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What's in your breakfast bowl? Learn what to look for when shopping for cereals

Do you really know how to read those complicated labels? These tips will help you break it down.
/ Source: TODAY

If breakfast is the most important meal of the day, it's best to know what to reach for before sitting down with that bowl of cereal.

Registered dietitian Jackie London helped TODAY cut through the hype found on so many cereal boxes. London, the Good Housekeeping nutrition director, deciphered many of the packaging claims and provided guidance on what to look for on labels so that consumers can make healthier choices when shopping for breakfast items.

Here are some of her recommendations:

1. Keep an eye on portion control.

There is no standard serving size for cereal, London said. Instead, look for cereals that list between a half- to a full-cup of cereal per serving. If the cereal has a higher density, such as granola-based or high-fiber varieties, lean toward the smaller serving size.

The goal is to consume between 350-400 calories, which should be enough energy to stave off hunger cravings for the rest of the morning.

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2. Ignore “no artificial” ingredients claims.

“This is a bit of a misnomer,” London said. Those claims must meet specific definitions set by the federal Food and Drug Administration, so they’re not wrong — technically.

“If you’re looking to get some extra wholesome, nutritious food into your diet and you’re looking to eat more real food, you’re not going to get that from a processed cereal,” she said.

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Instead, look for cereals that list whole grains such as wheat or oats as your first item. Also look for shorter ingredient lists.

Look for whole-grain items as the first ingredient.
Look for whole-grain items as the first ingredient.DWD-Comp / Alamy Stock Photo / Alamy Stock Photo

3. Look out for when labels say "good source of."

This claim also must fit an FDA definition, in this case it must offer at least 10 percent of the daily value of a certain nutrient.

“But we don’t eat nutrients, we eat food,” London said. Instead of focusing on a specific nutrient, look for a hearty combination of protein and fiber — aim for at least 3 grams of each per serving.

4. Check out the sugar content.

The label may claim the cereal contains “no high-fructose corn syrup,” but there’s probably plenty of other sweeteners.

“Sugar by any name is still a sugar,” London said. Instead, some cereals use organic cane sugar, caramel, or rice or maple syrup. Fruit juice or juice concentrate and purees are other “sneaky sources of added sugar,” she said.

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Read labels carefully and keep an eye out for sodium levels and saturated fats, both of which are frequently added to enhance flavor. Look for cereals with less than 10 grams of added sugar per serving and less than 2 grams of saturated fat and 200 milligrams or less of sodium.

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