Buying breakfast cereals should be easy, right? But taking a stroll down the cereal aisle in just about any grocery store in America trying to make a healthy selection with more than 100 different kinds of cereal to choose from can be incredibly daunting.
Breakfast cereal boxes are carefully crafted and marketed. They have to grab your attention with just the right colors, wording, and images before you walk on by. It’s no wonder it is so easy to be swayed into purchasing a not-so-healthy cereal overloaded with sugar and artificial dyes. You want to make a healthy choice but it’s tough when cereals vary widely on how much sugar, fiber or whole grains they contain.
To simplify things, it helps to focus on just a few ingredients that matter most. Breakfast cereals can be a convenient, quick, and healthy choice for the first meal of the day but you have to know what to look for. The stress of making the right decision disappears when you narrow it down to just three key numbers to seek in a box of breakfast cereal. Next time you go buy breakfast cereal, remember the numbers 3-6-6. Here’s why:
1. High in fiber – at least 3 grams per serving
Breakfast cereals high in fiber mean more whole grain goodness for you. The average American only consumes a scant 14 grams of fiber a day - at least 25-30 grams a day are recommended. High-fiber breakfast cereals come to the rescue being one of the best sources of this important nutrient.
Look on the Nutrition Facts Label on the side of the box and buy a cereal with at least 3 grams of fiber per serving – the higher the better. Also read the ingredient list and the first ingredient should state “whole-grain.” The more whole grain foods we consume, the more fiber we take in. Fiber plays a variety of roles in our bodies keeping us healthy. It lowers our risk for heart disease, stroke, and diabetes, can aid in weight loss since it helps us feel fuller longer, and of course, keeps our bowels moving regularly.
2. High in protein – at least 6 grams per serving
There was a time when breakfast cereals and high protein were not synonymous together. But in recent years, cereals have pumped up their protein marketing to the popularity and demand for foods high in this nutrient.
Studies have shown a breakfast boosted with protein can reduce hunger throughout the rest of the day curbing temptations to overeat leading to weight gain. Sufficient protein provides a sense of satiety, the state of feeling full that prevents you from eating until the next meal or snack time.
Choose a breakfast cereal with at least 6 grams of protein per serving – again, the higher the better. This amount provides about 10 percent of the recommended dietary allowance for protein which is 46 grams daily for women and 56 grams for men.
3. Low in sugar – no more than 6 grams per serving
Breakfast cereals have been attempting to reduce their sugar content in recent years as sugar has been demonized and raked over the coals for being a not-so-healthy substance. This is good news for us as consumers but just how low should we go? The best advice is to choose a cereal containing no more than 6 grams of sugar per serving.
Sugar is used primarily for flavoring in breakfast cereals. Few of us like to eat bland, tasteless cereal flakes in our breakfast bowl. But when the cereal is brimming with this empty calorie ingredient, we miss out on a lot of nutritional value we deserve. The more sugar added the more that valuable health-promoting nutrients are displaced. Sugar contains few nutrients with the exception of providing calories. And it is known to contribute to dental caries and can make blood sugar levels spike.
Naturally sweeten up cereal by adding fresh fruit such as blueberries, raspberries or strawberries. They contain just enough sweetness along with health-promoting antioxidants for clear skin, phytochemicals to strengthen the immune system and fiber enhancing digestive functioning.