less likely to want to tackle the vending machine by mid-morning.

Ideally, you’re aiming to find a healthy cereal that supplies at least 5 grams of fiber per serving. Ingredients like whole grains, wheat bran, nuts, seeds and dried fruit will assist in making a cereal a bigger fiber powerhouse.

Keep Sodium on the Down Low

Salt in cereal? You bet, and it can be much higher than you’d think. Most guys already eat much more sodium than necessary, and even if you’re hanging out and sweating in saunas regularly, it’s a good idea to make sure your cereal isn’t one of your major sodium sources. Go with those cereals that cap sodium at 250mg or less in a serving.

Pump up the Protein

Getting a big dose of your protein early on will help you stay satisfied for longer, and some research suggests morning protein is especially important for building muscle. So it’s good to know that higher protein cereal exists with more of them coming to market to meet the demands for the high-protein craze. Your healthy cereal doesn’t need to be packed with protein if you are getting enough of it from other sources in the morning like yogurt, but you can look for options that contain 10 grams of the macro per serving.

Keep it Simple

Scan the ingredient list and see if there are too many whatchamacallits. An ingredient list should not read like a chemistry quiz. Words and phrases like “BHT,” “modified food starch,” “guar gum,” and “artificial flavors”  could mean you are eating a heavily processed cereal containing higher amounts of questionable ingredients. Yes, cereal can easily fall into the dreaded ultra-processed category and, yes, Fruit Loops certainly does fit the bill. Try to gravitate toward healthy cereals with a more wholesome ingredient list.

As of September 2022, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA)   some updated guidelines for using the term “healthy” on food packages. To be considered healthy by the FDA, cereals must now contain 3/4 ounces of whole grains and no more than 1 gram of saturated fat, 230 milligrams of sodium, and 2.5 grams of added sugars per serving. Sounds reasonable, don’t you think?


‘Cereal’ Killers

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Overwhelmed by the colossal number of choices when spinning your wheels down the cereal aisle? With the above nutrition guidelines in mind, here are the 8 top choices when you’re ready to grab your spoon and a bowl, each of which makes it much less tempting to punch the snooze button. And all are certainly an upgrade from the Count Chocula, even if you need to order them online.

Holo Berries Organic Overnight Muesli

Per serving (1 pouch):  380 calories, 11 g fat, 2 g saturated fat, 49 g carbs, 11 g fiber, 1 g added sugar, 20 g protein, 230 mg sodium

This next-level muesli not only delivers fresh berry flavor it’s also one of the most nutritionally well-rounded cereals on the market. Each single-serving pouch is resplendent in a winning combo of fiber, healthy fats, and protein (20 grams, wow!) courtesy of the inclusion of rolled oats, chia seeds, sprouted brown rice protein powder, and a real fruit powder. Not to be overlooked is that the muesli is bolstered with bacterial culture to help fertilize your gut with beneficial bugs. The added dark chocolate chips are a nice bonus. If you need breakfast on the go, simply soak a packet of the muesli in milk or a non-dairy beverage overnight in a sealed glass container and it will be ready to go when you are.

Nature’s Path Flax Plus Raisin Bran 

Per serving (1 1/4 cups): 210 calories, 2.5 g fat, 0 g saturated fat, 45 g carbs, 9 g fiber, 6 g added sugar, 6 g protein, 210 mg sodium

There are a handful of reasons why this is a step up from the ubiquitous mega-brand raisin bran. There is less added sugar (6g vs. 9g), more fiber (9g vs 7g), all the edible stuff in the box is certified organic, there is no mystery malt flavor, and the raisins aren’t like biting into sweet rocks so you’re less likely to need a post-breakfast dentist appointment. All in all, a more nutritious and satisfying way to start the day.

Uncle   Original Wheat Berry Flakes

Per serving (3/4 cup): 220 calories, 6 g fat, 0.5 g saturated fat, 43 g carbs, 10 g fiber, 0 g added sugar, 8 g protein, 140 mg sodium

Beyond praising this cereal for its lofty fiber count, minimalist ingredient list, zero added sugar, and budget-friendly price, it also has heart-benefiting omega-3 fatty acids from added flaxseeds. Frosted Flakes you have been beaten down.

Seven Sundays Wildberry Protein Oats

Per serving (1/2 cup): 230 calories, 4.5 g fat, 0.5 g saturated fat, 38 g carbs, 7 g fiber, 6 g added sugar, 10 g protein, 135 mg sodium

Whether you eat this hot or cold-soaked overnight, this is like spooning up oatmeal on steroids. The gluten-free oats are beefed up with upcycled oat protein, real fruit, flax and chia seeds, and genuine maple syrup, which this dietitian from maple tree studded Ontario can appreciate. The result is a bowl of cereal with a great balance of protein, fiber, and healthy fats.

Magic Spoon Fruity

Per serving (1 cup ): 150 calories, 8 g fat, 1 g saturated fat, 15 g carbs, 1 g fiber, 0 g added sugar, 13 g protein, 160 mg sodium

Like Fruit Loops but much healthier for grown-ups. What’s to appreciate about this crunchy cereal is that it supplies an impressive 13 grams of muscle-building protein from a high-quality milk protein blend. This is enough to overlook the low amounts of fiber, which you can help remedy by piling on a handful of raspberries. There is no added sugar and the color of the rounds comes from vegetable juice and not some mystery coloring from a lab.

Bob’s Red Mill 7 Grain Cereal

Per serving (1/4 cup): 150 calories, 1 g fat, 0 g saturated fat, 30 g carbs, 6 g fiber, 0 g sugar, 5 g protein, 0 mg sodium

Each spoonful of this hearty, hot, and healthy cereal delivers a wallop of whole-grain nutrition, which the late great Bob was famous for. The grain bonanza includes wheat, oats, rye, tritacle (a hybrid of wheat and rye), barley, brown rice, and oat bran. A recent study in the   of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics found that whole grain consumption can improve levels of hemoglobin A1C, which is a measure of blood sugar levels over the last three months, and C-reactive protein, a marker of inflammation in the body, suggesting that long-term cardiovascular health may benefit from replacing refined grains in the diet with whole grains. The review of 22 randomized controlled trials also found whole grain oats decreased total and LDL cholesterol levels.

The grains are coarsely ground so they cook quickly in simmering water, only about 10 minutes, which is perfect for harried mornings. On its own, the cooked cereal isn’t very exciting so for some added flavor, stir in cinnamon during cooking and then top with berries and chopped nuts.

Gr8nola Peanut Butter

Per serving (1/3 cup): 130 calories, 6 g fat, 3 g saturated fat, 16 g carbs, 2 g fiber, 5 g added sugar, 13 g protein, 80 mg sodium

Finding a granola that is not loaded with sugar is about as rare as finding a teenage girl who doesn’t think Taylor Swift is the supreme being. The manufacturer calls this a “superfood granola,” and for good reason. It incorporates whole oats, peanuts, chia, flax, and, of course, peanut butter. The crunch bunch is lightly sweetened with honey and monk fruit extract (a sugar substitute that appears to be rather benign).

Barbara’s Shredded Wheat Cereal

Per serving (2 biscuits): 170 calories, 1 g fat, 0 g saturated fat, 41 g carbs, 7 g fiber, 0 g added sugar, 6 g protein, 0 mg sodium

Sometimes less is more. This squeaky clean shredded wheat contains just a single ingredient: whole-grain wheat. So you end up with lots of fiber and no added sugar in your bowl. A study in the   Journal of Nutrition found that when people consumed 48 grams (about the same amount as two biscuits of this cereal) of a wheat-based cereal for three weeks they experienced an increase in the number of beneficial microorganisms in their gut microbiome. The whole wheat likely acts as a prebiotic which essentially serves as a fuel source for the micro-critters in our digestive tract. So you and your resident bacteria get to feast at breakfast.

The Ultimate Healthy Cereal Bowl

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There is nothing wrong with a healthy cereal floating in milk, but for a more substantial daybreak meal that will keep you feeling full and help you pack on muscle like a pro build up a power-packed breakfast bowl using this method.

Base: Plain Greek yogurt

Stir in: A scoop of protein powder

Topping: Cereal

Finishing touch: Berries, nuts or seeds