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What is the healthiest cereal? Dietitians share their favorites

What to look for and avoid when choosing a healthy, tasty breakfast cereal.
/ Source: TODAY

Cereal is a breakfast classic — just add milk and you have a quick morning meal. But finding a healthy cereal that also tastes good can be a challenge in a supermarket aisle filled with boxes of sugary refined grains.

Experts say there’s room for improvement even when people skip the sweetest options.

Cereal is typically high in carbs, but low in protein and fiber on its own, explains Katherine Shary, a registered dietitian at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta.

“Cereal alone, just pouring it in a bowl, isn’t necessarily the most healthy filling option for our families, but we can use it as a base and add things to it to make it healthy and filling,” Shary tells

“Breakfast cereals are all over the map,” Lisa Young, a registered dietitian in New York and author of “Finally Full, Finally Slim,” previously told

“You can have a really healthy cereal… or you can have a cereal that’s literally a cookie in disguise.”

What to look for in a healthy cereal

Look for cereal that’s 100% whole grain and contains at least 3 grams of fiber per serving, Young advises.

Wheat, rice and oats start out as whole grains, meaning they include all of the grain’s structure: the bran, endosperm and germ. That provides fiber, vitamins, magnesium and antioxidants, according to registered dietitian Samantha Cassetty.

Eating whole grains can help prolong life and help you lose weight, studies have found.

But many breakfast cereals are made of refined grains, which are missing parts of the grain’s structure. That strips up to two-thirds of the grain’s nutrients, Cassetty notes.

Look for cereal that has as little added sugar as possible — healthier options have 6 grams of sugar or less per serving, Shary adds. Check the label: If sugar is within the top three ingredients, there's a lot of sugar in that cereal, she notes.

If you want more sweetness, it’s always best to buy plain whole grain, bran-based cereal and make it sweeter by adding fruit, or a drizzle of honey or maple syrup — that way, you control how much sugar you’re adding and work on cutting back from there, she advises.

Make other additions to make it a healthy meal: Milk provides the protein, while adding your own nuts, ground flax seed, and fresh or dried fruit provides fiber and healthy fats.

What to avoid in cereal:

Watch for these red flags, Shary advises:

Colors: Healthy cereal is not going to contain a lot of colors.

Signals of added sugar: Cereals that say "frosted," “honey,” “granola clusters,” “coated clusters” or “marshmallows” on the packaging. “Those are all going to contain a lot of sugar,” she notes.

Dried fruit already in the box: Typically, raisins and other dried fruit that already comes with the cereal is coated with sugar to make it taste extra sweet, so it’s best to add your own dried fruit, Shary says.

What is the healthiest type of cereal?

Whole grain cereal:

Look for the words “whole grain” in the ingredient list, and choose products high in dietary fiber with little added sugar, the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics recommends.

Examples include shredded wheat and bran flakes, Shary says.

When Consumer Reports nutrition experts evaluated 32 breakfast cereals, they recommended the following options that rated high for both nutrition and taste:

  • Nature’s Path Organic Heritage Flakes
  • Post Grape-Nuts Flakes
  • General Mills Cheerios
  • Post Great Grains Raisins, Dates & Pecans
  • General Mills Total
  • One Degree Organic Foods Sprouted Ancient Maize Flakes
  • General Mills Wheaties
  • Kind Honey Almond
  • Post Grape-Nuts Original
  • Barbara’s Multigrain Spoonfuls Original


This hot cereal is a cardiologist favorite. It contains fiber, vitamins and minerals, and studies associate it with lowering cholesterol and helping with weight control, according to the American Heart Association.

Use plain oatmeal as a base to add fruit and nuts. Skip boxed oatmeal that already contains brown sugar and cinnamon or other sweet flavoring, Shary advises.

Is there a best cereal for weight loss?

“No, I would not rely on eating cereal as a weight-loss mechanism,” Shary says.

“Don’t rely on one food that is going to contribute towards the weight loss, but instead it’s all the foods.”

Is it OK to eat cereal every day?

Yes, as long as you choose a healthy cereal, make healthy additions like fruit and nuts, and stick to the serving size, the experts say.

Keep a measuring cup near the box to get an idea of what a true serving looks like — it might be one cup, but people can easily pour three cups into a bowl, amounting to 500 calories, Young cautions.

It’s also OK to eat healthy cereal for lunch or dinner as long as you’re eating fruits, vegetables, protein and whole grains at other times of the day, Shary adds.

“When we talk about health and eating, it’s not one particular meal or one particular food. It’s looking at the entire day — and cereal can fit into that if that’s what you enjoy and like,” she says.