How to select ready-to-eat cereal

August 25, 1997|By Lynn F. Little

Ready-to-eat cereal with milk and juice is one of the most frequently eaten breakfast combinations. Some people are cereal connoisseurs, but most eat it because it's convenient, and they think it's good for them.

Picking a cereal is a challenge. How nutritious is cereal? Are some cereals better for you than others? Is it better to select a cereal with whole grains or one with more vitamins?

Manufacturers produce a wide variety of ready-to-eat and hot cereals which meet the varied taste preferences of our population. How do you get beyond the marketing hype to select the cereals that suit your needs? Your family preferences may be the basis for your selection. However, time, as well as food costs and value, all may influence your buying decisions.

* Look for whole grains

Health authorities recommend eating whole grains to reduce the risk of cancer and other chronic diseases. Check the ingredient list to make sure the wheat in the box is "whole" and the oats are "rolled." Bran is only part of the whole grain, but is one of the best parts - so count it as you would a whole grain. Whole grain contains all nutrients of the whole, unprocessed grain and the natural properties of bran, germ and endosperm.


* Look for fiber

Cereals vary widely in fiber content. Fiber information is now listed by percent Daily Value (DV) as well as grams per serving. Since we depend on cereals and grains as important sources of fiber, select a cereal that provides at least 10 percent of the Daily Value for fiber.

* Minimize sugar.

Cereals also vary widely in carbohydrates and sugar. In one survey, sugar content ranged from 1 gram per ounce to 15 grams per ounce. For the best use of your food dollar, check out the grams of sugar listed on the label and choose brands with the fewest grams per serving. To convert grams to teaspoons of sugar per serving, divide grams by 4. One gram of sugar would equal 1/4 teaspoon per ounce; 15 grams would equal 3 3/4 teaspoons per ounce.

* Watch out for fat.

Most cereals are naturally low in fat, with a gram or less per serving. Some of the dense granola-type cereals, however, may rival a pat of butter in fat content per serving. Pouring a half cup of whole milk on your cereal adds another 36 calories of fat. For people older than 2 years old, skim or 1 percent milk is a healthier option than whole milk.

* Consider sodium.

Ready-to-eat cereals don't taste salty, but contain plenty of sodium. Amounts per serving are given in milligrams and as a percent of Daily Value. To avoid going overboard on sodium, look for a cereal that provides less than 10 percent of the DV of sodium per serving.

A typical nutritionally fortified, ready-to-eat cereal provides 1/4 of the recommended daily amounts of at least seven vitamins and frequently iron in a one-ounce serving. Fortification of these cereals at this level is appropriate, since many nutritionists recommend that breakfast provide 25 percent of the day's nutrients and calories. Fortified ready-to-eat cereals provide high levels of nutrients relative to the number of calories they furnish (1/4 of the recommended amounts of at least seven nutrients, but only 4 percent of the day's recommended calories per one-ounce serving.)

Eat different types of cereal throughout the day, not just at breakfast. Cold or hot cereals with milk and fruit are great for breakfast or a snack. They are nutritious and easy to prepare. Including cereal in your diet helps you meet the 6 to 11 servings of bread, cereal, pasta and rice recommended as part of a healthy daily diet.

Maryland Cooperative Extension Service's programs are open to all citizens without regard to race, color, sex, disability, age, religion or national origin.

Lynn F. Little is an extension educator, family and consumer sciences, Cooperative Extension Service, University of Maryland.

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