Week 2 of Nutrition Month is nearly upon us, and the theme is “Quality Counts”. (If you missed Week 1, here’s a recap, and no, it’s not too late to share your “one thing” with me.)
There are many aspects to dietary quality, but I decided to take a deep dive into breakfast cereals, since I continue to see low-quality cereals like Rice Krispies and Special K on too many food records. They might not have the sugar content of Captain Crunch, but they’re mostly refined, not whole, grains – the cereal equivalent of Wonder bread. Not a great way to start your day.
There are A LOT of choices in the cereal aisle. Superstore’s website lists 97 “family” cereals, 119 “adult” cereals and 31 “kids” cereals. I scoured the (very long) shelves and found 16 cereals that met the following criteria:
|The first ingredient is a whole grain.
No more than 8g of sugar / serving.
At least 4g of fibre / serving.
No more than 200mg of sodium / serving.
See below for an explanation of these criteria, if you’re interested.
The Sweet Spot Sixteen
Don’t have all day to stand around the cereal aisle looking for products that meet these criteria? I did it for you! Click on an image below if you want to see the whole box.
Cereals that Didn’t Make the Cut
- Of all the cold cereals stocked at Costco, only All Bran Buds met the criteria. Everything else was too high in sugar or low in fibre. 🙁 Disappointed in you, Costco.
- The others are from Superstore, but I didn’t make it to the Natural Foods section, so there are no gluten-free options (yet).
- Raisin Bran. Popular cereal with my clients, but high, high in sugar. We can’t tell how much of the sugar is “added” sugar, and how much is naturally occurring in the raisins, but I’d pass. Plus, the sodium is too high.
- Cheerios are close, but no cigar. The fibre just isn’t high enough. However, points for being made of oats, which means it’s partly soluble fibre with cholesterol-lowering potential. Still, if that’s important to you, All Bran Buds, psyllium husks, ground flax, chia seeds or oatmeal would be better sources.
- Special K. Despite all of the advertising targeted at women and weight loss, this cereal is a lightweight. Look at the ingredients list.
No fibre. That’s right, none. They have a lot of nerve marketing that as a healthy cereal. (Pet peeve alert.)
- Kashi Go Lean Crunch. There’s a health halo over this brand, but it’s a Kellogg’s product in disguise. The whole grains are nice, but check the sugar:I’m not sure how having 200 calories of cereal in a 3/4 cup serving will help you to “go lean.”
I only went to Costco and Superstore, so may have missed some brands. If you’ve got a favourite you think should be on the list, send me a picture of the box, the ingredients list, and the nutrition facts, and I’ll add it.
An Explanation of the Criteria
For the number-crunching nutrition geeks out there, here’s a bit more of an explanation of the criteria:
- The first ingredient is a whole grain. Claims on the front of the package can be misleading, but if you see the word “whole” in the first ingredient, you’re on the right track. I’d count “wheat bran” too, although it isn’t technically a whole grain. If you’re not sure about an ingredient, check here.
- It contains 8g or less sugar per serving. Yep, I saw that the third ingredient above was sugar. If you see that, ask the question, “How much is there?”
Ideally, less than 5% of our calories should come from “added” or “free” sugar, which amounts to about 25g, if you’re eating about 2000 calories. (There are 4g in a teaspoon.) If you go over 8g, or 2 teaspoons, as many cereals do, you’re in for more than 1/3 of your sugar intake before noon. Doesn’t leave you much room for chocolate, does it?
- It contributes at least 4g of fibre. Again, if you’re eating 2000 calories, you should aim for about 28g of fibre. If you’re not getting at least 4g from your breakfast cereal, you’re going to have a tough time getting there! More would be better, but don’t settle for less than 4g.
- No more than 200mg of sodium. Hypertension Canada recommends no more than 2000mg a day, so I would hope you wouldn’t be getting more than 10% of it from breakfast cereal!
You could argue these numbers one way or the other, but those are some rough guidelines. If you like a cereal with 10g of sugar per serving, watch the portion size (fellow Frosted Mini-Wheat lovers, I feel your pain). If your favourite has 220mg for sodium, consider the rest of your sodium. If you’re cooking all of your own food, maybe you can afford it.
Other tips for the cereal-loving among us
- Stick to 3/4-1 cup, unless you’re a marathon runner, a teenage boy, or are for some other reason in need of a lot of extra calories.
- Add fruit or nuts. Cereal alone isn’t much of a breakfast. Slice in a banana, or sprinkle on a few frozen blueberries for antioxidants, vitamins, and extra fibre. Sprinkle with slivered almonds, hemp hearts, or chia seeds for protein, healthy fats, and even more fibre.
- Enjoy with milk or another protein-rich alternative. Soy milk, kefir, greek yogurt, or skyr (it’s new! – Icelandic yogurt) make the cut. Almond milk doesn’t – only 1 gram of protein per cup.
If you enjoy a good bowl of cereal, go for it! Follow these suggestions and choose one of the Sweet Spot Sixteen. If your favourite didn’t make the cut, maybe you can use week 2 (quality counts!) of Nutrition Month as an excuse for trying something new.
As always, thanks for reading, and let me know what you think!