The Unhealthiest Cereals on the Planet
By Olivia Tarantino
Discover which brands will bowl you over, and which are just candy for breakfast, in our definitive list.
Remember that old slogan "Mikey Likes It!" Of course he did. Life cereal is made with flour, oil and sugar, the same ingredients as you'd find in a cookie!
You can do better—and should. A high-protein breakfast can lead to guaranteed long-term weight loss. Science proved it, according to the new book Zero Belly Breakfasts. Of people who’ve lost 30 pounds or more, 80% kept the weight off by eating a high-protein breakfast every day, according to a study done by The National Weight Control Registry. And while some brands have scrambled to maintain customers by cutting down on sugar and phasing out artificial colors, there’s still a few Cookie Crooks out there.
That’s why Eat This, Not That! scoured the cereal aisle to unbox the diet disasters wrecking your waistline. Watch out for these unhealthiest cereals on the planet, and for our complete lists of foods to avoid, don't miss our essential list of the 50 Unhealthiest Foods on the Planet.
Our Judgement Criteria
Because serving size differs between brands (many particularly sweet cereals denote smaller serving sizes so it looks like they have less sugar), and because the FDA will be increasing the standard serving size of breakfast cereal from ¾ cup to 1 cup on the new nutrition label (which will be updated in 2018), we calculated the nutritional information for a 1 cup serving for every cereal. This list includes cereals with 13 or more grams of sugar per serving, and/or anything containing harmful ingredients—partially hydrogenated oils, harmful preservatives, and artificial colors and flavor additives.
Eat This! Tip:
We recommend looking for a cereal with at least 3 grams of fiber and no more than 10 grams of sugar per 1 cup serving. The fiber will help slow your body’s digestion of the sugars, which can limit energy-draining spikes (along with subsequent crashes) in blood sugar that cause you to feel always hungry. And always skim the ingredient list; A whole grain should be listed as the first ingredient—not sugar—and ensure there are no artificial colors or flavors, preservatives, or partially hydrogenated oils. Or make your own fat-melting breakfast, using one of the recipes in Zero Belly Breakfasts.
Kellogg’s Smart Start
Per 1 cup: 190 calories, 1 g fat (0 g saturated fat), 200 mg sodium, 43 g carbs (3 g fiber, 14 g sugar), 4 g protein
Sorry, Kellogg’s, but there’s nothing smart about a high-sugar, low-fiber cereal. This Smart Start cereal hijacks the healthy-sounding claim “antioxidants”—compounds that mop up inflammatory, cancer-causing free radicals—making the cereal sound better for you than it is. In reality, their box contains an inexcusable 14 grams of sugar per serving, as well as artificial flavors, colors, and potentially carcinogen-containing BHT. According to Lisa Moskovitz, RD, CDN, “BHT is still highly controversial and limited research exists on whether it is harmful to the body or carcinogenic," but she added, "it is still recommended to avoid consuming large quantities."
Per 1 cup: 267 calories, 9 g fat (4 g saturated), 180 mg sodium, 45 g carbs (8 g fiber, 19 g sugars), 5 g protein
Yes, it has “oats” and “bran,” but Cracklin' Oat Bran also comes with nearly 20 grams of sugar, as well as a massive glut of palm and soybean oil that loads this box with inflammatory Omega-6s and saturated fats.
Mom’s Best Cereals
Cocoa Marshmallow Safari
Per 1 cup: 160 calories, 1.5 g fat (0.5 g saturated fat), 113 mg sodium, 36 g carbs (1 g fiber, 21 g sugar), 1 g protein
Per 1 cup: 147 calories, 0 g fat (0 g saturated fat), 87 mg sodium, 32 g carbs (0 g fiber, 20 g sugar), 3 g protein
This brand should be ashamed of itself. It’s marketed as “Mom’s Best,” praises that it’s free of high fructose corn syrup, and has no partially hydrogenated oils, artificial flavors, or preservatives, and boasts it contains REAL cocoa and honey! While those are all good things, there is an inexplicable 20 grams of sugar per serving (sugar is listed as the first ingredient in both cases), which puts these two boxes among the top 5 cereals out of hundreds in terms of sugar content.
Chex Clusters Fruit & Oats
Per 1 cup: 200 calories, 1.5 g fat (0 g saturated fat), 250 mg sodium, 45 g carbs (1 g fiber, 17 g sugar), 2 g protein
General Mills splatters health-sounding claims like “Gluten Free,” “No Colors from Artificial Sources,” “No Artificial Flavors,” “No High Fructose Corn Syrup” on their box, but they forgot to mention there are 17 grams of sugar in a cup serving. Oops! If you’re looking for fruit and oats, try one of these 50 Overnight Oats Recipes for Weight Loss instead.
Good Morenings Waffle Crunch
Per 1 cup: 120 calories, 1.5 g fat (0 g saturated fat), 180 mg sodium, 25 g carbs (1 g fiber, 10 g sugar), 2 g protein
A cereal called “Waffle Crisp” doesn’t sound very waistline-friendly, but what about “Good MOREnings Waffle Crunch?” The latter sounds marginally healthier, but it’s actually just the rebranding of the former cereal. It may be low in sugar, but the reason this cereal earns a place on our list is because it’s one of the few remaining boxes that contains the now-banned artery-clogging trans fat, partially hydrogenated soybean oil.
Cheerios Protein Oats & Honey
Per 1 cup: 168 calories, 2 g fat (0 g saturated fat), 224 mg sodium, 33 g carbs (3 g fiber, 14 g sugar), 6 g protein
Don’t be fooled by the front of this box. If you read the fine print, you’ll only consume 11 grams of protein if you pair this cereal with dairy milk. (Emphasis on dairy since milk alternatives only have a gram of the muscle-building stuff.) These Cheerios only have 6 grams of protein and it’s mostly from soy protein, which is most likely extracted from genetically modified, pesticide-laden soybeans.
Per 1 cup: 160 calories, 2.5 g fat (0.5 g saturated fat), 180 mg sodium, 33 g carbs (1 g fiber, 17 g sugar), 1 g protein
You’d think that brightly-colored bowls of cereal would be the only tip that a box contains artificial colors—but you’d be wrong. This Smorz cereal is full of bad-for-you ingredient caramel color—a chemically-derived additive which commonly contains an artificial form of phosphorous that's been shown to leach calcium from our bones. Beyond that, the s’mores-inspired cereal is also a sugary mess of oils and chemicals.
Fruit & Yogurt
Fruit & Yogurt
Per 1 cup: 160 calories, 1.5 g fat (0 g saturated fat), 185 mg sodium, 36 g carbs (4 g fiber, 13 g sugar), 3 g protein
You’ve likely heard of the benefits of yogurt, but don’t let that convince you to pick up this cereal. Kellogg’s uses nonfat yogurt powder that’s heat treated (and, thus, contains no probiotics), and throws in a medley of inflammatory sugars, artificial flavors, and artificial colors that will knock your gut health off track.
Marshmallow Fruity Pebbles
Per 1 cup: 147 calories, 0.5 g fat (0 g saturated fat), 213 mg sodium, 35 g carbs (0 g fiber, 17 g sugar), 1 g protein
It’s not just the 17 grams of sugar that did Marshmallow Fruity Pebbles in. It was also their addition of artificial colors—Yellow 5, Yellow 6, Red 40, and Blue 1. Red 40 and the two Yellows have both been banned from food products in the UK based on research that has connected the oil-derived colorants with allergies, migraines, headaches, behavioral problems, and hyperactivity among children.
Per 1 cup: 145 calories, 1 g fat (0 g saturated fat), 225 mg sodium, 29 g carbs (3 g fiber, 13 g sugar), 3 g protein
Magically delicious? Maybe. But Lucky Charms are far from magically nutritious. A close second to oats is the ingredient sugar, corn syrup, and eventually the oil-derived artificial colors yellows 5 & 6, red 40, and blue 1.
Per 1 cup: 147 calories, 1.5 g fat (0 g saturated fat), 130 mg sodium, 19 g carbs (3 g fiber, 15 g sugar), 7 g protein
It claims to have 14 grams of whole grains, but that’s not actually from a fully-intact whole grain. Rather, it’s pulverized brown rice flour. What really cemented this cereal a spot on our worst cereals list was the 15 grams of cane sugar and molasses they add per serving.
Fruit & Nut Blend
Fruit & Nut Blend
Per 1 cup: 253 calories, 5 g fat (0 g saturated fat), 187 mg sodium, 51 g carbs (4 g fiber, 17 g sugar), 4 g protein
Think twice before grabbing any product with cranberries. This fruit ranked last on our list of 25 Popular Fruits—Ranked By Sugar Content because it’s so low in the sweet stuff. That sounds like a good thing, but it’s not. Unfortunately, that means that manufacturers add more sugar to make up for the berry’s bitter taste, as you can see with the 17 grams of sugar, glycerol, corn syrup, honey, and molasses.
Kellogg’s Raisin Bran Crunch
Per 1 cup: 190 calories, 1 g fat (0 g saturated fat), 200 mg sodium, 45 g carbs (4 g fiber, 19 g sugar), 4 g protein
Here’s a tip you should always follow when picking up a box of cereal: steer clear of the three C's. What are the three C’s? They’re crunch, crisps, and clusters. This trio is code for clumps of rice, oats, or corn held together by sugar and fat. That even goes for bran cereals like this one from Kellogg’s. It’s time to end Raisin Bran cereals’ long-held reputation for being healthy. Dried fruits (like raisins) should be eaten in moderation because they don’t fill you up as much as water-filled fresh fruit and are higher in sugar. Each of these boxes contains 10 or more grams of sugar compared to fiber per serving, which is higher than what is expert-recommended.
Per 1 cup: 180 calories, 1.5 g fat (0 g saturated fat), 190 mg sodium, 44 g carbs (5 g fiber, 17 g sugar), 4 g protein
This raisin bran is unique in that Kellogg’s tries to deflect attention away from their 17 grams of sugar by selling their cereal as healthy with the claim “Omega-3” from the added flax seeds. While omega-3s are a healthy fat that’s been found to decrease inflammation and boost brainpower, you unfortunately won’t be able to reap much of their benefits in this way. In fact, flax seeds are one of the 18 Foods You’re Eating Wrong because often times, people eat them whole—as you would in this cereal. Your body can’t break down the whole flaxseed and the only way your body can reap their heart-healthy omega-3s is to grind them up first.
Per 1 cup: 160 calories, 4 g fat (0.5 g saturated), 215 mg sodium, 29 g carbs (1 g fiber, 13 g sugars), 2 g protein
It’s really no surprise that a cereal named after candy (and with the same ingredients used in that candy) is packed with sugar and empty calories. And although this cereal is a slight improvement over the actual peanut butter cup, it still contains artificial flavors and colors and way more carbs and sugar than digestion-slowing fiber.
Per 1 cup: 110 calories, 1 g fat (0.5 g saturated fat), 150 mg sodium, 25 g carbs (3 g fiber, 10 g sugar), 2 g protein
Even though Apple Jacks has cut down on sugar, they still haven’t cut out an ingredient the FDA banned from your food: partially hydrogenated soybean and cottonseed oil.
Per 1 cup: 133 calories, 0.7 g fat (0 g saturated), 53 mg sodium, 32 g carbs (1 g fiber, 20 g sugars), 3 g protein
Wondering what the worst way to start your day is? It’s with a bowl of this cereal, which contains 40 percent of your total recommended intake of added sugars for an entire day.
Quaker Real Medleys
Cherry Almond Pecan
Cherry Almond Pecan
Per 1 cup: 320 calories, 9 g fat (1.5 g saturated fat), 50 mg sodium, 55 g carbs (4 g fiber, 20 g sugar), 7 g protein
The description of this cereal on Quaker’s website? “Feed your sweet tooth and your, well, wholesome tooth.” So at least Quaker realizes the amount of sugar (which totals more than five Chips Ahoy cookies worth) they put in this box.
Honey Graham Oh's
Per 1 cup: 147 calories, 3 g fat (2 g saturated fat), 226 mg sodium, 31 g carbs (1 g fiber, 16 g sugar), 1 g protein
Oh no! Behind pulverized corn flour, this cereal is mostly sugar and has no redeeming nutritional qualities.
Per 1 cup: 173 calories, 4.5 g fat (1 g saturated fat), 127 mg sodium, 32 g carbs (4 g fiber, 15 g sugar), 2 g protein
Per 1 cup: 160 calories, 4.5 g fat (1.5 g saturated fat), 125 mg sodium, 31 g carbs (4 g fiber, 15 g sugar), 2 g protein
Kellogg’s isn’t even hiding the fact that they’re trying to serve you a dessert craving for breakfast with these cereals called “Krave.” They’re mostly chocolate flavored filling (yes, there’s more sugar and soybean oil than there is whole grain in this cereal) and also contain artificial colors and flavors.
Per 1 cup: 147 calories, 2 g fat (1 g saturated fat), 280 mg sodium, 31 g carbs (1 g fiber, 16 g sugar), 1 g protein
Captain Crunch Sprinkled Donut
Per 1 cup: 147 calories, 1 g fat (0.5 g saturated fat), 253 mg sodium, 32 g carbs (1 g fiber, 16 g sugar), 1 g protein
Did you know that Cornell University researchers found that cereal mascots, like Cap’n Crunch, who make eye contact with purchasers were the drivers of 28 percent more brand loyalty among cereal boxes? You may be loyal, but you’re going to have to walk the plank if you think this cereal is good for you. It’s high in sugar, low in sugar, and has no redeeming qualities.
Per 1 cup: 133 calories, 0 g fat (0 g saturated), 33 mg sodium, 32 g carbs (1.5 g fiber, 19 g sugars), 1 g protein
Did you know this box was initially advertised as a versatile cereal that could be eaten anytime from breakfast to dessert—and even in the place of candy? The mascot’s name is even Sugar Bear! So it should come at no surprise that there are 19 grams of the sweet stuff in a serving. Count this as one of the 30 Foods That Have More Sugar Than a Donut.
Per 1 cup: 160 calories, 1.5 g fat (0.5 g saturated), 175 mg sodium, 36 g carbs (1 g fiber, 16 g sugars), 1 g protein
Snap, crackle, pop? Three better words to describe this cereal would be: sugar, trans fat, and artificial flavor.
Malt-O-Meal’s Generic Brands
Chocolate Marshmallow Mateys
Per 1 cup: 160 calories, 1 g fat (0 g saturated fat), 147 mg sodium, 35 g carbs (1 g fiber, 23 g sugar), 1 g protein
Malt-O-Meal Golden Puffs
Per 1 cup: 133 calories, 0 g fat (0 g saturated fat), 80 mg sodium, 32 g carbs (1 g fiber, 20 g sugar), 3 g protein
Generic brands are cheaper, but that’s because you’re paying for sugar and chemicals—not healthy whole grains.
Nature Valley Baked Oat Bites
Per 1 cup: 280 calories, 8 g fat (3 g saturated fat), 213 mg sodium, 45 g carbs (4 g fiber, 17 g sugar), 9 g protein
Those 9 grams of protein are just from whole grain oats. Nature Valley bulks up your bite by adding cheap soy protein isolate to your cereal. That’s not the worst of it. This cereal is also loaded with sugar and full of saturated fats from palm kernel and palm oil—and those aren’t the good kind.
Per 1 cup: 160 calories, 2 g fat (0 g saturated fat), 200 mg sodium, 33 g carbs (3 g fiber, 11 g sugar), 4 g protein
Did you know that “multigrain” does not mean “whole grain?” It just means there is more than one type of grain in the product. In this instance, Quaker uses oats, corn, wheat, and rice—but they’re flours, not whole grains. Even worse, Quaker actually uses more sugar in this recipe than they use of three out of the four flours. On top of that, Quaker also adds oil-derived artificial colors, Yellow 5 and 6. For a better use of a Quaker product, click here for 25 Overnight Oats Recipies for Weight Loss.
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