What’s in your cereal?

Finding “real food” boxed cereal is not the easiest thing to do! But I know not everyone is looking for perfection so today I’m going to give you the low down on some of the bad, better and best options that are out there. Our personal favorite cereal is homemade granola, but we do buy boxed cereal on occasion for the kids or house guests.

My Rules for Cereal

  1. Nothing Artificial
    If the cereal looks neon in color or contains artificial sweeteners (or flavors) then just move right along. This one is a non-negotiable for me!
  2. Whole Grains
    Is the cereal 100% whole grain? Or does it at least contain more whole grains than refined grains (i.e. what’s listed first on the ingredient label)?
  3. Low or No Sugar
    Does the cereal contain added refined sugar (listed under a variety of names such as cane juice, rice syrup, agave, corn syrup, etc.)? If so, how high up is it on the ingredient list and how many grams of sugar are listed on the nutrition label? Ideally I prefer options with no more than 2 or 3 grams of added sugar per serving.
  4. Short List of Ingredients
    The longer the list of ingredients the more (unwanted) additives a product likely contains! Shorter is better in most cases.

Breakdown of Cereals

There are of course so many things we could consider when looking at cereals, but based on my criteria …here’s how some of the more popular brands stack up!

What's in your cereal on 100 Days of Real Food

Really Bad (The Worst Offenders!)

What's in your cereal on 100 Days of Real Food - honeysmacks

What's in Your Cereal on 100 Days of #RealFood - Fruity Pebbles

What's in your cereal on 100 Days of Real Food - cocoa pebbles

What's in your cereal on 100 Days of Real Food - frosted flakes

What's in your cereal on 100 Days of Real Food - froot loops

What's in your cereal on 100 Days of Real Food - Honey Bunches of Oats
Even with all the research I’ve done, I was a little surprised this was one of the worst offenders. I used to love this cereal and eat it often! Grrr…

Bad

What's in your cereal on 100 Days of Real Food - Special K

What's in Your Cereal on 100 Days of #RealFood - Rice Krispies

What's in your cereal on 100 Days of Real Food - Puffins

What's in your cereal on 100 Days of Real Food - Life

What's in your cereal on 100 Days of Real Food - Corn Pops

What's in Your Cereal on 100 Days of #RealFood - Honey Nut Cheerios

What's in your cereal on 100 Days of Real Food - Lucky Charms

What's in your cereal on 100 Days of Real Food - Golden Grahams

What's in your cereal on 100 Days of Real Food - Heartland Granola

Better

What's in your cereal on 100 Days of Real Food - Cheerios

What's in your cereal on 100 Days of Real Food - Total

What's in your cereal on 100 Days of Real Food - Rice Chex

What's in your cereal on 100 Days of Real Food - Kix

What's in Your Cereal on 100 Days of #RealFood - Wheat Chex

What's in your cereal on 100 Days of Real Food - Ezekiel

Best

  What's in your cereal on 100 Days of Real Food - Puffed Corn

Whats in Your Cereal on 100 Days of Real Food - Shredded Wheat

Is this post going to change what breakfast looks like at your house? I’d love to know the details in the comments!

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212 thoughts on “What’s in your cereal?”

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  1. I actually went through our cereals and did a sugar to weight ratio, which I think was more helpful than just a grams per serving.
    Rice Krispies 4g/33g = 12% sugar
    RICE CHEX 2G/27G = 7% Sugar
    Cheerios 1g/21g= 5% sugar
    granola 10g/48g = 20% sugar
    Lucky Charms 10g/27g = 37% sugar

  2. Grape Nuts are a go to in our house. My 6 year old loves them with milk or on plain yogurt with a little maple syrup and fruit.

  3. I thought there was no dairy in your 100 Days? How can I eat cereal. I like Grapenuts. I am going to have to check the box.

  4. Thanks for the interesting post. I live in France and I just looked at a box of Rice Krispies. The sugar content is only 2.4 g for a serving of 30 g. What is the serving size on American cereal boxes? Is it possible that this cereal is not the same around the world? It was made in the EU.

  5. Personally…. I try to stay away from the long list ingredient cereal. I don’t even eat it often at all. But I have found one that contains 4 ingredients. KASHI CINNAMON HARVEST. I recommend it.
    Here is a clip from the site

    – 47g Whole Grains* per serving
    – 5g Fiber per serving
    – 1g Fat per serving
    – Sodium-Free
    – Vegan
    – Non-GMO Project Verified
    – USDA Organic – Certified Organic by Quality Assurance International

    Ingredients
    Organic Whole Grain Wheat, Organic Dried Cane Syrup, Organic Cinnamon, Natural Cinnamon Flavor.

  6. I don’t really like cereal much, but I need a bit of sweetness to my cereal if I’m going to have it. Shredded Wheat and Puffed Corn may be the “best,” but paint chips have more flavor. And also, wouldn’t Puffed Cord be made out of GMO corn? At any rate, I’ll stick to the “better” options, because life is too short not to have a few raisins in your cereal, darn it.

    1. yeah. We do try to add plain cheerios to our cereals to help cut the sugar content (or a corn flakes type for the “natural” frosted flakes etc. kix to peanut butter puffs etc) but when I eat cereal I don’t want to eat something that tastes like nothing.

  7. Chex has bht which is grounds for a bad in my book also I was looking over chex ingredient list a few weeks ago and I could have sworn they list had corn syrup? Did the change the ingredients and it use to be sugar?

  8. I would rate Ezekiel as “best”; not “better”. It has no added sugar. Most of that sugar comes from the raisins. Why is it not amobg the “best”?

      1. I’d say the sugar is from the raisins, which is natural sugar so I don’t know why it isn’t listed as best. Isn’t dehydrated whole fruit better than added sugar?

      2. Amy Taylor (comment moderator)

        Added sugar is definitely more undesirable.than dried fruit but we do look at overall sugar.

      3. As I read the criteria, Ezekiel’s without raisins (original) would be on the best list? It’s also sprouted and organic, which some might argue would give it a leg up on the others.

      4. I’m confused about not including GMO in the criteria. Not to mention the measurable pesticides found in nearly all types of Cheerios!

  9. Hi Lisa I appreciate this information. My son’s favorite cereal is honey nut cheerios. He would happily eat it 3 meals a day. It will be an adjustment to change his cereal habit, but worth it!

  10. Thanks to you, we have made a lot of changes to our eating! We used to have a wide variety of cereals on the counter but now we watch. The rule is one box at a time and nothing with sugar in the first few ingredients. We are still a work in progress and some weeks it is much easier than others. I have to admit that initially we cut out all cereals, except for oatmeal. That and “milkshakes” (smoothies) were breakfast.

    Thank you for all that you do to educate us on what we put in our bodies. :-)

  11. Hi , i wonder why a paint thinner and cleaning agent ”Trisodium phosphate” in Lucky Charms and others cereals would make a score of ”better” and ”bad”?

    It contredicts your rule number 1; and criterias should not be only the percentage of sugar but the sum of the ingredients .
    Thank you .

  12. Thanks very much for this! I’m pregnant and cereal settles my stomach. I was glad to see one of my staples on your “Better” list, though I look forward to resuming my old breakfasts. :) I was surprised to see Barbara’s Puffins on the “Bad” list, as we’ve bought this for our kids as a sweet treat a couple of times based on a recommendation from another healthy eating blog. Expensive, sugary, and, I now see, lower in whole grains than refined — this definitely won’t be on our shopping list again any time soon. Thanks again!

    1. Heritage Flakes is our go to cereal!
      I eat it plain with milk or yogurt and my kids eat it mixed with Cheerios (since I can’t get them to eat the cleaner Os).

  13. This is all new to me, so I need all the help I can get! I need a clean high fiber cereal to eat just once or twice a week. Should I make my own or search for a store-bought boxed cereal? If store-bought, please tell me what to look for in the ingredients or exactly what to buy! I will order it if my store doesn’t carry it. I’ve looked several times and it’s all so confusing to me.

  14. I was just about to say the same thing about BHT, Cara. That one limits my choices for us. My daughter only ever gets Cheerios or Kix with the occasional Envirokids cereal thrown in because these don’t have BHT.
    My question to General Mills is… if you can leave it out of Cheerios why not Honey nut Cheerios & Life???

    1. Amy Taylor (comment moderator)

      Hi. BHT in the lining was not considered but Lisa obviously would prefer that BHT be gone. Her criteria is ingredients she would cook with at home. BHT is not one of those.

  15. Where’s Uncle Sam cereal?? Should be at the top of the list. Only 4 ingredients (whole wheat kernels, whole flaxseed, salt, barley malt), whole grains, nothing artificial, and less than 1g sugar! And it tastes really good, especially with fruit added in. Uncle Sam beats almost every cereal on your list. :-)

    1. I was wondering the same thing. Just bought some this weekend and was surprised with the ingredients AND that it’s also non-gmo certified.

    1. Amy Taylor (comment moderator)

      Hi there. You could choose the shredded wheat or another example is the puffing process concerns you.

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  17. We love frosted flakes. Recently, I found Simply Balanced Frosted Flakes at Target. Ingredients are organic corn, organic cane sugar, and sea salt. I figured 3 ingredients were better than alternative.

  18. Thank you for this post! I am struggling to find an adequate “pour in a bowl and go” breakfast cereal I feel good giving to my kids. Do you happen to know how many grams of sugar is in your homemade granola recipe (per serving) posted on this site?

  19. Why are Rice Krispies and Cheerios listed as having no artificial ingredients? BHT is listed on the Rice Krispies ingredient list as in the packaging and it can be leached into the foods? I’ve heard Cheerios has it as well.

    1. I changed my cereal after reading your book. I now eat Barbara’s Shredded Wheat. I looked for it specifically after seeing it listed on page 54. I love it! And I love your book! I’ve made many of the recipes. They are fantastic. I think my husband would kiss your cheek to say thanks for the Whole Wheat Banana Pancakes recipe. I add blueberries, and I think I hear him humming every time we eat them.

    2. Amy Taylor (comment moderator)

      Hi there. Yes, it is an additive Lisa likes to avoid as well, but it was not one of the things she looked at for this particular post because she was trying to keep things simple. It could technically fall under the short list of ingredients criteria though – in general she likes to look for foods that contain ingredients she cooks with at home (and BHT is obviously not one of them!).

  20. We are on WIC, so I’m not allowed organic cereals. I try my best to stay away from BHT and the like, and don’t understand why they can’t use the mixed tochepherals instead in all of them if they have too. Though I read somewhere (sorry can’t remember where) that the tochepherols in cereals can be misleading as well. I appreciate having WIC, but what they deem healthy is not always the case. And all the good cereals many of you have listed, aren’t options on WIC. I can get instant oatmeal or cream in individual packets of wheat, but I’d rather have the old-fashioned. And who knows which of these have GMO that WIC allows. And honestly trying to get away from processed stuff anyway, so I may be soon writing to WIC to voice my concerns!!

  21. I do not buy cereals, Colds months is steel cut oats, red river or large flake oatmeal. Also I try not eat BMO foods such as corn and soya.

  22. Great list, but I actually think I would bump up Ezekial to “best” because of its naturally-occuring sugar and the fact that it has a lot more fiber and protein than other cereals. I know it wasn’t a part of your original criteria, but it can be an important factor when weighing nutritional values and how the sugar gets broken down. I’d much rather give the sprouted Ezekial grains to my child over the puffed corn.

  23. What about the cereals with corn, even whole grain corn? Should we be concerned about the GMO’s? Are the best ones you listed organic? I know Kix is not.
    Thanks.

    1. Amy Taylor (comment moderator)

      Hi Alisa. I think we are all concerned about what we don’t know about GMOs and what to see items labled. Barbara’s above has the non GMO seal. Also, anything labeled as organic is supposed to be free of GMOs.

  24. I eat only old-fashioned oatmeal. My husband, though, LOVES all the bad ones, and some of the REALLY BAD ones (Honey Bunches of Oats, Honey Nut Cheerios, for instance).. I don’t think I could get him to stop eating them for anything.

  25. I look for the “Non-GMO” butterfly. There are few cereals with that endorsement. One is Grape Nuts. A few Barbara’s cereals have it. On the list above, I think the only one is Barbara’s Shredded Wheat.

  26. I now live in the UK and we generally only have either Weetabix or Scott’s Porage Oats in the house.

    For Weetabix, the ingredients are: Wholegrain Wheat (95%), Malted Barley Extract, Sugar, Salt, Niacin, Iron, Riboflavin (B2), Thiamin (B1), Folic Acid. Yes, there is sugar (4.4g per 100g), but it’s not corn syrup or one of the other nasties. We use the rule that if it isn’t especially nasty, and it comprises less than 5% of the total, we don’t worry about it. (In fact, this is DH’s cereal and I’m more concerned about the stuff he puts on *top* of it, but … another story.)

    The Scott’s Porage Oats, on the other hand, has only “100% Scott’s Rolled Oats” and interestingly, that’s the one I’m more concerned about. Why? Because it isn’t just 100% rolled oats, it’s Scott’s oats (whatever that means) and Scott’s has refused to say where they source their Scott’s oats. They have also refused to say how they mill the oats (secret process, of course), and whether their oats could be affected by GMO grains. (Can oats be GMO yet? Dunno, but EU has pretty strict rules about non-GMO, so probably not such a big concern.) Meantime, it’s the best oats we can get here, so that’s what I have for breakfast on cold days, with a bit of Kerrygold butter, wild Welsh organic (yes, it is!) honey and some local raw milk. Yum! Worth every calorie, most definitely!

    Can we get totally “clean” with our cereal? Not sure, but we’re taking it one step at a time. And doing a lot of reading and research. Meantime, I keep trying to pry the sweetener out of my diabetic husband’s hands — wish me luck!

    -Michelle G

  27. Thanks for all he research and info. We haven’t purchased he really sweet, over processed, “colored” cereals for years. Our go-to is usually Frosted Mini Wheats or Kashi Go Lean Crunch. I know they contain sugar, but we don’t eat it every day. My regular breakfast is rolled oats. There are so many creative ways you can fix it and so many different fruits and nuts you can add to it, I never get tired of it. I also make homemade granola bars so I can regulate the sugar content. Thanks again for the article.

  28. I’m rather surprised that the Puffins was listed as bad. Sure, it has a bit more sugar than some others, but it is one of the only non-GMO brands I can afford. I tried Cascadia Farms cereals when they were on sale and I thought they were too sweet. And I don’t understand about the puffing process being bad. Can someone explain this or post a link to the study? When they tested lab rats did they make sure they were testing non-GMO corn puffs, and wheat that had not been sprayed with glyphosate (Roundup) to dry it down for harvesting? It could be it’s the GMO/glyphosate and not the puffing that’s the problem!

    1. I was likewise going to comment on the “puffed corn” recommendation. Here is an excellent article by Sally Fallon (of the Weston A. Price Foundation), describing one study showing how ridiculously toxic puffed wheat was to a group of lab rats, and another study describing how toxic cornflakes were to a group of lab rats: http://editor.nourishedmagazine.com.au/articles/puffed-grains-should-we-eat-them. We can probably extrapolate that puffed corn isn’t going to be any better than either of these options from a health perspective. Ever since I first read that study on the lab rats dying from eating puffed wheat, my family has stayed away from puffed cereals completely.

      1. Many “ifs” and “likely”s in that article. Maybe the studies weren’t published because they couldn’t pass a peer review. If they were set up as a joke, maybe the controls weren’t rigorous. I wouldn’t go near any boxed cereals these days, but let’s not stray too far from true scientific methodology here.

      2. It’s true that unpublished research cannot be regarded in the same light as published research, but when I dug a little deeper I found a source stating that the first study (the puffed wheat one) was conducted by the cereal company themselves, in 1942, but then locked away in their files (presumably because publishing those findings would be really bad for business) and not discovered until years later. If this is to be believed, it would explain why it wasn’t published. This doesn’t prove anything one way or the other, but I’m guessing the cereal company was hoping to show how nutritious their product was (or at least hoping that the puffed wheat would be equally as nutritious as the regular wheat berries), and instead found that the extrusion process was toxic to the rats. Rigorous controls or not, the results are ominous enough to keep me away from puffed cereals. I realize that animal experiments don’t always translate to human applicability, but I am not volunteering to be a human lab rat when I have plenty of nutritious options available. The benefits don’t outweigh the risks, and more (published) research is needed.

  29. I agree with some other comments. Why not list the cereals we would actually consider buying??? Obviously I’m NOT buying Fruit Loops, Lucky Charms, etc….However from time to time we do buy Casscadia Farms, Barbara Naturals and the more “healthy” brands. Why not do a comparison on these please!