Now let’s apply the cereal-selection knowledge we learned yesterday to some practical, real-life examples. To assist me in this exercise, I’ve included the information for three different cereals made by General Mills – all three are kinds of Chex cereal. I’ve picked this brand of cereal not because of any personal preference, but because these three varieties clearly illustrate how products may seem similar, but, in reality, may have a few surprises in store for you. This is why the Nutrition Facts panel and the Ingredients list are so important! All of the nutrition and ingredient information for these cereals is available on the chex.com website, which is the source for these images as well (it’s a very helpful website!).
Check out the following label and ingredients for Cinnamon Chex:
- First, I look at the Nutrition Facts label. The serving size is ¾ cup. The calories seem a little low, so I would probably want to eat something alongside this cereal if I wanted it to get me through the morning. The fat is within my guidelines, plus the majority of the fat is monounsaturated (a good fat!). However, one serving of this cereal contains 8 grams of sugar (that’s two teaspoons), only 1 gram of fiber, and only 1 gram of protein. That means this product definitely doesn’t fit into my rule-of-thumb that the cereal has more grams of fiber than sugar, and will probably leave me feeling hungry mid-morning.
- Now that I’ve reviewed the Nutrition Facts, I look over at the ingredients list. The first ingredient is a whole grain (“whole grain rice”), but the second is not (just “rice”). I’m also seeing a lot of synonyms for sugar (“sugar,” “fructose,” and “molasses”). Looking at this product overall, it seems as though this cereal wouldn’t be an ideal choice for starting my day off right. That doesn’t mean I would never eat it, but I probably wouldn’t select it as an everyday breakfast cereal.
Next up, we have a product that has the appearance of being a pretty healthy choice – Multi-Bran Chex. As a dietitian, I see the word “bran” and think the word “fiber.” However, labels can be misleading, so I’m not sold until I examine the Nutrition Facts and Ingredients list.
- Moving through the Nutrition Facts, I’ve noted the serving size (3/4 cup), and noticed that the calories (160 calories/serving), fat (1.5g, 0.5g of which are unsaturated), fiber (6g) and protein (4g) are all within my tentative guidelines. However, I have also noticed that one serving of this cereal contains 10 grams of sugar (2 ½ teaspoons). This also means that there are definitely more grams of sugar than fiber in this cereal.
- Now, I examine the ingredient list. We start out with a whole grain (“whole grain corn”), but it also contains a refined grain (“corn meal”), as well as wheat bran, corn bran, and rice bran. The bran is a very nutritious part of the grain, but this still means they have edited the whole grain, eliminating parts that offer nutritional benefits. Skimming through the rest of the ingredients, I also see two words that mean sugar (“sugar” and “molasses”). Overall, this cereal looks like a so-so choice; some of the values fit my criteria, but I don’t like how much sugar it contains, and I prefer that all the grains in my cereals are true whole grains.
Finally, we move on to a third Chex cereal – Wheat Chex. Let’s see how this one measures up.
- I like what I see – the same serving size as the Multi-Bran Chex, with appropriate calories (160 calories/serving), fat (1g, 0.5g of which are unsaturated), and protein (5g), and just as much fiber as the last product (6g). However, this product has only half the sugar of the Multi-Bran Chex (5 grams versus 10 grams). Plus, I can see in the ingredients list that all the grains in the cereal are whole grains (“whole wheat”). This cereal seems to fit all of my criteria.
I recently tried out Wheat Chex for the first time, and it tastes pretty good. I like to let it soak in the milk for a few minutes to soften it up a bit, but I am definitely a fan. That makes this product the (drum roll, please)…
PRODUCT OF THE WEEK!
I would consider this product to be a healthy breakfast cereal choice, and I like the taste of it as well. In an overwhelming aisle of breakfast cereals, it stands out as a great option with adequate calories, protein, and fiber to start your day right, without too much added sugar or any refined grains.
Remember to always look at a food as a whole – focusing too much on one dietary component or another can turn food into a source of stress instead of a source of nutrition and enjoyment. There are definitely exceptions to this set of guidelines. Think about these choices in terms of a sliding scale of nutrition, not as a black and white "good food versus bad food."
I hope this exercise demonstrates the importance of reading and comparing labels when choosing a product. Finding a healthy cereal can be a little time-consuming at first, but it is well worth the effort. Leave any questions in the comment section, and please share other cereals that you enjoy that fit into a healthy lifestyle!
Thanks for reading!