How does your cereal measure up?

On a hectic morning, a bowl of cereal can be very convenient.

Choosing a good cereal however can be quite a challenge. With an entire supermarket aisle devoted to this food, filtering through the many different varieties can be overwhelming and frustrating especially to those who wonder ‘What should I be looking for?’

The number one rule for choosing a wholesome cereal is to choose one that is wholegrain. The only way to be assured that you are eating a wholegrain cereal is to read the ingredient list.

Some cereals may appear healthier than they actually are, so look for a wholegrain like whole wheat, whole oats, whole rye, whole triticale, or whole brown rice as the first ingredient on the list.

Food manufacturers these days are getting pretty clever at misusing the term wholegrain to make their cereals sound healthier than they really are. Some cereals are mostly refined carbohydrates rather than wholegrain, so don’t confuse the term ‘wholegrain’ with ‘made from wholegrain’ as there is a big difference – the first is healthy, the latter just sounds healthy.

While 100 per cent bran cereals are not truly wholegrain, you can consider them as such since they are a concentrated source of bran that is missing from refined grains.

Another rule to keep in mind when choosing your cereal is to limit refined sugar – glucose, dextrose, sucrose, and high fructose corn syrup. These refined sugars are often added to your cereal for flavor, texture, and browning.

To keep sugar under control, choose cereals that supply no more than 8 grams of sugar per serving. Keep in mind those cereals with added dried fruit like raisins, blueberries, or cranberries will have more than 8 grams of sugar per serving and that’s okay since it is coming from a natural source and the cereal itself is likely to have more fibre.

Watch for hidden sodium. It is very surprising for many people to learn that some high-fibre cereals can deliver as much as 20 per cent of your daily sodium requirement in one small serving. Stick with the lowest sodium cereal possible with no more than 240 milligrams per serving. Kashi Organic Bite Size Whole Wheat, Post Shredded Wheat, and Kellogg’s Mini Wheats are all sodium free.

Finally, keep portion sizes in check. A Food Guide serving of ready-to-eat cereal is 30 grams, which will vary in portion size depending on the weight and density of your cereal choice. A flake-type cereal, for example, will typically measure between ¾ to a 1-cup serving, while a denser cereal like muesli and granola will measure between 1/3 to a ½ cup serving.

Bottom line, look at the label:

  • Whole-grain or 100 per cent bran
  • At least 5 grams of fibre
  • No more than 8 grams of sugar (two teaspoons worth)
  • No more than 240 mg of sodium

A note on kid’s cereals: It is no surprise that many kids’ cereals are loaded with sugar. Among them: Reese’s Puffs, Corn Pops, Lucky Charms, Cinnamon Toast Crunch and Cap’n Crunch. While kid cereals are typically full of refined sugar, they are also a way to get vitamins, minerals, and a calcium rich milk, soy, or rice beverage in your child’s diet.

So, if this type of cereal is the only way to get your child to eat breakfast before heading off to school then I recommend mixing your child’s favorite with a healthier whole-grain, low sugar cereal.