Healthy Cereal Guide

Written by:

Suzanne Weaver-Goss

08/03/2019

healthiest cereal gimme the good stuff

Updated: 02/19/2024

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Best Cereal


1. Ezekiel 4:9 / 2. Butterfly Bakery of Vermont / 3. Cascadian Farms Purely O’s / 4. Arrowhead Mills / 5. Barbara’s Brown Rice Crisps

Overall Best Healthy Cereal

Food for Life Ezekiel 4:9 Sprouted Grain Crunchy Cereal packs the most nutritional bang per spoonful. (Read more about this brand under Good Stuff below.)

Suzanne Weaver-Goss headshot Gimme the Good Stuff
Written by Suzanne, Chief Health Officer (AKA “Nana”)

As a child of the 50’s, I ate cold cereal for breakfast on most mornings. We could help ourselves and my mom was free to do other chores.

My father thought boxed cereal was great because as a child of the Depression era, he had to eat porridge or oatmeal every day. He often commented how fortunate we were to have tasty cereal!

When we ran out of cold cereal, we took white bread, sprinkled sugar on it, and poured milk over it. (It’s amazing we all survived, although I did seriously clean up my diet in my twenties).

A Short History of Sugary Boxed Cereal

Sugar was introduced to cold cereal in the 1950’s, and pretty soon every brand was named “Sugar This” and “Sugar That.” Imagine that in the 1950’s (which does seem like a long long time ago to many of you but it was my childhood and therefore doesn’t seem THAT long ago.) it was a positive selling point to advertise Sugar in the title to sell cereal to parents. The thinking was if it’s sugary and sweet your children will surely eat it!

Sugar Smacks had the distinction of having the most sugar by weight of any cereal on the market when it debuted in the early 1950s. Fifty-six percent of the cereal was sugar (this shows you how far things have come!). The Eisenhower Era also gave us iconic cereals like Frosted Flakes, Cocoa Puffs, and Alpha-Bits.

Frosted Flakes

When I had my children in the 1980’s, I had just rejected eating any sugar (the Sugar Blues book was popular back then) so I switched breakfast cereal to healthy porridge. Rice, millet, oats, and other whole grains were cooked into a hot whole grain breakfast with soy milk. We might add a little honey or maple syrup for sweetness or just fresh fruit.

My son would visit his cousins and ask for something “cold and crunchy with cow’s milk.” There were a few cereal brands that didn’t have added sugar but they were hard to find–Erewhon’s Crispy Brown Rice, Oatios, and Kellogg’s Nutri Grain cereal were our three favorites, but the they all have since been discontinued. Today, sugar has crept back into cold cereals even the organic, “healthy” ones. I suspect they sell better the sweeter they are. It is important to check the sugar content today because some are quite sweet. The recommendation by healthychildren.org is less than 25 grams (6 teaspoons) of sugar per day for children 2 years old and older. Under 2 years avoid added sugar.

Healthiest Granola

Butterfly Bakery of Vermont Granola

This organic granola from Butterfly Bakery is handmade in Vermont, and sweetened with just pure maple syrup. It packs other nutritional powerhouses, too, like quinoa and coconut oil.

Healthy Cereal Guide

We set out to find the healthiest cold cereals to write this guide, because we know our readers want the convenience without compromising their health.

Ultimately, when you go for convenience, you are often compromising your health, but I think the key is to keep those compromises to a minimum and make sure that at least 80% of your food is fresh, whole, and organic. When choosing a boxed cereal, look for organic and low sugar content. One additional nutritional consideration when choosing a cereal might is to look at the nutritional panel and add together the grams of fiber and protein and compare that to the grams of sugar. The combined grams of fiber and protein should be more than the grams of sugar. Cascadian Farm organic O’s is a good example. It has 8 grams of combined fiber and protein compared to 1 gram of sugar.

Healthiest O Cereal

Cascadian Farms Purely O’s

With just three ingredients, and only one gram of sugar, this is our favorite organic cereal. It has 4 grams of fiber and 4 grams of protein when added together is 8 compared to 1 gram of sugar. If you are going to make boxed cereal part of your pantry this is a good choice.

A Problem with “Healthy” Cereal: Extruded Grains

Our Healthy Baby Puffs Guide offers details on what’s wrong with pretty much all boxed cold cereals, which is the process of extrusion. The bottom line is this: extrusion–mixing grains with water and processing that paste through a special device (plus high heat) to produce a desired shape–compromises the integrity of the grains’ nutrients, breaks the bonds of fatty acids, inactivates enzymes, and increases the glycemic index of the food.

This is one reason that really no cold cereal can be considered truly Good Stuff when compared to, say, a bowl of oatmeal.

Healthiest Gluten-Free Cereal

Arrowhead Mills Organic Maple Buckwheat Flakes Even though this is organic and gluten free it has far too much sugar to be considered Good Stuff. It has 14 grams of sugar. In fact, it is Sneaky Stuff because it has 13 grams of added sugar from cane sugar, maple, and honey. 3 grams of fiber and 4 grams of protein versus 14 grams of sugar. You can see how out of balance it is.

arrowhead mills maple buckwheat flakes gimme the good stuff

How to Find Healthy Cereal

Just like everything else, label-reading is important when shopping for healthy cereal. When categorizing popular brands for this guide, we considered:

  • Number of grams of sugar per serving. We wanted less than five.
  • Look at the grams of fiber and protein and add them together and they should be less than or equal to the grams of sugar.
  • Type of sugar used. We gave preference to brands that use healthier sugars like palm or date.
  • Type of fat. We don’t like canola oil or soybean oil.
  • The number of ingredients. Less is usually better, although there are some exceptions to this.
  • Quality of ingredients. We dinged brands for fillers like “modified corn starch,” and gave preference to brands that contain all or mostly organic ingredients.

Of course, some of this can be subjective; I know that some people aren’t comfortable with any extruded grains at all. This guide is obviously not for them.

Healthiest Crispy Rice Cereal

Barbara’s Brown Rice Crips

Just one gram of sugar per serving.

Is There Arsenic in Healthy Cereal?

You’ve probably heard that rice, and particularly brown rice, is often contaminated with arsenic. This is unfortunately true, and so we gave extra points to those cereals that don’t contain rice.

Of course, many of our Good and Okay cereals do contain rice, so just consider eating these in moderation, especially if there is a lot of rice in your diet otherwise.

Best Healthy Cereal for Paleo Diets

Thrive Market Brand Coconut Flakes are a favorite among paleolites.

The Best of the Worst

If you’re in a pinch–at a hotel buffet or similar situation–and have no organic, healthy cereal options, choose plain Corn Flakes or Cheerios.

Good Stuff

365 Organic Morning O’s

This Whole Foods private label cereal contains just organic whole grain oat flour, organic rice flour, organic cane sugar (one gram per serving), sea salt, calcium carbonate, and vitamin E.

Arrowhead Mills Organic Oat Bran Flakes

This Whole Foods private label cereal contains just organic whole grain oat flour, organic rice flour, organic cane sugar (one gram per serving), sea salt, calcium carbonate, and vitamin E.

Arrowhead Mills Organic Puffed Kamut

Like many other puffed cereals, this one contains nothing but organic kamut. (Of course, this means it contains zero grams of sugar!).

Arrowhead Mills Sprouted Corn Flakes

These sprouted corn flakes have only one gram of sugar per serving, but it comes from pear juice.

Barbara’s Brown Rice Crisps

These sprouted corn flakes have only one gram of sugar per serving, but it comes from pear juice.

Butterfly Bakery of Vermont

This organic granola from Butterfly Bakery is handmade in Vermont, and sweetened with just pure maple syrup. It packs other nutritional powerhouses, too, like quinoa and coconut oil.

Cascadian Farms Purely O’s

These sprouted corn flakes have only one gram of sugar per serving, but it comes from pear juice.

Food for Life Ezekiel Sprouted Whole Grain Cereal

These sprouted corn flakes have only one gram of sugar per serving, but it comes from pear juice.

Magic Spoon

This organic granola from Butterfly Bakery is handmade in Vermont, and sweetened with just pure maple syrup. It packs other nutritional powerhouses, too, like quinoa and coconut oil.

Paleo Passion Foods Grain Free Granola

These sprouted corn flakes have only one gram of sugar per serving, but it comes from pear juice.

Small Valley Milling Organic Puffed Spelt Cereal

Organic spelt kernels, organic, and in a bag not a box. 0 grams of sugar.

Sprouted Oat O’s—One Degree

Organic Oats, organic garbanzos beans, they source the organic farm, organic cane sugar, tapioca 2 grams per serving.

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Okay Stuff

Arrowhead Mills Organic Maple Buckwheat Flakes

This gluten-free option has only a few ingredients and 5 grams of sugar.

Barbara’s Lightly Sweetened O’s

This isn’t Good Stuff only because it uses cane sugar, but there are only 4 grams per serving.

Food for Life Ezekiel Original Flake Cereal

All organic and sprouted, wheat, barley, millet, lentils, soybeans, spelt, malted barley, and agave. Contains 7 grams of sugar.

Love Grown Power O’s

We like that this brand contains a beans blend and only 2 grams of sugar. It’s not organic (but it is non-GMO).

Nature’s Path Heritage O’s

My grandson, Wolfie, says loves this brand because: “When I leave the room and come back, they aren’t mushy like most cereal.” This brand claims 16 grams of whole grains, but this is rather misleading because the grains (wheat, barley, oat, quinoa, and millet) are all made from flour. We gave this brand extra points for the Eco-Pac bag, which means that it is using 66% less packaging than a cardboard cereal box.

One Degree Ancient Maize Flakes

These organic flakes are made of mostly various forms of coconut, and come in at 5 grams of sugar per serving.

Bad Stuff

Any “frosted” cereals are Bad Stuff; for example, Kellogg’s Frosted Mini Wheats have have 11 grams of sugar (plus toxic BHT).

Fruit Loops Marshmallow

There’s so much Bad Stuff here–modified food starch, corn syrup, hydrogenated vegetable oil, and artificial flavors to start.

General Mills Cheerios

Although these have a simple ingredient list of whole grain oats, corn starch, sugar, salt, and vitamins, Cheerio’s are not Organic and contains tri-potassium phosphate.

General Mills Honey Nut Cheerios

These contain everything you’ll find in regular Cheerios plus rice bran oil, canola oil, and brown sugar syrup. They also pack 9 grams sugar per serving.

Kellogg’s Corn Flakes

These aren’t organic, but they low in sugars with just 3 grams per serving. Unfortunately, these flakes contain the toxic preservative BHT.

Kelloggs Rice Krispies

These do just contain rice, sugar, salt, and malt flavor, but still too much sugar.

The Best of the Worst

If you’re in a pinch–at a hotel buffet or similar situation–and have no organic, healthy cereal options, choose plain Corn Flakes or Cheerios.

Sneaky Stuff

Annie’s Entire Line of Cereals

These all contain too much sugar to be considered Good Stuff.

Barbara’s Honest O’s Multi Grain

It’s organic, but only has 6 grams of sugar.

Barbara’s Oat Crunch

This cereal says whole grains, but what is has is oat flour and wheat flour mixed with sugar. There are 10 grams of sugar per serving and it’s not organic

Barbara’s Puffins Original & Cinnamon

Again, this cereal says whole grain and it’s mostly made of flour with corn bran and oat fiber added in. None of the ingredients is organic.

Cascadian Farm Cocoa Oats / Honey Nut O’s / Fruitful O’s

These varieties contain sunflower oil and 13, 7, and 8 grams of sugar per serving, respectively.

Cascadian Farms Multigrain Squares

These squares contain 7 grams of white sugar, over our threshold for Good Stuff!

Kashi

Now owned by Kellogg, Kashi makes 25 types of cereal, but they all have too much sugar or other questionable ingredients.

Kirkland Signature Ancient Grains

A lot of you asked about this because you love getting it at Costco. The ingredients are all organic, and include rolled oats, cane sugar, soy oil, kamut wheat, rolled spelt, almonds, inulin, rice starch, rolled quinoa, rolled amaranth, sea salt, molasses, cinnamon, and natural vanilla flavor. While none of these is terrible (soy oil isn’t so great), the nine grams of sugar it contains per serving knocks this out of Good Stuff territory.

Love Grown Power’s O’s–Chocolate

This flavor includes a bean blend, brown rice, cane sugar, cocoa, sunflower oil, sunflower lecithin. It packs 9 grams of sugar per serving and is not organic. (FYI: the strawberry and honey flavors from this brand aren’t any better.)

Mom’s Best Honey Nut Toasty O’s

This brand has a number of questionable ingredients–including  wheat starch as well as white and brown sugars–none of which is organic. Each servings contain 9 grams of sugar.

Nature’s Path Panda Puffs

These contain soy oil and have 7 grams of sugar per serving.

Nature’s Path Flax Plus Raisin Bran

I like that this is organic, but it contains 13 grams of sugar per serving.

Trader Joe’s O’s

I know that Maia buys this ones for her kids, but it’s not organic, and contains modified corn starch and white sugar (although only 1 gram per serving). Trader Joe’s Honey Nut O’s are also Sneaky with 9 grams of sugar per serving.

The Granola Problem

Above, you’ll see one brand of truly healthful granola, listed as Good Stuff. Unfortunately, most brands of granola you find in health food stores contain a lot of either cane sugar or cane syrup. This includes:

  • Cascadian Farm Organic Granola
  • HempYeah! Granola
  • One Degree Granola
  • Back to Nature Granola
  • Kind Granola (also contains canola oil)

To your health,

Suzanne, Certified Holistic Health Coach

P.S. You’ll notice in this post that I’ve linked a variety of a lot of these cereals to be purchased at Thrive Market. If you aren’t familiar with Thrive, I encourage you to give it a try. It’s a Costco-meets-Whole Foods-meets-Amazon model, with hard-to-find healthful foods delivered–for free–at steeply discounted prices.


Cereal

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Leave a Reply

  1. Ambar Avatar
    Ambar

    Hello,
    What about Purely Elizabeth ancient grains original granola? Their ingredients are organic and seem to be the good stuff!

    1. Maia James Avatar
      Maia James

      Yes, Purely Elizabeth is Good STuff! This guide is in need of an update:)

  2. Sushil Karwa Avatar
    Sushil Karwa

    This is great stuff. Thanks for your extensive research on all the popular cereals. It has always been a problem of plenty for me when it comes to picking the right cereal. Thanks to your super informative guide I can make more educated decisions while choosing the cereal.

    However, I haven’t seen Trader Joe’s Organic High Fiber O’s Cereal (https://www.ebay.com/itm/223269186952) here on this list. What do you think about this one? How would you rate this one? Good, okay, bad or sneaky and why?

  3. alex french HI Avatar
    alex french HI

    charli doesnt deserve the tik tok hype and thats on period

  4. Ashley Prisco Avatar
    Ashley Prisco

    I think it’s worth noting that One Degree cereals and granolas are certified Glyphosate free!

  5. Tobi Avatar
    Tobi

    What are your thoughts on living intentions cereal brand. My four year older loves the cacao crunch!

  6. Bart Avatar
    Bart

    Thank you for your ongoing great work. However, I was disappointed that you did not specify how much sugar is in your best-rated Butterfly Bakery Granola from Vermont, perhaps because it’s “just pure maple syrup.” With minor differences, sugar is sugar when it comes to calories and tooth decay. ( “Natural” sugars are also not a realistic source of minerals–nor is sea salt–as some insist. )

    You mentioned a preference for palm sugar. I am not familiar with this sugar, but assume it comes from the same source as palm and palm kernel oil—-palm plantations created by clearing rain forests. Our use of these products comes at the cost of destruction of habitat for endangered species like the orangutan, destruction of the homelands of native peoples, and increased global warming.

    I also disagree with your characterization of coconut oil as a “nutritional powerhouse.” Just because it’s a “natural” saturated fat doesn’t mean it’s great. For most Americans, the problem is not lack of coconut fat, it’s too much fat of all types.

  7. Judith Avatar
    Judith

    Hi, I’m always skeptical about anything that has “natural flavors” but since it’s now being included even in organic products, I’m wondering about how safe those are. Do you have any input?

    1. Maia James Avatar
      Maia James

      I think you’re right to be skeptical. There’s some good evidence that “natural flavors” are Sneaky Stuff.

  8. Victoria Avatar
    Victoria

    Finally I am on the right track. Been giving my LO the CF O’s since he was a baby. Would like to know what you think of Kashi’s new kid’s line. Is it OK in small amounts? I mix the O’s with them. the cinnamon, cocoa, or berry combo sometimes cause his taste buds are changing.

    1. Maia James Avatar
      Maia James

      We didn’t look into that line, but we will!

  9. K Avatar
    K

    Vitamin E (mixed tocopherols) are fine?

  10. Kim S Avatar
    Kim S

    I’ve stayed away from oat containing cereals and cereal bars because of the weed killer contamination that we’ve heard a lot about. I have not seen any updates about this. Is it safe to feed my babies oat cereal now?

    1. johnlockegoss Avatar
      johnlockegoss

      Hi Kim,
      We appreciate your concern over weed killers in oats. It is one we share, but there is some pretty troubling news on that subject. Even farms that are fully certified organic or biodynamic or operate in a responsible way can end up with products with those toxins in them. This is because those weed killers are so widely used…and because they drift easily, that there are very few places they cannot reach. This is true not only of oats but just about every crop, every where. So until we find a way to verify the absence of those toxins in products, or until we make those substances illegal, it is a problem it seems that we all just have to live with. 🙁 🙁 🙁

  11. Annmarie Zuluaga Yafrate Avatar
    Annmarie Zuluaga Yafrate

    Thank you so much for this! I didn’t see any mention of some of the Whole Foods options such as Cascadian Farms or Nature’s Path. What do you think of these:

    -Cascadian Farm Organic Hearty Morning Fiber
    -Nature’s Path Organic Smart Bran
    -Nature’s Path Organic Heritage Flakes

    Thank you so much for all you and your family do!

  12. Lori Salvati Avatar
    Lori Salvati

    I was wondering about the Trader Joe’s Shredded Bite Sized Wheat Square cereal? The only 2 I gredie at are whole wheat and Vitamin E to preserve freshness? No sugar, no sodium. I get these for my son all the time so I am crossing my fingers!

  13. AR Avatar
    AR

    I saw that too and was wondering about the calcium carbonate.

    1. Maia James Avatar
      Maia James

      Yes, there is nothing concerning about calcium carbonate, fortunately:).

  14. Krystle Ang Avatar
    Krystle Ang

    On the Cascadian Farm website, the list of ingredients is as follows.

    Whole Grain Oats*, Whole Grain Barley*, Wheat Starch*, Malted Barley Extract*, Sea Salt, Calcium Carbonate, Oats*, Malted Barley*, Vitamin E (mixed tocopherols) Added to Preserve Freshness

    Is it still okay?

    1. Maia James Avatar
      Maia James

      yes:)