A bowl of cereal is both a classic meal and easy snack for teenagers. The sweet crunch and simple preparation make this food disappear from the pantry far too fast. As a common choice for eating occasions, individuals may wonder if it is okay to eat cereal every day?
Cereal lacks some basic, essential nutrients so eating it every day is not recommended. Specifically, cereal often lacks high protein, fiber, and healthy fats to help you feel full, energized, and satisfied. It can be too high in unhealthy carbs/sugar as well. Cereal should be enjoyed in moderation and not eaten everyday. There are better breakfasts to start your day, but Cheerios, Kix, Shredded Wheat, Oatmeal Squares, or Chex can be good options on busy mornings.
Excessive intake of sugar cereal can displace other more nutrient dense foods in a diet. A bowl of sugar cereal causes blood sugar and insulin spikes, which result in a quick drop in blood sugar levels. This blood sugar drop translates to a decrease in energy, quick hunger and increased cravings for high sugar and fat foods.
While sugar cereal does not make the best meal to fuel a teenager, it can still be a part of a healthy eating pattern. Whole grain cereal options with lower sugar content and higher fiber can provide longer lasting energy. Furthermore, adding foods with protein or healthy fats alongside the bowl of cereal can also make for a more balanced meal.
Continue reading to learn more about the effects of eating cereal every day, cereal recommendations and more!
What Happens if You Eat Cereal for Every Meal?
Variety plays a significant role in a healthy meal pattern. A lack of variety by eating cereal at every meal, even a nutrient dense cereal, will result in a nutrient poor diet and subsequent decrease in health.
Cereals offer various nutrients, but lack others. In particular, cereal will displace those higher protein and healthy fats foods. The body needs protein for a healthy immune system, cardiovascular system, muscles, hormones, hair, skin and so much more. Healthy fats keep the heart and brain healthy along with providing an important source of energy and building block for the body.
Protein food sources: lean cuts of meat/poultry, seafood, eggs, nuts, seeds, beans and dairy products.
Healthy fat food sources: plant oils, seafood, nuts, seeds, avocados, olives
Cereal cannot replace fruits and vegetables in the diet. Fruits and vegetables offer fiber, vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and phytochemicals. All these food components are essential to maintaining good health.
Furthermore, cereal at every meal contribute to excess sugar and sodium in an eating pattern. High amounts of sugar and sodium are linked to an increased risk of chronic disease and obesity.
Is Cereal Healthy?
|Benefits of Eating Cereal||Downsides to Eating Cereal|
|-Some cereals are fortified with vitamins and minerals|
-Cereal can be a very affordable and quick breakfast
|-Often contains high amounts of sugar|
-Often lacks protein, healthy fats, and fiber
-Doesn’t provide a nutritious breakfast
-Won’t keep you feeling full and energized for very long
-Increase likelihood of cavities
-May cause fatigue and energy crashes later on
Some cereal options provide more nutrition than others. However, many of the more popular cereal choices contain high amounts of sugar and refined carbohydrates.
Often, despite health claims on the box, cereal ingredient lists show sugar as a top ingredient. Cereal alone does not form a balanced meal as it lacks protein, healthy fats and fiber.
As essential nutrients for a healthy, functioning body, a meal low in protein, fiber and healthy fat will in not support feelings of energy, satisfaction, a happy gut or overall well-being. Furthermore, consistently eating meals high in sugar and refined carbohydrates increases likelihood of cavities, energy crashes, hunger and sugar/fat cravings between eating occasions along with an increased risk for chronic disease.
On the other hand, whole grain cereals low in sugar, or cooked whole grain cereals such as oatmeal, add fiber, B-vitamins, iron and other important nutrients to a diet. Some cereals may even contain dried fruit and nuts, which add fiber, protein, healthy fats and other nutrients. Making informed cereal choices can improve the nutrition and health benefits of a bowl of cereal.
Often eaten with cereal, milk offers additional nutritional benefits. The protein and fat in milk can help stabilize blood sugars and contribute to satisfaction between meals.
Milk contains calcium, phosphorous and is often fortified with vitamin D for improved bone health. In addition to these nutrients, milk is a source of various other vitamins and minerals such as potassium and vitamin A.
Cereal is often fortified with added nutrients for an extra boost to your morning nutrition. If you check the nutrition facts label, you’ll see that cereal can be a lot higher in some nutrients such as Vitamin A, thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, vitamin B6, vitamin B12, folic acid (folate), and vitamin D than many other packaged foods. So cereal isn’t the worst choice for a breakfast, but make sure to check the sugar content and other nutrients on the label.
Sometimes, a teenager just wants a bowl of sugar cereal and that’s perfectly fine. Sugar cereal eaten on occasion and in moderation still has a place in a healthy eating pattern.
In fact, it can make a convenient snack or treat, even eaten without milk. Consistently eating sugary cereals as a meal is where an individual may start seeing undesirable consequences.
The following sections will give some guidance for improving nutrition quality of cereal. These suggestions can assist an individual who wants to eat cereal as a meal, but still wants to benefit from lasting energy and satisfaction before the next eating occasion.
How to Pick a Healthier Cereal
- Use the nutrition label to choose lower sugar cereals
One of the biggest issues with many cereals comes from the relatively high content of sugar. An ingredient list found on the bottom of a nutrition label orders ingredients by weight and many cereals list sugar as a top ingredient. Other words for sugar include glucose, maltodextrin, high fructose corn syrup and evaporated cane juice.
When choosing a cereal, try to find those with sugar listed lower than the second ingredient. Also, use the nutrition label to find a cereal with 5 or less grams of sugar per serving. Adding fruit makes a great alternative to sugar for sweetening cereal.
- Make whole grain choices
The processing of cereal often removes nutrients and fiber. These refined grains do not offer the same health benefits of the original whole grain, even with later enrichment and fortification.
The ingredient and nutrition label helps consumers find whole grain cereal options. First, the ingredient list should show whole grains rather than enriched grains as the first ingredient. Second, check the fiber content on the nutrition label. Whole grains generally offer more fiber with at least 2.5 or more grams per serving.
- Be aware of sodium content
Cereals can have higher amounts of sodium. Those with concerns about sodium intake may want to find low-sodium cereals with less than 140 milligrams per serving.
- Check serving size
Not all cereals provide nutrition information for the same serving size. A cereal with less than 5g of sugar may seem like a healthy option until a person realizes the serving size is only a 1/2 cup. This commonly occurs with granola or other dense cereals. The seemingly low sugar cereal ends up making a high sugar meal when four servings are consumed to feel satisfied.
- Don’t forget about less processed cereal options
Oatmeal, cracked wheat, faro and even quinoa are cereal grains that make great meals with a little preparation. While not always as convenient as packaged cereal, with just a little extra cooking or soaking these cereal options offer far more nutrition and satisfaction. Be careful with instant packets as these versions often contain high amounts of sugar.
The versatility of these cereals also make room for more creativity and flavor. Nuts, seeds, fruit, dark chocolate and even savory options like cottage cheese and herbs transform these grains into fun and satisfyingly delicious masterpieces.
Healthy Cereal Recommendations
The steps outlined earlier help individuals find healthier cereal options. These cereals offer more nutrients, fiber and protein with less sugar, sodium or saturated fats. The following list highlights some of the cereals that meet these criteria.
- Shredded wheat
- Bran flakes
- Oatmeal squares
- Cream of wheat
- Unsweetened Chex varieties
The number of cereal options is staggering. This short list just offers a few healthy suggestions, but there are many more.
Tips for Boosting the Nutrition of a Bowl of Cereal
- Combine a favorite sugar cereal with a different, more fiber and protein rich cereal.
instead of a bowl of high sugar cereal, add bran flakes or Magic Spoon cereal for some extra protein and fiber. This action will also decrease sugar per serving.
This option works well with favorite packaged oatmeal flavors as well. Add a packet of flavored oats to some plain oatmeal to still get the flavor, but with much less sugar.
- Add protein or healthy fats to the cereal.
Cereal generally consists of mainly carbohydrates. Without protein or dietary fat, blood sugar levels rise and fall rapidly leading to poor energy levels and quick hunger. Adding protein or healthy fat regulates blood sugar levels and increases feelings of fullness.
Easy ways to increase protein and fat include adding nuts or seeds to the bowl, enjoying a nut butter or avocado toast on the side, mixing in an egg or cottage cheese to cooked cereals or including a green smoothie.
- Make cereal a yummy addition rather than the main part of a meal.
Favorite cereals can provide great flavor and crunch to a parfait or green smoothie. They can also give a sweet taste at the end of a balanced meal.
- Use cereal in recipes.
Using cereal in a recipe allows for individuals to capture the cereal taste, and have the freedom to add in other important nutrients. Try the following recipe for a fun cereal bar.
– 1 1/2 Cup Oatmeal
– 1 1/2 Cup Cereal (cheerios or flakes)
– 2 Tbsp or to taste Honey or Syrup
– 1 Cup Peanut Butter
– 1 Egg
– Add-ins: nuts, dried fruit, etc.
Preheat oven to 375 F. Grease or put parchment paper in 8×8 pan. Pour all ingredients in pan and mix together. Press mixture flat into pan. Cook until slightly browned.
- Eat the bowl of cereal mindfully.
Sometimes you just want a bowl of sugary cereal. That’s okay! Use mindful principles to savor the experience and be aware that you may need to eat the next meal sooner to meet energy and hunger needs.
In summary, cereal of almost any type will provide B-vitamins, iron and carbohydrates but lack other important nutrients. All cereals can be included in a healthy meal pattern.
However, some cereals will offer increased nutrition and health benefits than others. Individuals should choose these nutrient dense cereals more often than others. Furthermore, excess cereal consumption will result in a higher risk of poor diet quality and negative health outcomes. A healthy eating pattern involves balance, variety and moderation.
Cereal can have a place in your diet in moderation and balance. It’s not the best everyday breakfast food, but it can be a great quick option for busy mornings and also for on-the-go snacks. Cereal isn’t totally worthless, it has some important nutrients and can help you feel satisfied. For me personally, I don’t often eat cereal for breakfast but I love to snack on a bowl of cereal in the late afternoon when I need a small snack.
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