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.
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.
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.