Cereal is an easy breakfast food to eat when you don’t feel like making some eggs and toast. Not only is it quick, but also tastes really good. While cereal can be delicious and nostalgic, it’s not always the best pick for your health. The problem with some cereals is that they are loaded with sugar, like Lucky Charms, Fruity Pebbles, Cookie Crisp, to name a few. Here’s how to spot the cereals made with the lowest quality ingredients.
“Sugar is the main offender in breakfast cereals. Sugar should never be the first ingredient listed,” says Danielle McAvoy, a culinary RD and the senior manager of nutrition for Territory Foods. “Another thing to avoid is cereal made with refined grains rather than whole grains, and those containing artificial colors and flavors.”
Keeping that in mind, here are nine of the worst cereals on grocery store shelves based on added sugar and artificial colors that you might want to stay away from on your next shopping spree.
per 1 cup (41 G): 160 calories, 2 g fat (0 g saturated fat), 170 mg sodium, 34 g carbs (2 g fiber, 11 g sugar), 3 g protein
Don’t let the fact that this cereal has fruit in it fool you that it’s healthy. The second ingredient in this cereal, after corn, is sugar.” Skip buying cereals with already added-in dried fruit because sometimes these dried fruits are made with added sugars, too, and they’re not just the plain, dried fruit,” says Koszyk. With that said, it does have less added sugars than many of the other cereals on this list and slightly more fiber and protein making it the least unhealthy option on this list.
per 1 cup (41 G): 170 calories, 4.5 g fat (1 g saturated fat), 140 mg sodium, 32 g carbs (2 g fiber, 15 g sugar), 3 g protein
When it comes to added sugar in cereals, Sarah Koszyk, MA, RDN, dietitian and co-founder of MIJA, recommends using this trick to limit intake. “Go by the trick: ‘S’ as in ‘Sugar’ and “S” as in “six” or “seven” and choose cereals with less than 6 or 7 grams of added sugar per serving.” This chocolate-y cereal has more than double the amount of sugar with 15 grams per serving. While the sugar content may be high, it doesn’t have any artificial colors which makes it slightly less unhealthy.
per 1 cup (39 G): 150 calories, 1.5 g fat (0.5 g saturated fat), 210 mg sodium, 34 g carbs (2 g fiber, 13 g sugar), 2 g protein
While a bowl of Apple Jacks might hit the spot every once in a while, you’ll want to consider leaving it on the shelf during your next grocery run. With 26 percent of the daily recommended value for added sugars per serving, this cereal is one of the least healthy on this list. Plus, it has a bunch of artificial colors including Yellow 6, Yellow 5, Red 40, and Blue 1.
per 1 cup (36 G): 140 calories, 1.5 g fat (0.5 g saturated fat), 230 mg sodium, 30 g carbs (2 g fiber, 12 g sugar), 2 g protein
A bowl of Lucky Charms isn’t so lucky after all if you’re taking nutrition into account. With 12 grams of added sugars and a plethora of artificial colors, this cereal is one you’ll want to think twice before picking up. Now, it’s okay to have your favorite sugary cereals every now and again but try to balance them with other nutrient-dense foods. “Find ways to balance your breakfast and add nutrition to your meal,” says Breanna Woods, MS RD, registered dietitian for Blogilates. “Adding things like nuts, seeds, shredded coconut, or fruit will add nutrients like fiber, healthy fats, and antioxidants.”
per 3/4 cup (37 G): 130 calories, 0 g fat (0.5 g saturated fat), 190 mg sodium, 33 g carbs (1 g fiber, 12 g sugar), 2 g protein
Woods points out Frosted Flakes as a cereal you’ll want to eat sparingly as it’s loaded with added sugars—nearly a quarter of the daily recommended value. Like Woods mentioned above, you might want to consider adding some fruit and nuts to this breakfast for extra nutritional value.
per 1 cup (36 G): 140 calories, 1.5 g fat (0 g saturated fat), 190 mg sodium, 31 g carbs (0 g fiber, 12 g sugar), 1 g protein
If you’re looking for a healthy cereal, then you’ll want to steer clear of Fruity Pebbles, unless you want to consume rice, sugar, canola oil, and a bunch of artificial colors. On the ingredients label, you’ll find Red 40, Yellow 6, Yellow 5, Blue 1, and Blue 2. Plus, there’s a hefty amount of sugar with 12 grams per serving. This cereal contains no fruit to speak of and instead gets its flavor from natural and artificial flavorings.
per 1 cup (37 G): 140 calories, 1.5 g fat (0 g saturated fat), 180 mg sodium, 31 g carbs (2 g fiber, 12 g sugar), 2 g protein
Who doesn’t want cookies for breakfast? Well, you’ll want to think twice before grabbing a box of this cereal the next time you’re at the grocery store. While the added sugar content might be high at 12 grams, the first ingredient is whole grain corn which McAvoy says to opt for when you can. Plus, this cereal doesn’t have artificial colors or flavors.
per 1 cup (37 G): 140 calories, 2 g fat (0 g saturated fat), 210 mg sodium, 30 g carbs (3 g fiber, 12 g sugar), 3 g protein
Honey Nut Cheerios may be “heart healthy,” but they still don’t meet our dietitians’ recommendation for added sugars with nearly a quarter of the daily recommended value. With that said, this cereal doesn’t contain any artificial colors and has soluble fiber which has been shown to reduce cholesterol and lower blood sugar levels.
per 1 cup (36 G): 130 calories, 0.5 g fat (0 g saturated fat), 45 mg sodium, 32 g carbs (2 g fiber, 18 g sugar), 2 g protein
The American Heart Association, suggests an added-sugar limit of no more than 100 calories per day (about 6 teaspoons or 24 grams) for most adult women and no more than 150 calories per day (about 9 teaspoons or 36 grams of sugar) for most men. But honey is better than sugar right? Well, Honey Smacks has a whopping 18 grams of added sugar (36 percent of the recommended daily value) per serving making it the most unhealthy on this list. Plus, sugar is the second ingredient on the nutrition label followed by glucose syrup and honey so it’s safe to say this cereal is packed with more pure sugar than honey.