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 In Ask an Expert, Pediatrics, Pulse Blog

Q: What should I look for in a breakfast cereal?

One of the healthiest breakfast cereals is oatmeal. It’s full of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and fiber. Studies suggest that it can lower bad cholesterol and help control blood sugar. It’s also relatively inexpensive, easy to make, and low in calories and fat. Most kids love oatmeal because it’s soft and has a simple, appealing taste.

Steel-cut oatmeal is the healthiest form, but it can take time to cook. Try making a batch on a day off; it will keep fresh in the refrigerator for several days. Just reheat it in the microwave before eating. Old-fashioned oatmeal is also beneficial and takes less time to make. For a no-cook, grab-and-go option, try overnight oats.

No matter how you get your oatmeal fix, it’s important to watch the toppings. Skip the butter and brown sugar and sweeten oatmeal with fresh or frozen fruit. Use spices such as cinnamon and nutmeg to add flavor, and add walnuts or almonds for a bit of crunch and a dose of healthy fats.

If you and your family tend to eat boxed cereal in the morning, take some time to examine the nutrition label before adding it to your grocery cart. (This video teaches how to read a nutrition facts label.) Many seemingly healthy cereals are full of sugar.

A good approach is to follow the “Rule of 3.” A serving of cereal should have:

  • 3 or more grams of protein
  • 3 or more grams of fiber.

Additionally, sugar should not be one of the first three ingredients.

For an even healthier cereal, follow the “Rule of 5.” A serving of cereal should contain:

  • 5 or more grams of protein
  • 5 or more grams of fiber
  • No more than 5 grams of sugar.

Ideally, the first item on the ingredient list should be a whole grain, such as whole wheat or whole oats.

Another thing to keep in mind when buying cereals is the serving size. Most people just pour cereal from the box into their bowl and end up eating more than they think. Try measuring your cereal so you know how much you’re really getting. You can add bulk to a single serving by topping cereal with banana slices, berries, or nuts. Or pair cereal with a protein; good options include one egg, whole-wheat bread with unsweetened peanut butter, or low-fat yogurt that is low in sugar (9 to 11 grams of sugar per serving).

—Valerie Weiss, MD

Dr. Valerie Weiss is a pediatrician at Vancouver Clinic. She has a special interest in helping families make healthy lifestyle choices to prevent or reverse obesity and its complications.

Valerie Weiss, MD.