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.)
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.”
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.
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.
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 latter two have since been discontinued. Today, sugar has crept back into cold cereals even the organic, “healthy” ones.
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 fresh, whole, and organic.
Healthiest O Cereal
With just three ingredients, and only one gram of sugar, this is our favorite brand of O.
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 have five grams of sugar, but still have a short list of ingredients.
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.
- 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.
We give this one extra points for being sprouted and (just slightly) sweetened with palm sugar.
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 Good Stuff
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.
This flake earned its spot in the Good Stuff ranks because it is sweetened with fruit juice rather than sugar (3 grams per serving), and doesn’t contain any rice products.
Like mana other puffed cereals, this one contains nothing but organic kamut. (Of course, this means it contains zero grams of sugar!).
These sprouted corn flakes have only one gram of sugar per serving, but it comes from pear juice.
These only contain one gram of sugar per serving, but of course all rice crisps should be eaten in moderation because of arsenic concerns.
These contain just oats, barley, and malted barley extract, which lends only one 1 gram of sugar per serving.
Erewhon Cinnamon Crispy Brown Rice
This version of crispy brown rice does contain a little cane sugar–in addition to brown rice syrup and maple syrup–but each serving contains less than two grams of sugar.
Erewhon Corn Flakes
The only ingredients in these corn flakes are organic milled corn and sea salt. This is a staple in Maia’s home.
This one has a nice short ingredient list–it’s made of just organic brown rice, organic brown rice syrup, and sea salt, and each serving has less than one gram of sugar.
Erewhon Harvest Medley
This multi-grain cereal contains organic sorghum, organic brown rice, and organic quinoa, and is sweetened with brown rice syrup. Each serving contains under a gram of sugar.
This one is 100% organic, with zero grams of sugar, and contains just sprouted wheat, malted barley, sprouted barley, sprouted millet, sprouted lentils, sprouted soybeans, sprouted spelt, and water.
My grandkids aren’t huge fans of this one, but I am because it only has one gram of sugar.
Small Valley Milling Organic Puffed Spelt Cereal
Organic spelt kernels, organic, and in a bag not a box. 0 grams of sugar.
Organic Oats, organic garbanzos beans, they source the organic farm, organic cane sugar, tapioca 2 grams per serving.
We love that this brand has only ingredients and are organic, and they still come in at 5 grams of sugar per serving. This brand is popular with Paleo crowd.
The Okay Stuff
This gluten-free option has only a few ingredients and 5 grams of sugar.
This isn’t Good Stuff only because it uses cane sugar, but there are only 4 grams per serving.
We like that this one doesn’t contain any sugar, but with eight grams of sugar per serving (from honey and brown rice syrup), it’s too high to be considered Good Stuff.
Organic maize and amaranth are great, cane sugar (four grams per serving) isn’t so great.
We like that this brand contains a beans blend and only 2 grams of sugar. It’s not organic (but it is non-GMO).
These organic flakes are made of mostly various forms of coconut, and come in at 5 grams of sugar per serving.
Whole quinoa is a great ingredient, but these aren’t organic and contain 4 grams of cane sugar per serving.
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.
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.
The Bad Stuff
Any “frosted” cereals are Bad Stuff; for example, Kellogg’s Frosted Mini Wheats have have 11 grams of sugar (plus toxic BHT).
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.
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.
There’s so much Bad Stuff here–modified food starch, corn syrup, hydrogenated vegetable oil, and artificial flavors to start.
These aren’t organic, but they low in sugars with just 3 grams per serving. Unfortunately, these flakes contain the toxic preservative BHT.
These pack 13 grams of sugar, although to be fair some of this comes from the raisins.
Kelloggs Rice Krispies
These do just contain rice, sugar, salt, and malt flavor, but still too much sugar.
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.
The Sneaky Stuff
These all contain too much sugar to be considered Good Stuff.
It’s organic, but only has 6 grams of sugar.
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
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.
Now owned by Kellogg, Kashi makes 25 types of cereal, but they all have too much sugar or other questionable ingredients.
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.
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.)
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.
These contain soy oil and have 7 grams of sugar per serving.
I like that this is organic, but it contains 13 grams of sugar per serving.
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 can sugar or can 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,
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.