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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 they all have since been discontinued. Today, sugar has crept back into cold cereals even the organic, “healthy” ones.
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.
Butterfly Bakery of Vermont Mighty Tasty Organic Granola$12.99 — or subscribe and save up to 5%Quick View
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.
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.
If you’re enjoying this guide, to be alerted when we publish or update our Safe Product Guides.
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.
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,
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.
20 responses to “Healthy Cereal Guide”
What about Purely Elizabeth ancient grains original granola? Their ingredients are organic and seem to be the good stuff!
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?
charli doesnt deserve the tik tok hype and thats on period
I think it’s worth noting that One Degree cereals and granolas are certified Glyphosate free!
What are your thoughts on living intentions cereal brand. My four year older loves the cacao crunch!
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.
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?
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.
Vitamin E (mixed tocopherols) are fine?
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?
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!
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!
I saw that too and was wondering about the calcium carbonate.
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?