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9 Side Effects of Giving Up Cereal, According to Dietitians

Not all cereals are bowls of sugar—giving up the healthier bowls can have some negative side effects.
FACT CHECKED BY Olivia Tarantino

Americans love cereal. According to Statista, 283.39 million Americans consumed breakfast cereals in 2020. So it's no wonder there is an entire aisle dedicated to it in the supermarket. And for good reason.

"In general, I think cereal can be a very affordable source of nutrition," says Amber Pankonin MS, RD, LMNT, registered dietitian and owner of The Stirlist. "There are several options that are lower in sugar and are a good source of calcium, iron, vitamin D, and fiber, which are important nutrients."

However, we all know how easy it can be to down a bowl or two, which can easily add extra calories and sugar to your diet—especially considering that we tend to consume more than a recommended serving.

"Many of us do not take the time to measure or portion out a single serving and might overestimate serving size," notes Pankonin. "If portion control is something you struggle with, it might be a good idea to purchase single-serve options."

And some people definitely should consider cutting cereal out.

"Individuals with celiac disease or a gluten-sensitivity should avoid eating breakfast cereals, as most contain wheat, rye, barley, triticale, graham flour, semolina, and triticale," says Jonathan Valdez, RDN, owner of Genki Nutrition and Media Spokesperson for New York State Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.

"Even non-glutinous grains such as rice, corn, and oats may be contaminated with gluten if they are processed alongside gluten-containing foods. Caution should be exercised by carefully reading food labels for potential contamination."

Cutting out cereal can have numerous side effects, both positive and negative. Here are 9, according to dietitians. Read on, and for more on how to eat healthy, don't miss 7 Healthiest Foods to Eat Right Now.

It could decrease your fiber intake, which might impact your heart health.

bored man eating bowl of cereal in kitchen

"Certain cereals can provide both whole grains and soluble fiber, which is helpful for heart health," says Pankonin. "If you're decreasing cereal that contains soluble fiber, it will be important to make sure you're getting fiber from other sources for heart disease prevention." Otherwise, you could suffer from these 5 Major Side Effects Of Not Getting Enough Fiber, Says Science.

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You may be less likely to meet the recommended intake for vitamins and minerals.

puffed rice krispie cereal

"Ready-to-eat (RTE) breakfast cereals are fortified with vitamin A, thiamine (vitamin B1), riboflavin (vitamin B2), niacin (vitamin B3), vitamin B6, vitamin B12, vitamin D,  folic acid, zinc, iron, calcium. Studies have shown that people who regularly consume RTE breakfast cereals have higher daily intakes of micronutrients and thus better nutritional status, especially children," says Valdez. "American diets are noted to be energy-rich and nutrient-poor, lacking in vitamin D, calcium, iron, and folate. Without the fortification from RTE breakfast cereals, some children and adults may struggle to meet the recommended daily allowance for vitamins and minerals."

It might make consuming iron more challenging.

special k breakfast cereal

"One of the things that I appreciate about many cereals is the amount of iron they provide. Iron is an essential nutrient that is especially important for growth and development in children," says Pankonin. "Most children love cereal making it a great option for picky eaters." So if you decide to give up cereal, make sure you're eating enough of these Best Iron-Rich Foods.

Total sugar intake may decrease when giving up breakfast cereal.

cereal corn flakes

"People who consume RTE breakfast cereals have higher intakes of total sugar, including added sugars or 'free sugars," says Valdez. "Many RTE breakfast cereals contain higher amounts of these 'free sugars', thus individuals wishing to moderate the amount of 'free sugar' they consume, such as diabetics or individuals with insulin sensitivity disorders, may opt for an alternative breakfast option. Unsweetened cereals like oatmeal, barely, or RTE cereal alternatives like Grape Nuts are low 'free sugar' cereal breakfast options."

It could impact your weight.

raisin bran cereal

Likely to your surprise, eating cereal in the morning may help you manage your weight, so giving it up could result in weight gain. "Depending on your age, gender, and activity level, giving up cereal could possibly impact body weight positively or negatively," says Pankonin.

"A meta-analysis of studies related to breakfast cereal consumption showed that regular cereal consumption at breakfast might result in a lower BMI in children and adolescents. Other studies have shown that ready-to-eat breakfast cereal contributes to overall diet quality and lower BMI values in American adults."

Cutting out whole-grain cereal means missing out on its benefits to gut health.

high fiber bowl of bran cereal with blueberries and bananas

"Intact cereal grains and fibers can improve the diversity of intestinal microbiota, as well as its abundance," says Valdez. "A healthy gut biome with more beneficial bacteria populations, and less inflammatory bacteria populations, confers a variety of benefits such as better digestion, vitamin synthesis, and immune regulation. Cutting out whole grain cereals, such as those containing whole wheat, barely, or oatmeal would reduce the beneficial effects these cereals can have on the gut microbiome."

It could lower your intake of Vitamin D.

unhealthy cereal

"Most people consume cereal with milk or a milk alternative that is fortified with Vitamin D," says Pankonin. "So, if you stop eating cereal, you might consume less milk making it more difficult to consume adequate amounts of Vitamin D."

Related: 5 Signs of Vitamin D Deficiency You Should Never Ignore

Children who don't eat breakfast cereal have lower dairy intakes.

muesli breakfast cereal

"Children who regularly eat RTE breakfast cereals have higher dairy intakes than children who do not eat breakfast cereal," says Valdez. "Worldwide, dairy is recommended as part of a healthy balanced diet. Dairy contributes important components to the diet, including protein, calcium, magnesium, and fortified nutrients like vitamins A and D. Studies have shown that dairy intake is associated with improved bone density, reduced risk of childhood obesity, and improved body composition."

It could decrease your whole grain intake, which might put you at risk for diabetes.

eating cereal
Ryan Pouncy/ Unsplash

"Breakfast cereal is often a source of whole grains," says Pankonin. "Whole-grain foods contain fiber and magnesium which are important for diabetes prevention." To make sure you're eating those whole grain-rich cereals, opt for any of these 10 Best Healthy Cereal Brands for Weight Loss.

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