“Studies show that cereal eaters have better nutrient intakes because cereals provide an important selection of nutrients,” said LSU AgCenter nutritionist Beth Reames.
Studies also suggest that cereal can help with weight control.
“Cereal eaters have better weights compared to those who don’t eat breakfast or perhaps eat other breakfast items that might not be as healthful,” Reames said.
Choose the cereals your children will want to eat, but try to pick those that give you the most health benefits.
“It’s important to read the nutrition facts label,” Reames said. “That helps you compare products.”
It’s best if the first ingredient is something like whole-grain oats or whole-grain wheat, said Denise Holston, LSU AgCenter nutritionist.
“The food companies are using more whole grains in their cereal products,” Holston said. “Some cereals that didn’t contain whole grains before, now do. Parents should look for cereals with the ‘whole grain stamp’ developed by the Whole Grains Council.
“The stamp is a quick and easy way to determine if a product has a minimum of 8 grams of whole grains per serving.”
Because the Dietary Guidelines for the United States recommend less sugar in the diet, choosing cereals that do not have added sugars would be a good choice. Other names for sugar on labels include fructose and high fructose corn syrup.
“If you choose a cereal without added sugar but add three or four teaspoons of sugar, this would be worse. Manufacturers have reduced the amount of added sugar in many cereals, and some studies have found that consumers added more sugar to unsweetened cereals than is in presweetened. One teaspoon sugar would be 4 grams, so you can look at the nutrition facts and determine approximate amounts of sugar,” Reames said.
Eating a presweetened cereal for breakfast is better than not eating any breakfast at all, Holston said.
“Research shows that kids who eat breakfast can concentrate better, are less likely to miss school because they’re sick, and they’re less likely to have a weight problem,” Holston said.
If they’re not starving by lunchtime, they’re less likely to overeat at lunch, which can lead to obesity.
Check the fiber content on the cereal label, Reames said. Cereals should supply at least 2.5 grams of fiber. Whole-grain cereals generally supply more.
“Many Americans don’t get enough fiber,” Reames said. “Eating whole-grain cereal can help.”
While most cereals contain little fat, Reames said to avoid those with trans fat.
“Trans fats raise LDL-cholesterol levels, which increases the risk of heart disease,” Reames said.
Also check the serving size listed on the nutrition facts label. “A big bowl may have more nutrients but also more calories, more sodium and more sugar,” Reames said.
When you add milk to cereal, you get the added boost of calcium, and it’s critical that growing children get enough calcium, Holston said.
“We recommend skim milk. But if your children won’t drink skim milk, then go for low-fat,” Holston said. She doesn’t recommend whole milk because of the higher fat content.
Adding fruit to the cereal gives a nutritional boost, Holston said. Bananas add potassium. Strawberries add fiber, vitamin C and antioxidants, which help prevent cancer and heart diseases.
“Any kind of berry is good,” Holston said. “Blueberries and blackberries are especially rich in antioxidants.”