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Posted at 7:00 AM ET, 02/22/2011

Survey your cereal

By Jennifer LaRue Huget

In this week's "Eat, Drink and Be Healthy" column, I offer tips for adding more whole grains to your diet. The new Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2010 want at least half the grains we eat in a day to be whole, not refined. Hardly any of us come anywhere close to meeting that goal, though: While the USDA says less than 5 percent of us consumes those three daily servings of whole grains, we somehow manage to eat more than twice as many servings of refined grains as we should.

Breakfast cereal can be a great source of whole grains, but not all breakfast cereals are created equal. General Mills has taken a huge step in the right direction by reformulating its entire line of Big G cereals so they're now all made with whole grains. But if you're keeping track of your sugar intake -- and you are, right? -- you want to read the Nutrition Facts panels to help you choose which cereal to buy for your family.

First of all, check to be sure the first ingredient is some kind of whole grain. Then take a look at the grams of sugar per serving: Sugar adds calories but not nutrients, a combination the Dietary Guidelines would like you to avoid where possible.

Though nobody in my family seems to be big on cereal right now, I do have a bunch of half-empty cereal boxes in my pantry. Just for fun, let's see how their nutrition facts stack up. (I'm sort of embarrassed at the selection; one of my kids had been on a chocolate-flavored cereal binge for a while there.)

Kellogg's Cocoa Krispies: Yikes! First ingredient = rice (not a whole grain), then sugar. Not far behind: Partially hydrogenated vegetable oil. 12 grams of sugar per serving. Clearly not ideal.

General Mills Chocolate Cheerios: First ingredient = whole-grain corn, followed by sugar and, a bit later, whole-grain oats. No partially hydrogenated oils (trans fats, to you and me). 9 grams of sugar per serving.

General Mills Cheerios: First ingredient: whole-grain oats. No partially hydrogenated oil. Just a single gram of sugar per serving. Caveat: Watch out how much sugar you add to the bowl!

General Mills Total Raisin Bran: First ingredient: whole-grain wheat, followed by raisins, then sugar.. No partially hydrogenated oil. But the sugar's out of the ballpark: 17 grams per serving! Still, much of that comes from the raisins.

Kellogg's Frosted Mini-Wheats Little Bites, Chocolate-flavored: First ingredient: whole-grain wheat, followed by sugar, then semi-sweet chocolate chips. (I told you I was embarrassed about all the chocolate!) No partially hydrogenated oils. 12 grams of sugar per serving.

I also have plain old Quaker Oats, which the chocolate-cereal-eating child has graduated to. She does add a bit of brown sugar, but just a tad; she sweetens it with Mott's no--sugar-added applesauce. The first -- and only -- ingredient listed = whole-grain oats. There's 1 gram of sugar per serving.

Compare that to the packets of Maple & Brown Sugar-flavored packets of instant Quaker oats my son likes to snack on. The first ingredient's still whole-grain oats; sugar comes next. There's no partially hydrogenated oil here, but a serving does contain 12 grams of sugar.

So, what's in your breakfast cereal? Given my quick survey, the plain Cheerios and non-instant oatmeal look like the best bets in my pantry. But it's always a balancing act between flavor and nutrition. If it takes a teaspoon of sugar to make the whole grains go down, I think that might be a fair tradeoff. How about you?

By Jennifer LaRue Huget  | February 22, 2011; 7:00 AM ET
Categories:  Dietary Guidelines, Nutrition and Fitness, Obesity  
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Please dump the cereal from your diet and eat real food, bacon, eggs, sausage. A traditional breakfast is more satisfying and will help you lose weight, see the cover story Eat This, Lose Weight, on a recent issue of Readers Digest.

These dietary guidelines are at the root of our nation's health woes, and more and more scientists and health proponents are speaking out:

If you are going to add whole grains to your diet, sprout or ferment them first to deal with the anti-nutrients and sugars! To just add whole grain cereal is not a health strategy. See this excerpt from Nourishing Traditions:

Posted by: | February 22, 2011 10:14 AM | Report abuse

I'm with Kimberly.
The food pyramid is more like a pyramid scheme, enriching corn and wheat farmers and turning trusting Americans into an obese, sickly people.

Meat, eggs, cheese and fresh vegetables are best. Factory processed crap will just make you fat and sick. Dump the cereal!

Posted by: fabshelly | February 22, 2011 10:21 AM | Report abuse

I agree with Kimberly Hartke! In addition, unless your cereal says organic, there is a good chance it is made from genetically modified grains, which some studies have linked to organ failure. No thanks!

Posted by: alexandrabaldwin | February 22, 2011 10:22 AM | Report abuse

When I ate cereal for breakfast and tried to follow USDA guidelines. I was SO unhealthy. Flip the USDA pyramid upside down, and BAM! pure health!! Never felt better! I don't get sick anymore! I've lost tons of weight, etc. Makes me very skeptical to listen to the USDA anymore. No cereal at all in my house. We eat farm fresh eggs & bacon or sausage for breakfast with butter. I have never felt better!

Posted by: ginatrbo | February 22, 2011 10:30 AM | Report abuse

I would urge you to read The Fiber Menace by Konstantin Monastirsky. He gives fact based scientific evidence that too much fiber in the diet, especially and ironically that from whole grains, is detrimental to ones intestinal health, and causes a whole host of health issues.
If your child would prefer a crunchy chocolatey cereal, you might be better off toasting some organic oats and adding a small amount of cacao powder and maple syrup to it. Otherwise, opt for a chocolate smoothie.
I hope you do not feel my post attacks you personally, as that was not my intent. I sincerely wish to pass along a suggestion I think may be beneficial to you and your family in the long run (which is to read the book). Good luck and good health,

Posted by: RoxannePackard | February 22, 2011 10:37 AM | Report abuse

The chocolate that this writer is so embarrassed about including is the most (only?) healthful thing in all the ingredients listed. That's the chocolate content itself, not whatever insipid blend is actually in the cereal.

Not that even that belongs at the breakfast table. Sweet breakfast = brain fog. Breakfast should provide fat for stable fuel that lasts till the afternoon, and protein for muscle building and repair. Bacon and eggs, anyone? Skip the OJ, while you're at it.

Read Alan Watson's Cereal Killer to find out why and how extruded, processed grains are a TERRIBLE thing to include in your diet -- and why breakfast is the worst time of day to eat it.

Posted by: VesnaVK | February 22, 2011 10:48 AM | Report abuse

It's saddening that this article actually promotes cereal as a healthy way to start the day. Breakfast should be Real Food like homemade yogurt, soaked steel cut oats (not instant!!), or eggs and bacon.

While it is good to eat whole grains instead of bleached white flour the grains still need to be soaked overnight if our bodies expect to receive any of the nutritional value. Unsoaked grains are filled with phytic acid which acts as an ANTI-nutrient. Do you really think that General Mills is soaking their flour over night before extruding it at a high heat in order to make cute little shapes?

The process of extrusion alone is hard for our intestines and digestion.

Eat Real Food. Get off sugar. Don't eat cereal.

Posted by: nienhuisdj | February 22, 2011 10:51 AM | Report abuse

Cereals and grains and sugars of any kinds are not natural foods for humans, you can improve your health tremendously by omitting them altogether.

Posted by: fennel002 | February 22, 2011 10:59 AM | Report abuse

The problem with the cereal breakfast is sugar. When carbs hit the digestive system our body converts them to sugar. THAT'S IT. Whether the carbs are coming in a whole grain form or a potato form the outcome is the same. In order to process all of the incoming sugar the body produces a hormone call insulin. When the insulin producers in the body are burned out due to abuse, humans get something call diabetes. Diabetes is killing us. Diabetes comes from sugar/carbs in the diet. Suggesting a grain based diet is harmful.

Posted by: user2112 | February 22, 2011 11:03 AM | Report abuse

Throw out the cereals. Unsoaked/ sprouted grains are full of anti nutrients. How about soaked oatmeal with a pat of yellow grassfed butter and a glass of whole (preferably raw) milk. Or even better some fresh eggs and home made sausage with a slice of sourdough or sprouted bread and some fruit if you must have sugar first thing in the morning. We need to stop starving our children of important bone and brain building nutrients found in animal products and fresh produce. Filling them up with cereal grains is producing yet another generation with learning disabilities and ever increasing levels of diabetes, illness, and obesity.

Posted by: Beingvenus | February 22, 2011 12:15 PM | Report abuse

Another breakfast suggestion:

Egg whites (or egg substitute)
Whole wheat bread (I use Trader Joe's sprouted grain)

Posted by: dman1800 | February 22, 2011 2:23 PM | Report abuse

This cartoon perfectly illustrates how ridiculous this article is:

Posted by: nienhuisdj | February 22, 2011 4:02 PM | Report abuse

We don't buy cereal for many of the reasons already listed by previous posters. We soak our oats for some nourishing hot porridge to start our day. Otherwise, we load up on eggs or raw milk kefir smoothies with fresh fruits and vegetables. Real, nutrient dense food needs no vitamin fortification. It's in its whole form and ready for the body to use all its components for maximum benefit. It's more work to prepare sometimes, but far less work to digest! :)

Posted by: Scooter111 | February 22, 2011 4:20 PM | Report abuse

@Beingvenus: As soon as you suggest raw milk, I know I can ignore anything else you say. Good grief, pasteurized milk is one of the two or three greatest public health innovations EVER.

I would never ever allow my family anywhere near raw milk, because I like them not to have horrible food poisoning.

And back on topic for this article, I'm amused by the vitriol against cereal here. I don't eat a lot of it personally, but a nice whole-grain cereal is hardly the worst thing most people eat these days. And if you think everybody has time to cook a breakfast of eggs and fancy stuff in the morning...well, I wish I had a leisurely life like you!

My kids are on a Strawberry Honey Bunches of Oats kick now. It's got more sugar than I'd like but at least the first 2 ingredients are corn and WG wheat.

Posted by: marag | February 22, 2011 7:19 PM | Report abuse

i agree with kim. dump it. you are better off eating the box. seriously there was a study where the rats who were eating the box far outlived the rats eating processed cerel.

Posted by: deb17 | February 22, 2011 8:31 PM | Report abuse

People who write about food consumption should know what the standard serving sizes are, how the serving sizes on the label relate to them, and what people are actually eating. I don't think Ms. Huget does.

The standard serving of grains and grain products is 3/4 ounce (21 g) dry and uncooked, which contains about 15 g of carbohydrate (mostly starch) and 2-3 g of protein (depending on the grain).

According to Quaker Oats, the packet of instant oatmeal that Ms. Huget's son eats contains 32 g of carb (including 9 g of sugar) and 4 g of protein, about 1 1/2 standard servings of grain.

We don't know how much old fashioned Quaker Oats Ms. Huget's daughter is eating. Acording to Quaker Oats, 1/2 cup, uncooked, contains 27 g of carbs (including 1 g of sugar) and 5 g of protein, making 2 standard servings of grains. But is that what she's eating? Or is she eating more? Or less?

According to the labels, the serving sizes for the other cereals mentioned range from 3/4 ounce/21 g (child's serving of original Cheerios) to 2 ounces/55 g (the Kellogg's Frosted Mini-wheats) and 1 to 2 servings of grain.

What are people actually eating? How much is a "bowl of cereal"? I know the bowls I use at home can hold 2 cups of cereal: one bowl of cereal could be up to 3 servings of grain. If you don't measure, you don't know how much you're eating. Which is why I measure my 3/4 cup -- with a measuring cup -- of original Cheerios every morning.

(I'm diabetic. I need to know how much carb I'm eating. The only way to be sure is to measure everything. Eyeballing is only for restaurants and emergencies.)

The starch and fiber in grains is naturally rather tasteless. There are three ways to add taste that don't involve adding granulated sugar (sucrose) at the table or high-fructose corn syrup at the factory:

1. Chew until the cereal tastes sweet. It eventually will as the enzymes in saliva mix with the starch in the cereal and break it down into simple sugars.

2. Add milk. One cup of milk contains 12 g of sugar (lactose).

3. Add fruit. 3/4 cup of fresh fruit contains 15 g of sugar (mostly fructose).

My tastebuds aren't as sensitive as they once were, so sustained chewing is hit-or-miss for me. A combination of milk and fresh fruit works for me.

Posted by: rlguenther | February 22, 2011 11:03 PM | Report abuse

We never miss breakfast at our house and limit our intake of carbohydrates; however, there are times when a bowl of cereal is called for. One of the cereals you did not mention in your article is Post Shredded Wheat'n Bran. The only ingredients are whole grain wheat and wheat bran. Add milk, ground flax seed, fruit and cinnamon for a nutritionally sound meal. One reason that I have chosen this cereal is because it is the only one I have found with no sodium other than unadulterated oatmeal.

Moderation is the key!

Posted by: JunieBee | February 23, 2011 9:37 AM | Report abuse

it seems strange that there are so many comments and they are so similar...
I love cereal, hot and cold. I am gluten intollerant and vegan so I naturally choose whole grains. My favorite is Nature's Path Mesa Sunrise. Organic corn meal, organic yellow corn flour, organic evaporated cane juice, organic flax, organic buckwheat flour, organic quinoa, organic amaranth, sea salt, tocopherols, (natural vitamin E). 1 gram of fat, 3 grams of fiber, 4 grams of sugar.
I also eat their cornflakes and occasionally their chocolate rice or peantu butter kids'cereal. I eat lots of hot cereal too - gluten free oats, Bob's Red Mill GF hot cereal, teff, and buckwheat. During the day I eat millet, corn, quinoa, and rice. So most of the grains that I eat are whole grain, I rarely have some other things, mostly because I eat so much fiber I have to consciously back off sometimes. That's when I eat more rice and corn.

Posted by: fernva | February 23, 2011 9:54 AM | Report abuse

As if there weren't enough political trolls on internet comment sections, now we have health trolls on internet comment sections. Bacon and cheese instead of whole grain oats? Hmmm...

Which troll's self-serving agenda do I take to heart? Woe is me..

Posted by: distance88 | February 23, 2011 11:13 AM | Report abuse

Posted by: corradomonica | February 23, 2011 8:45 PM | Report abuse

Beingvenus: Grass fed butter oil is healthy because, green grasses are rich in precursors of vitamin A and E. Cows grazing on 100% GREEN Pastures produce milk that is high in Vitamin A, Vitamin E, Conjugated Linoleic acid (CLA) and antioxidants. The CLA is a healthy fat. You can find more information at this website:

Posted by: readytoeatflaxseed | February 23, 2011 9:59 PM | Report abuse

Cereal? NO WAY!! I cannot believe you would actually print this. Is this a plug for General Mills? Cocoa Krispies being good for you? Give me a break. I'd be dead from diabetic complications if that's what I had for breakfast. Too much sugar, chemicals and processed grain. Whatever happened to REAL food, like eggs. Eggs are the perfect food, packed with protein and healthy omega3 fats. And they're satisfying. Oh and eggs will NOT raise ones cholesterol. Cut the carbs and simple sugars if you want to lower cholesterol. Also, stay away from Cheerios. I laugh everytime that commercial comes on about Cheerios lowering cholesterol. The effective way to drop cholesterol with oats is to eat old fashioned oatmeal, with NO sugar. Just add a little butter and some cinnamon and stevia for sweetener. Preparing eggs, etc for breakfast takes a little bit more time in the morning, and I realize people are busy, but it's well worth the effort. I mean isn't your health worth the extra time and effort? I'm a dairy farmer and I work outside the home too, so trust me, my life is NOT leisurely and I rarely have time, but I make time because my health will suffer if I don't.

Posted by: Rosebud713 | February 26, 2011 8:40 AM | Report abuse

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