About 70 percent of Americans eat cereal, with the majority having it every single week, according to a recent CivicScience report. Cereal remains a breakfast and snack staple in most households, so it's that much more important to choose a box that serves your nutritional needs. Yet, many popular cereals on grocery store shelves are comparable to candy with the amount of sugar they pack. And that's especially bad if you're sitting down to a bowl for breakfast.
"I wouldn't recommend starting your day with a high-sugar cereal because it could lead to spikes in blood sugar, and by 10 AM, you might feel like lying down on your desk," says Bonnie Taub-Dix, MA, RDN, CDN, dietitian and author of Read It Before You Eat It – Taking You from Label to Table.
If cereal is a mainstay in your pantry, aim for a box that has less than 5 grams of sugar per serving, Taub-Dix recommends. "And don't forget to check the serving size on the box—you'd be surprised how little a serving size looks if you measured it out," she reminds us.
Also, check the label for fiber content: Taub-Dix recommends a cereal with at least 5 grams of fiber per serving. "Fiber helps to move things along in your digestive tract, it provides fuel for your gut bacteria, and it helps you feel more satiated, which therefore might help with weight control. Fiber has also been shown to promote heart health, especially soluble fiber like oats, control blood glucose levels, and play a role in cancer prevention," Taub-Dix says.
Now that you know what to look for in a healthy cereal, here are some unhealthy ones you may want to avoid. These cereals are some of the highest-sugar options you'll find, so we ranked them from least to highest amount of added sugars. Read on, then check out these 9 Best Healthy Cereals on Grocery Shelves, According to Dietitians.
Lowest in Sugar: Kellogg's Froot Loops with Marshmallows
This childhood favorite got an extra-sweet update with the addition of marshmallows, which just adds more sugar to the mix. The original Froot Loops have 12 grams of sugar per serving, while these pack a staggering 16 grams.
But if pouring a bowl of Toucan Sam's colorful o's still brings you joy, get smart with your cereal strategy. "My recommendation is along the lines of the way I raised my kids: If you want some of a sugary cereal, you need to mix it with an equal amount of one that has barely any sugar, like the [unsweetened] Cheerios in the yellow box," Taub-Dix says.
Cap'n Crunch may make your bowl of milk taste like pure maple syrup, but you can chalk that all up to its high sugar content. One 1-cup serving contains 16 grams of sugar, all coming from added sugars.
The American Heart Association (AHA) recommends that the maximum daily intake of added sugars should be no more than 6 teaspoons (25 grams) for women and 9 teaspoons (38 grams) for men — and this crunchy cereal gets you really close to that cap.
Malt-O-Meal Berry Bunch Crunch
Berries for breakfast is a smart idea, but not when they're in sugary cereal form. This berry-flavored cereal from Malt-O-Meal is sky-high in the sweet stuff, with 18 grams of sugar per serving. "For some people, starting the day with something sugary makes them crave more sugary foods during the day," says Taub-Dix.
Mom's Best Crispy Cocoa Rice Cereal
This cereal brand's name is beyond deceptive because most moms would agree that sugary cereal is not, in fact, the best. Not only does a cup of this cereal provide 18 grams of added sugars, but it also has 10 percent of your daily value of sodium.
This classic honey-flavored cereal has been around since the 1950s, and we think it's time for it to retire. It contains three sources of sugar, including regular sugar, glucose syrup, and honey for a total of 18 grams per cup.
Kellogg's Smart Start Original Antioxidants
It has "smart" and "antioxidants" plastered on the box, so it must be healthy, right? Nope, not one bit. This Kellogg's breakfast cereal is made with multi-grain flakes and oat clusters that are doused in sugar. Each serving contains nearly three-quarters of your maximum daily recommended sugar intake.
Post Marshmallow Fruity Pebbles
Fruity Pebbles are already super sweet, and adding marshmallows to the mix just makes matters worse. But the 18 grams of sugar per serving isn't the only offender. Fruity Pebbles are riddled with artificial dyes, many of which are associated with ADHD in children. That's why the European Union requires food products that contain these dyes to carry a warning label that reads, "'may have an adverse effect on activity and attention in children."
Post Honey Oh's
Despite the likeness, Post's Honey Oh's contains 6 more grams of sugar per serving than Honey Nut Cheerios. If you still can't seem to give up these sugary loops, try swapping them for Honey Nut Cheerios, and halving the serving size to about half a cup. Then, "You could add nuts like sliced almonds to your cereal to help slow the digestion of sugar because nuts contain protein and fat," Taub-Dix says.
Kellogg's Raisin Bran Crunch
Raisins might be dried-up grapes, but they're a calorie-dense and concentrated source of sugar. Combine them with sugar-dusted flakes and honey-infused oat clusters, and you've got yourself a cereal that's sky-high in the sweet stuff. Instead, grab a box of lower-sugar high-fiber flakes, such as Fiber One Honey Clusters, and top your bowl with a handful of sliced fresh grapes.
Post Golden Crisp
Golden Crisps' mascot Sugar Bear can give you a hint about this cereal's first ingredient. You guessed it, it's sugar—and that just means this cereal is mostly made up of the sweet stuff. With most of the calories coming from sugar, plus the serious lack of protein and fiber, consider this a box of empty calories.
Malt-O-Meal Golden Puffs
These caramel-flavored puffs are packed with sugar and completely devoid of fiber, and that spells bad news for your blood sugar levels. Fiber helps slow down how quickly sugar gets digested and absorbed into your bloodstream, helping avoid blood glucose spikes. When a breakfast cereal like this one has over 20 grams of added sugar and no fiber, your blood sugar will likely spike almost instantly.
The #1 Highest-Sugar Cereal: Malt-O-Meal Chocolate Marshmallow Mateys
If you've gotten this far down the list, you've probably put together that adding marshmallows to cereal is never a good idea when it comes to sugar content. This bagged cereal, which is made up of chocolatey puff balls and marshmallow pieces, packs a staggering 23 grams of sugar per serving. Translation: If you sit down to a bowl of Malt-O-Meal's Chocolate Marshmallow Mateys for breakfast, you'll spoon neatly a full day's worth of added sugar before even starting your day.
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- Source: Hu J, Wang J, Li Y, Xue K, Kan J. Use of Dietary Fibers in Reducing the Risk of Several Cancer Types: An Umbrella Review. Nutrients. 2023 May 30;15(11):2545. doi: 10.3390/nu15112545. PMID: 37299507; PMCID: PMC10255454.
- Source: How much sugar is too much? (2023, May 10). www.heart.org. https://www.heart.org/en/healthy-living/healthy-eating/eat-smart/sugar/how-much-sugar-is-too-much#:~:text=AHA%20Sugar%20Recommendation&text=Men%20should%20consume%20no%20more,or%20100%20calories)%20per%20day.
- Source: Additives in food products - EU labelling rules - Your Europe. (n.d.). Your Europe. https://europa.eu/youreurope/business/product-requirements/food-labelling/additives/index_en.htm#consumers