Cereal Calories: The Good, the Bad, the Ugly

When it comes to nutrition labels and cereal calories, ignorance can indeed be bliss.

We can still remember when we learned how to scan the ingredients list and take note of the grams of sugar on a cereal box. Suddenly, we were faced with the harsh reality that pouring milk over a bowl of marshmallows was far from healthy.

Childhood, ruined. It was like learning Santa Claus isn’t real all over again.

As the cereal fanatics we are, scanning the nutrition label of our former beloved Honey Nut Cheerios and seeing that it contained 9 grams of sugar in just a 3/4 cup serving size was a dagger to the heart.

So we emptied our cupboards, analyzing one box after another and were extremely disappointed in our findings: High calories, high carbs, lots of sugar, and hardly any protein.

To help spread the word — and to educate yourself on your breakfast bowl — we’re taking a peek at cereal calories in some of the most popular choices. You’ll see some obvious offenders (we’re looking at you, Lucky Charms), and a few others that might surprise you.

Cereal Calories: What’s Really in Your Bowl of Cereal

We don’t like to be the bearer of bad news (we’re really quite joyous people, we promise). So it pains us to print this list. But when it comes to cereal, we don’t mess around. We feel it’s our duty to tell you just how many cereal calories you’re really consuming in your morning bowl.

Lucky Charms

Calories: 110 per 3/4 cup

Sorry to break it to you, but there’s only a pot of calories at the end of this rainbow. At first glance, the 110 calories per cup of cereal in General Mills’ Lucky Charms might look fairly harmless. But if you peruse the nutrition facts, you’ll realize this bowl leaves much to be desired. With 22 grams of carbs and 10 grams of sugar, this box isn’t as magically nutritious as it is delicious.

Frosted Flakes

Calories: 140 per 1 cup

We’re not exactly sure what stunt Tony the Tiger was trying to pull here, but he can’t fool you anymore. With 140 calories, 34 grams of carbs, and a whopping 14 grams of sugar, this bowl isn’t quite the way you want to tackle your mornings. And with the top three ingredients being sugar, corn, and malt flavor, this breakfast cereal is anything but GR-R-EAT.

Raisin Bran

Calories: 190 per 1 cup

There are two cups of raisins in every box of Raisin Bran, and whew, does that pour a lot of sugar into one little bowl. At almost 200 calories per cup, Kellog’s Raisin Bran clocks in on the heftier side of this list. While the sugar content is a bit lower than the previous two cereals, the 47 grams of carbohydrates will most certainly weigh you down.

Honey Bunches of Oats

Calories: 160 per 1 cup

Where should we start? At 160 calories per cup, the original Honey Bunches of Oats is one of the higher calorie cereals on this list. Scoping out their other varieties, you see that things only get more dismal as you go down the line. Honey Bunches of Oats with Almonds tips the scale at 170 calories, French Vanilla Granola comes in at 270 calories (for only 2/3 cup), and Honey Bunches Whole Grain Almond Crunch comes in at 230 calories.

Corn Flakes

Calories: 100 per 1 cup

Alright Corn Flakes, we see you. We’ll give a little shoutout to Kellogg’s here, since the cereal calories in a bowl of this classic doesn’t look too bad on paper (er, cardboard?).

With only 100 calories and less than 3 grams of sugar per cup, Corn Flakes might seem too good to be true. Which it is. If you take a sneak peek, you’ll see this cereal contains a whopping 24 grams of carbs per bowl. Not exactly the best way to start your day.

Frosted Mini Wheats

Calories: 210 for 25 biscuits

You know, this one hurt a bit. As former fans of anything that comes frosted, we really, really wanted to think better of Frosted Mini Wheats. But at 210 calories per cup (well, per 25 biscuits), they are, without a shredded wheat of doubt, one of the highest calorie cereals on this list. While that might certainly keep you full, it probably won’t keep you focused.

Grape Nuts

Calories: 400 calories per 1 cup

Not going to lie, this one is surprising. You might have thought Grape Nuts was a healthy cereal, but at 200 calories per half cup (a whopping 400 calories per cup), this is by far the heftiest whole grain cereal on this list. The sugar content is fairly low — coming in at 5 grams — but that’s still 5 grams higher than we prefer.

Kashi Go

Calories: 180 per 58 grams

With promises of seven whole grains in every bowl, Kashi Go original cereal (formerly called GoLean) is often considered one of the healthiest cereals on the market. And we’ll give them a small golf clap here — the 12 grams of protein is impressive compared to the other cereals. But at 180 calories and 8 grams of sugar, there’s a better alternative.

Fiber One Bran

Calories: 120 calories per 1 cup

What can we say here? Fiber One is your go-to breakfast when you need your pipes running smoothly. And with 28 grams of dietary fiber in this all-bran bowl, your system is probably working like clockwork. Fiber One is also one of only two cereals on this list that contains zero grams of sugar per serving.

Well done, Fiber One. But you still have those 50 grams of carbs we’re dropping our jaws over, and we’re not too impressed by your measly 4 grams of protein.

Cream of Wheat

Calories: 100 calories per 1 packet (28 grams)

And here you have it — the other cereal with zero grams of sugar. If you look at the nutrition label, and the nutrition label alone, Cream of Wheat is far from the worst offenders on this list. It contains zero grams of sugar, 100 calories, and 20 grams of carbs per serving. It also has almost zero flavor if you don’t add any sweetener, so it might lose you there.

Rice Chex

Calories: 110 per 1 cup

You might prefer your Chex roasted, mixed, and tossed with peanuts and pretzels, but we’re talking about breakfast here. At 110 cereal calories per cup, the original Chex isn’t too alarming — it’s just what you get for those 110 calories is a bit lackluster. There’s only 2 grams of protein per cup, which doesn’t exactly make this cereal a powerhouse breakfast that will keep you feeling full until lunchtime.

Cereal Calories That Won’t Bring You Down

If this list just killed your morning buzz, we sympathize completely. Trust us, we know the feeling.

If you’re looking for a healthy breakfast, many of your favorite bowls of cereal just don’t make the cut. Most cereals in the grocery aisle are high in calories and sugar, while containing few grams of fiber or protein.

And if weight loss is your goal (or you’re trying to fit them into a low-calorie diet), things can get a bit discouraging.

That’s why we created the first high-protein, low-calorie, totally keto-friendly cereal on the market. Weighing in at just 100 calories per serving, Cereal School is packed with 16 grams of protein, 3.5 grams total fat, one gram of total carbohydrates, and zero grams of sugar.

No, it’s not too good to be true. And yes, it’s just as incredible as it sounds.

Unlike your grandma’s Cream of Wheat or Fiber One, we made our cereal taste good — with flavors like Cinnamon Bun, Fruity, and Cocoa.

There’s no need to pine over your former childhood favorites (Cinnamon Toast Crunch, Fruity Pebbles, Cocoa Puffs, perhaps?) because now you can have your crunchy, sweet cereal without any cereal calorie woes.

Your Bowl of Cereal may have 700 calories!

0 By JIllian Spector May 18, 2014

A bowl of cereal may seem like the perfect breakfast option. It’s fast, easy, and inexpensive, and it says it contains whole grains and high fiber. When you pour yourself a bowl of cereal, do you just randomly dump the box’s contents into a big bowl without measuring the amount? The typical “serving size” of cereal can actually fit in the palm of your hand. The box will say a ½ cup for one serving, but how many people only have one-half cup of cereal?

You may actually be pouring three to four cups, leading you to close to 700 calories, excluding the milk! And what if you are adding nuts or dried fruit, you could be close to a 1,000 calorie meal before 8am! Don’t let cereal be the reason you are not hitting your weight loss goal. Measuring your cereal could be the difference of 500 calories.

Breakfast cereals can be some of the most misleading food products when trying to determine the healthiest choice. Most cereals are marketed as healthy options, or boast claims such as ‘low fat’, ‘high in vitamins’ or high in iron’, these claims often cover up the real nutritional value of the product. Click HERE to see six cereals “approved” by TheFittChick, and check out THIS post to find out how switching to almond milk could save you hundreds of calories as well.

Eat Yourself Skinny!

Calories in Breakfast Cereal

A healthy breakfast can make or break your day. With so many of them now overloaded with sugar to appeal to our kids, it’s really important to look at the calories on the label.

We surveyed the cereal preferences of our members and also visitors to our website, and the following data shows how many calories, and how many teaspoons of sugar, in a selection of popular breakfast cereal products.

Alternatively you can search our food database to find calories in over 60,000 foods and calculate the calories in your serving. Try it Free

All Bran, Original, Kelloggs

Calories in 100g of Kelloggs All Bran

Calories

334kcal

Carbohydrate

48g

Protein

14g

Fat

3.5g

Fibre

27g

Calories in a serving (40g) of Kelloggs All Bran: 133.6kcal

Bran Flakes, Kelloggs

The sixth most popular cereal with visitors to our website and 15th with our members, Kellogs are certainly one of the more popular brands. Bran flakes per 100g have the lowest calories, the 2nd highest fibre content and surprisingly, the 2nd most sugar in our list.

Calories in 100g of Kellogg’s Bran Flakes:

Calories

326.0kcal

Carbohydrate

67.0g

Protein

10.0g

Fat

2.0g

Fibre

15.0g

Calories in a serving (30g): 104.3kcal (and 1 tsp sugar)

Corn Flakes, Kelloggs

The fifth most popular cereal with visitors and the 10th with our members, each 100g contains the 2nd highest amount of carbs with nearly 2 tsp sugar.

Calories in 100g of Kellogg’s Corn Flakes:

Calories

378.0kcal

Carbohydrate

84.0g

Protein

7.0g

Fat

0.9g

Fibre

3g

Calories in a serving (30g): 113kcal (and nearly ½ tsp sugar)

Corn Flakes, Crunchy Nut, Kelloggs

19th with visitors and the 21st most popular cereal with our members, each 100g serving contains the 2nd highest amount of calories and the 3rd highest amount of carbs – plus the most sugar. Combine this with the 3rd lowest fibre count and crunchy nut cornflakes tend to lose their appeal.

Calories in 100g of Kellogg’s Crunchy Nut Corn Flakes:

Calories

392.0kcal

Carbohydrate

83.0g

Protein

6.0g

Fat

4.0g

Fibre

2.5g

Calories in a serving (30g): 117.6kcal (and over 2 tsp sugar per serving)

Prefer to Keep Track on Paper?

Time and again research has shown that people who keep a food diary are more successful at losing weight – but not everyone wants to use an online diary, for some of us it’s just easier to scribble stuff down. Here’s an easy and very economical way to do it

Porage Oats, Scotts, Quaker

Calories in 100g of Porage Oats

Calories

356kcal

Carbohydrate

60g

Protein

11g

Fat

8g

Fibre

9g

Calories in a serving (40g) of Porage Oats: 142.4kcal

Porridge Oats, Average

Calories in 100g of Porridge Oats

Calories

384kcal

Carbohydrate

67g

Protein

16.7g

Fat

6.3g

Fibre

9.8g

Calories in a serving (30g) of Porridge Oats: 115.2kcal

Porridge Oats, Oats So Simple, Quaker

Calories in 100g of Oats So Simple Porridge Oats

Calories

370kcal

Carbohydrate

58.9g

Protein

11g

Fat

7.7g

Fibre

10.5g

Calories in a serving (27g) of Oats So Simple Porridge Oats: 99.9kcal

Porridge Oats, Scots, Quaker

Top of our member’s list of breakfast cereals and 8th with our visitors, porridge has the third lowest calories per 45g serving plus one of the lowest levels of sugar.

Calories in 100g of Porridge Oats:

Calories

356.0kcal

Carbohydrate

60.0g

Protein

11.0g

Fat

8.0g

Fibre

9.0g

Calories in a serving (40g): 148kcal (and a respectable 0.4g sugar)

Rice Krispies, Kelloggs

27th most popular with both members and visitors, these little puffs of air contain the most carbs, the least fibre and 2 tsp sugar per 100g.

Calories in 100g of Kellogg’s Rice Crispies:

Calories

383.0kcal

Carbohydrate

87.0g

Protein

6.0g

Fat

1.0g

Fibre

1.0g

Calories in a serving (30g): 115kcal (and nearly a whole tsp of sugar)

Shredded Wheat, Nestle

With the 3rd highest fibre content, this cereal perhaps doesn’t deserve its middle placing with members and 11th position with visitors. Must be something to do with the way it looks like a brillo pad…

Calories in 100g of Shredded Wheat:

Calories

363kcal

Carbohydrate

68.5g

Protein

11.6g

Fat

2.2g

Fibre

11.6g

Calories in a serving (2 pieces/45g): 163.4kcal (and a healthy 0.3g sugar)

Special K, Kelloggs

Ranking 4th with visitors, Special K contains the second lowest amount of fibre – perhaps why our members placed it at number 10. When we compared the data to that of a year ago, it seems that the calories in a serving have increased while the protein and fibre content are down; food for thought perhaps?

Calories in 100g of Kellogg’s Special K:

Calories

379.0kcal

Carbohydrate

76.0g

Protein

14.0g

Fat

1.5g

Fibre

2.5g

Calories in a serving (30g): 113.7cal (and over 1 tsp of sugar)

Weetabix

Our members love it at number 2, while visitors didn’t even acknowledge it in the top 30. Yet as one of the “middle of the road” cereals, (not too high, not too low), weetabix has a lot to offer your breakfast, although there’s that brillo pad thing again…..

Calories in 100g of Weetabix:

Calories

362.0kcal

Carbohydrate

69.0g

Protein

12.0g

Fat

2.0g

Fibre

10.0g

Calories in a serving (2 biscuits/38g): 136kcal (and about a tsp and a half of sugar)

Cheerios, Nestle

3rd most popular cereal with our visitors and 17th with members, its sugar laden rings have the third most calories and sugar of all of the breakfast cereals per 100g.

Calories in 100g of Cheerios:

Calories

381.0kcal

Carbohydrate

74.5g

Protein

8.6g

Fat

3.8g

Fibre

7.1g

Calories in a serving (30g): 114.3kcal (and 1½ tsp of sugar)

Shreddies, Nestle

Nothing remarkable about this breakfast as far as we could see – it’s another middle of the road cereal – seventh most popular with our visitors and a lowly 29th with members.

Calories in 100g of Shreddies:

Calories

371.0kcal

Carbohydrate

73.7g

Protein

10.0g

Fat

1.9g

Fibre

9.9g

Calories in a serving (40g): 148kcal (and around 1½ tsp sugar)

Granola, Rude Health

Members voted this one of their least favourite cereals at number 26, while visitors loved it; taking 5 positions in their top 20. It certainly has the most calories per serving, but these will be from the nuts in it so not a bad souce of dietary fat.

Calories in 100g of Granola:

Calories

484.0kcal

Carbohydrate

53.0g

Protein

11.0g

Fat

25.0g

Fibre

7.0g

Calories in a serving (40g): 193.6kcal (and just a tsp of sugar)

All Bran, Kellogs

Loved by our members at number 4 and loathed by our visitors – it didn’t feature in their top 30. All Bran, not surprisingly, has the highest fibre content, and it also has the second lowest calories.

Calories in 100g of All Bran:

Calories

334.0kcal

Carbohydrate

48.0g

Protein

14.0g

Fat

3.5g

Fibre

27.0g

Calories in a serving (40g): 133.6kcal (and nearly 2 tsp sugar)

Oatso Simple, Golden Syrup, Quaker

A popular, if sugar laden, cereal, it’s conveniently packed in portion controlled sachets and you add a controlled amount of milk. Number 2 with our visitors and 6 with our members.

Calories in 100g of Oatso Simple Golden Syrup Flavour:

Calories

380.0kcal

Carbohydrate

68.7g

Protein

8.4g

Fat

6.2g

Fibre

6.8g

Calories in a serving (36g sachet): 137kcal (but nearly 2 tsp sugar – before you add your own!)

About the data

We surveyed the top 30 breakfast cereals of both members and visitors taking a trial and also found that:

WLR Triallers preferred instant Porridge and Granola along with Kellogs cereals – although Rice Krispies and Cheerios only just scraped into the list. Weetabix and Muesli did not feature in their list at all

Members preferred Porridge and Muesli, with porridge in different forms taking 6 of the top ten places.

Just because it looks healthy doesn’t mean it is.. Surprisingly, although Crunchy Nut Cornflakes and Cheerios contained 2-3 tsps of sugar per serving as expected, the supposedly healthy All Bran cereal contained nearly as much – so it really does pay to read the label.

Does eating breakfast affect your weight? It’s a question we often get asked at WLR, read Dr Muhamad Usman’s roundup of the research and recommendations

The wlr Portion Pot

Quick and Convenient. The easy way to get the right portion size of your pasta, rice and breakfast cereals wlr Portion Pot

Calorie Counting for Weight Loss?

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Further Information

Calorie Counter

Calorie, Carb & Fat Bible – The UK’s Most Comprehensive Calorie Counter

Grabbing a bowl of cereal is so easy, so quick, and so satisfying. But it can also be so easy to gain weight if you’re eating your bowl all wrong. Whether you enjoy your cereal in the morning or for a fast dinner — which by the way, is perfectly acceptable (been there, done that) — you’ll definitely want to follow these tips to ensure that bowl doesn’t make you look like you swallowed one.

  1. Be careful with portions: You pour yourself a bowl of cereal and by the end, you have a bunch of milk left, so you add more cereal. You start munching and realize your dry cereal needs more milk, so you add a little more. Then you’re left with too much milk and instead of drinking the last sips, you pour in some more cereal and — well, you get the point. Your bowl needs a bottom! Pour your bowl of cereal, pour in the milk, and be done. Put the cereal in the cupboard and the milk in the fridge to avoid the temptation of the bottomless bowl. Always check the serving size: cereal is tricky because when you see the calorie amount listed, it may not seem like much. But take note of the serving size because cereals vary. Granola is usually one-quarter cup while Go Lean Crunch is one cup. Avoid eye-balling the amount and just randomly filling your enormous bowl. Get out your measuring cups, and use them every time you eat cereal to keep your portion in check.
  2. Be mindful of healthy toppings: Nuts, dried fruit, fresh fruit, flaxseed, chia seeds, shredded coconut — these are all healthy ingredients that can increase the fiber and protein in your bowl, but they also add calories. Do a little math in your head to ensure your bowl stays between 300 and 400 calories. For some reference, check out the calories in fresh fruit, the calories in dried fruit, and the calories in nuts.
  3. Choose the right milk: What you pour on your cereal affects the calorie amount as well. Instead of 150-calorie whole milk, go for 90-calorie skim — it still offers the same amount of calcium and protein as its full-fat counterpart. Or you can choose a dairy-free milk alternative. Unsweetened soy milk contains 80 calories and offers almost as much protein as skim milk, but with less sugar. Or if you’re really watching your calories, go for 30-calorie unsweetened almond milk; it may not offer as much protein as skim or soy, but it offers 45 percent of your daily calcium.
  4. Stay away from sugary cereals: A low-sugar breakfast cereal packed with fiber and protein is the way to go — sorry, Lucky Charms may be magically delicious, but they’re magically high in sugar, too. Be a label reader and compare nutrition labels as well as ingredient lists. Whole grains such as oats and whole-wheat fiber get a thumbs up, which means you should avoid enriched flours. And sugar should not be one of the first couple ingredients. Some good choices are these cereals that are high in fiber and protein.

Image Source: POPSUGAR Photography / Nicole Perry

How Your Bowl of Cereal Is Making You Fat

A bowl of cereal makes the perfect breakfast. It’s fast, easy, andinexpensive, and the right bowl of cereal is a good source of fiber,calcium, and protein. But if you make the wrong choices, your cereal mayactually be contributing to weight gain. Avoid these mistakes when itcomes to your morning bowl of cereal.

  • Your bowl is too big: Depending on the box of cereal youchoose, a serving size is about three-quarters to one-and-a-quarter cups.If you use the biggest bowl you have and just mindlessly pour, you couldbe devouring over 400 calories instead of the usual 120 to 200 and thisis just the cereal alone!
  • You’re a little nuts: Sliced almonds, pecans, and walnuts offerhealthy fats and protein, but they’re also pretty high in calories. Twotablespoons of walnuts is almost 100, so be mindful about how nutty youget.
  • You’re using a bottomless bowl: You measure out a servingof cereal, pour in the milk, and spoon away. But when you get to thebottom of the bowl, you have so much milk left, you have to add a littlemore cereal. But you add too much, so you need to pour in a little moremilk. It’s a vicious cycle. Just drink the last of the milk and call it aday.
  • You load up on dried fruit to up the fiber: Raisins, dates,banana chips, and dried cherries do offer a little bit of fiber, butbecause they contain hardly any water, dried fruits are super caloriedense. A quarter cup of dried cranberries is over 100 calories. You’rebetter off using fresh fruit since it’s lower in calories and higher infiber, and the high water content will fill your belly up, so you actuallyend up eating less.
  • You’re in love with low-fat milk: The more fat in your milk,the more calories. One cup of whole milk contains 150 calories, and twopercent has 130. If you go for nonfatskim milk, it’s only 90 calories. It may not seem like a bigdifference, but over time, those calories really add up.
  • You’re still into kids cereal: Lucky Charms, Cocoa Pebbles,Apple Jacks, Froot Loops ‹ they might be sweet and tasty, but they containtons of sugar and hardly any nutrition. That means you’ll polish off yourbowl and an hour later, hunger will have you reaching for more food, whichwill end up packing on the pounds. Choose healthycereals like these that are high in both fiber and protein to keep youfeeling satisfied for hours.

More from FitSugar:

Drinksto Help You Detox

3Ways Fruit Can Cause Weight Gain

  • By FitSugar

Popular Snacks That Make You Gain Weight Like Crazy

Trail mix can be a great snack and alternative to a large bag of regular chips, but when eating more than the recommended portion size (about ¼ cup) the calories, fat, and sugar can add up. One full cup of trail mix can be almost 700 calories! Reading the nutrition label is important to find out what one serving looks like.

Next: Beware of foods that overcompensate with sugar.

12. Zero-calorie foods

Your sugar-free beverage isn’t doing you any favors. | iStock.com

No calories might sound like a dream, but it really isn’t. Foods labeled zero-calories are often full of sugar and salt. And more sugar means more calories. In addition, zero-calorie drinks made with fat substitutes and artificial sweeteners could cause weight gain because they often trigger a hunger response, reports Eat This Not That.

So, don’t make the mistake of loading up on zero-calorie snack foods. You might have some difficulty sticking to your diet.

Next: Don’t let this label fool you.

13. Low-fat food

Low-fat foods are often filled with sugar. | ADragan/iStock/Getty Images

Don’t let a low-fat label fool you. Some foods that are labeled this way have other things added to make them taste better. This means more calories for you, said Lewis.

While the fat may be reduced or taken out, sugar and sodium are often added to maintain flavor! Be wary of low-fat foods when one of the first three ingredients listed is sugar. Regularly eating too much sugar could lead to high insulin levels in your blood. In the long-run this interferes with proper hormone signaling in the brain — including the signaling of our hunger hormones, which can increase our hunger cravings all day.

Next: Beware of this label.

14. Sugar-free food

Sugar-free foods are very misleading. | MarieKazPhoto/iStock/Getty Images

Eating a snack that’s free of sugar might make you think you’re doing something good for your body, but sugar-free foods can be bad for you. Sugar-free foods also might have small amounts of sugar in them. The term sugar-free means there is less than 0.5 grams of sugar per serving, according to Federal Department of Agriculture guidelines.

“These artificial sweeteners interfere with many of the signals in our body — one of which is related to our sense of feeling full. In fact, in long-term studies, those that consume these artificial sweeteners end up gaining weight and belly fat,” said Lewis.

Next: Some snack labels can fool you into eating more.

15. Fat-free food

Just enjoy your favorite foods in moderation. | SasaJo/iStock/Getty Images

Fat-free snacks aren’t all they’re cracked up to be. They may also contain hidden calories to make up for the lack of fat. Also, fat-free doesn’t necessarily mean there is absolutely no fat in the snack you’re eating. Just like with sugar-free foods, fat-free really means there are fewer than 0.5 grams of fat per serving, according to the FDA.

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When your healthy cereal is a sugar bomb

iStockphoto/Thinkstock

Grab your favorite cereal box and look at the ingredient list: You may be shocked to see that some form of sugar appears—perhaps multiple times—in the first few ingredients. “Even if a cereal is made from whole grains or loaded with other healthful ingredients, a high sugar content disqualifies it from my list of top picks,” Today contributor and nutrition expert Joy Bauer, RD, says. Too much sugar adds unnecessary calories, and it also spikes your blood sugar and primes you for a mid-morning energy dip. Enter snack cravings!

Healthy cereal makeover: Expert recommendations vary, but most say look for fewer than 5 to 8 grams of sugar per serving. (Don’t judge a box by its cover: Quaker Honey Graham Oh!s cereal, for instance, has 12 grams, while Lucky Charms cereal has 10 grams.) For great options, check out FitSugar’s list of low-sugar cereals, where most have 5 grams or fewer. If you still can’t give up on your favorite, mix it with a serving of low-sugar cereal.

How did it all begin?

It was one of those things that crept up on us and we still can’t quite believe it happened. Looking back, we’d been in denial for some time. Then a friend who hadn’t seen the family for a while came round and blurted out the bald truth. ‘God, Dodi’s got rather fat. In fact, you know, I think that might count as obese.’

Once said, it had to be admitted. If you looked at Dodi from behind when he was sitting down, you could see a substantial spare tyre around his thirteen-year-old middle. It bulged out from his hips and flopped down like a muffin rising up and out over its baking case. He had become quite lazy too, preferring to lounge in front of the fire rather than play in the garden as he used to. His excess weight was slowing him down.

He had been hooked on a particular brand of instant meal for ages.

Guaranteed real tuna, the packaging said. Enriched with omega-3 and -6 fats! The small print told another story. What was inside was largely byproducts from other industrial processing: rendered poultry meal mixed with fillers of corn gluten meal, ground rice, soya oil and dried beet pulp.

Dodi is our cat, and we know cats do not normally eat carbohydrates such as ground rice or sugar nor corn nor vegetables oils. Nevertheless that’s what we had been feeding him. It said on the packets that it was ‘scientifically formulated’ after all.

The absurdity of feeding an animal types of waste it never evolved to eat that actually makes it fat and sick ought to be easy enough to see. But we have not apparently been alone in our blindness – feline diabetes has risen dramatically in the last few years in the UK.

Where the human diet is concerned a similar myopia seems to have descended upon the British. Instead of relying on a food culture developed over centuries, we have come to defer top the pseudo-scientific instructions of professionals and marketeers.

Where did it all go wrong?

The rise of breakfast cereal makes a revealing case study in the evolutionary process behind the modern diet. One of the earliest convenience foods, processed cereals represents a triumph of marketing, packaging and US economic and foreign policy. They are the epitome of cheap commodity converted by manufacturing to higher value goods; of agricultural surplus turned into profitable export. Their ingredients have a disconcerting overlap with my cat food. Somehow they have wormed into our confused consciousness as intrinsically healthy when by and large they are degraded foods that have to have any goodness artificially restored. I have long been intrigued by how the British breakfast was conquered and what it tells us about the rest of our food. For this is the elephant in the room of course: it is the industrial processing of food that is the real problem. To understand where not we, but rather it, all went wrong, you have to understand the economic and political structures behind today’s food system.

The transformation of the British breakfast in the last 100 years has been complete. Unlike our European partners we have succumbed almost entirely to the American invention. A century ago simple cereal grains, cooked either as porridge or bread, were the staples of breakfast around the world and in this country too, just as they had been in previous centuries.

When the first National Food Survey was conducted on behalf of the medical officer of the Privy Council, Sir John Simon, in 1863 it questioned 370 families of the ‘labouring poor’ and found that breakfast consisted variously of tea kettle broth (bread soaked in hot milk and salt), bread and butter, bread and cheese, milk gruel, bread and water and oatmeal and milk porridge. Today, instead, the British and the Irish are the largest eaters of puffed, flaked, flavoured, shaped, sugared, salted and extruded cereals in the world. We munch an average of 6.7kg of the dehydrated stuff per person in the UK and 8.4kg each in Ireland.

The Mediterraneans, generally credited with a healthy diet, have so far kept this form of instant breakfast down to an average one kilo per person per year. The French, those cheese-eating surrender monkeys of American opprobrium, have proved culturally resistant to transatlantic pressure in this as in other fields. While the Eastern Europeans, deprived of marketing until the fall of the communism and the break up of the Soviet Union, have barely heard of processed cereals yet, being capable of getting through the first meal of the day with no apparent anxiety and only a few grams a year between them.

How can such a radical overhaul of a food culture come about and was there something peculiarly susceptible about the British and the Americans that led to it?

To find out, I went to the US, to the Mid-West states that are the heartland of industrial corn production and to the home of the first cornflakes, to try to understand something of the history and economics of the cereal business.

Prepackaged and ready-to-eat breakfast cereals began with the American temperance movement in the nineteenth century. In the 1830s, the Reverend Sylvester Graham preached the virtues of a vegetarian diet to his congregation and in particular the importance of wholemeal flour. Meat-eating, he said, excited the carnal passions. Granula considered the first ready-to-eat breakfast cereal, was developed from his ‘Graham flour’ by one of his followers, James Caleb Jackson, for patients at the latter’s water cure resort. It was a baked lump of slow-cooked wheat and water that was said to be hard as rock and had to be broken up and soaked overnight to be edible. It was sold at ten times the cost of its ingredients. The business motive for proselytizing by breakfast cereal was established.

Following on from Jackson, the Seventh Day Adventists took up the mission begun by Graham. A colony of them had set up in a small town called Battle Creek near the American Great Lakes in Michigan. There they established the Western Health Reform Institute in 1866 to cure hog guzzling and to their mind degenerate Americans of their dyspepsia and vices. John Harvey Kellogg turned it into the famous Battle Creek Sanatarium, a curious but money-spinning mix of health spa, holiday camp and experimental hospital. Kellogg, a sort of early cross between Billy Graham and Gillian McKeith, set about devising cures for what he believed were the common ills of the day, in particular constipation and masturbation. In Kellogg’s mind the two were closely linked, the common cause being a lack of fibre, both dietary and moral.

As well as prescribing daily cold water baths, exercise drills, and unorthodox medical interventions, creating health-giving foods for patients was a major preoccupation. Kellogg, his wife and his younger brother William Keith experimented in the Sanatarium kitchen to produce an easily digested form of cereal. They came up with their own highly profitable Granula, but were promptly sued by Jackson, the original maker of Granula, and had to change the name to Granola. Victorian prudery and religion may have been at the root of processed cereal development, but parables about camels and eyes of needles did not discourage any of these evangelicals from seeing the commercial advantage and using the law to protect their business interests.

Around this time an entrepreneur called Henry Perky had also invented a way of passing steamed wheat through rollers, one grooved and one smooth, to form strands that could be pressed into biscuits to make the first shredded wheat. JH Kellogg experimented further with his team and eventually they found a way of rolling cooked wheat to make flakes which could then be baked. Cornflakes followed when the Kelloggs worked out how to use cheap American corn instead of wheat, although initially they had problems keeping them crisp and preventing them from going rancid. This great leap forward is of a piece with other major developments in the industrialization of our diets: it is usually the combination of technological advances and the right economic conditions that lead to radical changes in what we eat.

It was a chronically dyspeptic businessman and former patient of Kellogg’s at the Sanatarium who unleashed the power of marketing on breakfast. Charles Post set up the rival La Vita Inn in Battle Creek and developed his own versions of precooked cereals. He distributed them with such encouraging tracts as The Road to Wellville. ‘The sunshine that makes a business plant grow is advertizing,’ he declared. He placed ads for his cereals in papers with paid-for testimonials from apparently genuine happy eaters. He also cheerfully invented diseases which his products could cure. His Grape Nuts were miraculously not only ‘brain food’ but could also cure consumption and malaria, and were even, despite their enamel-cracking hardness, said to be an antidote to loose teeth.

By 1903 Battle Creek had turned into a cereal Klondike. At one point there were over 100 cereal factories operating in the town to satisfy the new craze, many making fabulously exaggerated claims about the health benefits of their products. This symbiotic relationship between sales, health claims and the promotion of packaged breakfast cereals has continued ever since. Nor was it a coincidence that this particular Klondike sprang up in the American Mid-West, whose vast tracts of virgin land had been recently opened up by settlers and turned over to the agricultural production that powered US development.

The Kelloggs had tried unsuccessfully to protect their flaking process with patents. When WK saw how much others were making from the new foods, he launched his own advertizing campaign, giving away free samples and putting ads in newspapers.

The road to nutritional corruption opened up early. The Kellogg brothers argued over whether to make the cereals more palatable by adding sugar – the addition was anathema to John who saw sugar as an adulterant and a scourge, but William reckoned it was needed to stop the products tasting like ‘horse-food’. WK won.

Global expansion followed quickly. Britain saw its first cornflakes in 1924 when the company set up offices in London and used unemployed men and boy scouts to act as a sales force for the imported cereal which was shipped in from Canada. By 1936 UK sales topped £1 million, and Kellogg’s was ready to open its first British manufacturing plant in Manchester in 1938.

The technology used to make industrial quantities of breakfast cereal today is essentially the same as that developed from the kitchen experiments of those fundamentalist healers, although new ways have been found to add the sugar, salt and flavourings.

Cornflakes are generally made by breaking corn kernels into smaller grits which are then steam cooked in batches of up to a tonne under pressure of about 20lbs per square inch. The nutritious germ with its essential fats is first removed because, as the Kellogg brothers discovered all that time ago, it goes rancid over time and gets in the way of long shelf life. Flavourings, vitamins to replace those lost in processing and sugar may be added at this stage. It then takes four hours and vast amounts of energy to drive the steam out of the cooked grits before they can be rolled by giant rollers into flakes.

Steamed wheat biscuits such as shredded wheats are made with whole wheat grains which are pressure cooked with water. They are then passed between rollers which squeeze them into strands and build them up into layers. These processes begin the breakdown of the raw starches in the cereals so even though they are whole grains they are absorbed more quickly in the body – and they typically have glycemic index scores of around 75, close to the GIs in the high 70s or low 80s of cornflakes, Bran Flakes, Special K and Rice Krispies, compared with 45/46 for minimally-processed grains such as porridge or mueslis without sugar. (Glucose has a GI of 100 and is what these indexes measure other foods against. They indicate how fast different foods are converted to glucose and absorbed into the bloodstream.)

Worries about the nutritional value of such highly processed grains surfaced early. Post’s company was one of the first to begin the heavy duty pre-sweetening of cereals with sugar coating in the late 1940s. The sales were enviable. The Kellogg company however held back, according to interviews with former employees in Cerealizing America, the highly entertaining account of cereal history by Scott Bruce and Bill Crawford. The charitable Kellogg Foundation which had been set up by then to promote children’s health and education was a major shareholder and was concerned that flogging sugar-coatings to the young might not be compatible with its purpose.

Many of the health benefits claimed for breakfast cereals depended on fortification rather than micronutrients from the raw ingredients, most of which were either destroyed by the process or stripped away before it. The earliest fortification was with vitamin D, the so-called sunshine vitamin, and acted as a marketing tool. Today a new wave of fortification is coming, and once again its principal purpose is marketing. Inulin, a form of fibre from plants, known to the food industry until recently as a cheap bulking agent thanks to its ability to retain water and mimic the mouthfeel of fats, is now added as a ‘prebiotic’. They have coined this word for it because it resists digestion in the upper gastrointestinal tract and reaches the large intestine almost intact where it is fermented by bacteria, encouraging the production of friendly microflora, which the industry markets too, as probiotics. The inulin, in other words, does what the fibre naturally occurring in whole grains would do if it hadn’t been stripped out by over processing.

Companies are also looking at adding omega-3 fatty acids such as DHA. (Where my cat food goes, breakfast cereals follow.) There are technical difficulties with this. Since the DHA tends to come from fish, it makes things taste fishy, and its flavour has to be masked with other additives.

That processed cereals had become little more than sugary junk with milk and vitamin pills added, was an accusation made as long ago as the 1970s. A US congressional hearing in 1970 was told by an adviser to President Nixon on nutrition, Robert Choate, that the majority of breakfast cereals ‘fatten but do little to prevent malnutrition’. Choate was outraged at the aggressive targeting of children in breakfast cereal advertizing. He analysed sixty well-known cereal brands for nutritional quality and concluded that two thirds of them offered ’empty calories, a term thus far applied to alcohol and sugar’. Rats fed a diet of ground-up cereal boxes with sugar, milk and raisins were healthier than rats fed the cereals themselves, he testified to senators.

Battle Creek today is a small backwater in Michigan three hours drive from Chicago. There is not much sign now of the cereal gold rush that changed the British palate, and the flake factories working day and night have mostly gone. But the legacy lives on. In their place alongside Kellogg airport and the Kellogg Foundation is Kellogg’s Cereal City. Built in the shape of an old American grain store, it is a museum testament to the power of marketing that so maddened Choate. Walking through the collection I too was struck by how much our breakfast today is the child of advertizing. Trading on our insecurity about health, manipulating our emotions and selling to us through health professionals has always been part of the great puff.

The antique cardboard boxes on show underline how from the first breakfast cereals sold not just a meal but a way of life: Power, Vim, Vigor, Korn Kinks and Climax cereal are among the early brand names. One of my favourite sections of the museum was the cabinet of boxes and pamphlets recording the original health claims that anticipate today’s persuasive messages. ‘Keeps the blood cool!’ ‘Makes red blood redder!’ There were the cereals that echoed today’s claims for prebiotics, ‘Will correct stomach troubles!’ or indeed the claims on my cat food, ‘The most scientific food in the world!’

Getting children hooked, making them associate breakfast cereal with fun and entertainment, blurring the lines between advertizing and programmes, exploiting new media – today it is the internet and viral marketing – was one of the main aims of competing manufacturers from the early days, as the museum displays show, and a crucial part in conquering the British breakfast. Kellogg’s sponsored a children’s programme called ‘The Singing Lady’. In 1931 the artist Vernon Grant heard the programme and was inspired to draw the Kellogg’s Rice Krispie ad characters Snap, Crackle and Pop. His cartoon characters were used in ad campaigns that catapulted Rice Krispie sales up into the league of the more established cornflakes brands. Walt Disney was powerfully influenced by Grant’s work. And when the Great Depression hit America in the 1930s following the crash of the stock market, WK Kellogg doubled his ad spend.

In 1939 Charles Post meanwhile introduced his own characters, a trio of bears, to sell his new Sugar Crisps. (The original three bears were of course happy with plain porridge.) Kellogg’s responded with Tony the Tiger and Katy the Kangaroo, although Katy retired after a year. Post also bought a licence from Disney to use his Mickey Mouse character on his cereal boxes.

The museum records how giveaway toys were being used by then too, to attract children’s loyalty and to encourage early pester power and repeat purchases.

Cereal advertizing likewise helped shape early television. A chance meeting on a train in 1949 between the then chairman of Kellogg’s and an advertizing man called Leo Burnett led to a working relationship that both transformed the cereal market and made the mould for TV ads. Burnett used ‘motivational research’ to work out how to appeal to women and children with different kinds of packaging. Subliminal marketing was born. With his help Kellogg’s broadcast the first colour TV programmes and commercials for children. The result was that by the mid 1950s the company had captured nearly half the rapidly expanding US processed cereal market and was in a prime position to build its empire in Europe using the same methods.

The UK market for those cereal boxes was worth over £1.27 billion in 2005. It too has been created and maintained by advertizing. It is characterized by health claims, now as then. Along with other highly processed foods such as fizzy drinks, and fast food brands, breakfast cereals are among the most highly marketed products.

Kellogg’s has consistently been the largest advertizer of its cereals in this country, spending roughly £50 million a year in recent years, about twice what its rival Cereal Partners spends. Cereal Partners is a joint venture with Nestlé which markets that company’s breakfast cereals in Britain and manufactures cereals for leading supermarkets’ own label brands. The respective investments are duly reflected in the companies’ market shares. We buy what we have been persuaded to buy.

Without advertizing we might never know we needed processed cereal and revert to porridge or bread instead. Or as Kellogg’s European president Tim Mobsby put it to MPs conducting an inquiry into obesity in 2004, ‘if we were not to have that capability there is a probability that the consumption of cereals would actually drop…that is not necessarily a positive step forward.’

The following spring I was one of a handful of reporters flown in a private jet by Kellogg’s to its Old Trafford cornflakes factory, as part of its campaign to protect its portfolio and its ability to market it, particularly to children. The ostensible reason for the trip was that Kellogg’s was launching a new acquisition in the UK, Kashi, a brand of mixed-grain puffed cereal free of all additives. But criticism of the food industry for selling obeso-genic products high in fat, salt and sugar had reached a crescendo in the UK and the breakfast cereal manufacturers were the subject of unwelcome attention. Before touring the factory, we were ushered past the giant Tony the Tiger cut-out in the entrance lobby and up into the strategic planning department for a presentation on nutrition policy and labelling.

Here the company nutritionist explained how Kellogg’s had decided to take a lead in promoting a new kind of labelling to help ‘mum’ make ‘healthier choices’. Rather than the traffic light labelling the government’s food standards agency was researching, Kellogg’s and other leading food manufacturers had decided to go live with a system of labels based on guideline daily amounts. These would avoid identifying foods as good or bad with red, amber and green and instead give figures for how much fat, salt and sugar a portion of the product contained as a proportion of a guideline amount, calculated by the industry, which you should eat a day of those nutrients. Needless to say the industry’s guideline daily amounts were more generous than official targets, particularly on sugars. The FSA had already rejected this scheme as too complicated to be helpful but Kellogg’s told us that it had ‘lent them one of our researchers so we’ve been in on the consultation process and we’ve been able to get the GDAs into the final FSA testing’.

In response to pressure from the FSA, the Association of Cereal Food Manufacturers had already reduced salt by a quarter in five years, she went on. Cornflakes were even tastier than before because you could taste the corn more now. So why was there so much salt in the first place, we asked. The managing director of Kellogg’s Europe Tony Palmer confessed that ‘if we’d known you could take out 25 per cent of the salt and make cornflakes taste even better, we would have done it earlier. But it’s also about the interaction with the sugar – as you take the salt out, you’ve got to reduce the sugar because it starts to taste sweeter.’ But isn’t the target to reduce sugar consumption too? Why not just cut down on salt and sugar, we wondered. Well, sugar helps keep the crispness and is part of the bulk, so that would be difficult, we were told. Mr Palmer’s eyebrows started working furiously as he answered: ‘And the risk is, if you take the salt out you might be better off eating the cardboard carton for taste,’ he said.

The public relations team moved us rapidly on from this unfortunate echo of Senator Choate’s 1970s’ accusation of nutritional bankruptcy to a presentation on the Kashi Way. ‘We hold the spirit of health in all we do,’ one of them explained, echoing this time the quasi-religious marketing babble of the founding cereal makers.

Although I was aware that breakfast cereal manufacturers were among the top marketers of processed foods in the UK, it was only when the broadcasting regulator Ofcom tried to draw up new rules to restrict TV advertizing to children of junk foods, that I saw quite how dependent consumption was on us being manipulated by the manufacturers’ messages. Kellogg’s led a ferocious campaign of lobbying to stop the restrictions. As well as educating journalists with trips such as mine to the cornflakes factory, it lobbied MPs, ministers and regulators. One of its public relations agencies Hill and Knowlton boasted on its website how it had managed to change government and Whitehall thinking on Kellogg’s behalf. ‘A series of meetings with Number 10, the Department of Health, the Food Standards Agency, the Health Select committee, one-to-one briefings with key individuals and an event for parliamentarians’ had enabled them to disseminate Kellogg’s messages, with the result that ‘the campaign resulted in a significant shift in attitudes among core government stakeholders,’ they claimed.

The industry is adamant that its products are a healthy way to start the day, and has recruited Professor Tom Sanders, head of the nutrition department at King’s College London, to defend ‘breakfast cereals served with semi-skimmed milk’ as ‘low energy meals that provide about one fifth of the micronutrients of children’. However, a survey published by the independent consumer watchdog Which? called ‘Cereal Reoffenders’ took a rather different view. When it analysed 275 big-name breakfast cereals from leading manufacturers on sale in UK supermarkets in 2006 it found that 75 per cent of them had high levels of sugar, while almost a fifth had high levels of salt, according to criteria drawn up by the food standards agency for its traffic light nutritional labels. Nearly 90 per cent of those targeted at children were high in sugar, 13 per cent were high in salt, and 10 per cent were high in saturated fat. Several cereals making claims to be good for you got a red light too. All Bran was high in salt; Special K got a red for sugar and salt. Some high fibre bran cereals were giving you more salt per serving than a bag of crisps. (Some of these may have since been reformulated.)

It was when I saw details of the proposals from Ofcom on restricting marketing of junk foods to children that I understood why the lobbying had been so determined. What became clear was that breakfast cereals, although heavily marketed as healthy, would be the category to take the largest hit by a long way. About £70 million of TV ads a year from cereal manufacturers would be banned because they were promoting what the experts defined as unhealthy. The sector spent a total of £84 million on ads that year. In other words, the vast majority of its marketing effort would be wiped out. It had everything to lose. Because, as the House of Commons had been told, without marketing to manipulate our desires, we might not eat processed cereals at all.

Back at the Battle Creek Museum you can see how Kellogg’s would view that. Before exiting the exhibition into the shop, I passed a section on ‘global expansion’. ‘The company has rededicated itself to reaching 1.5 billion new cereal customers around the world in the next decade…and bringing about a fundamental change in eating habits.’ As well as advertizing in new markets, it has been sponsoring school nutrition programmes and health symposia for professionals. This activity is part of a ‘massive program of nutrition education directed at improving the world’s eating habits with accelerated expansion into countries where ready-to-eat cereal is unknown’, it proclaimed.

Improving the world’s eating habits has the attraction, as the nineteenth-century American entrepreneurs discovered, of being what economic analysts call a ‘high margin to cost business’. The raw materials of breakfast cereals, commodity grains, are cheap (or at least were cheap until biofuels recently entered the equation). US agricultural subsidies totalled $165 billion in the eleven years 1995 to 2005. Just five crops accounted for 90 per cent of the money – corn, rice, wheat, soya beans and cotton. That handful of ingredients I keep finding in everything. If you want to understand why all these commodities, cotton aside, make it not only in to the cat food but in to most other processed foods you eat, this is where you have to start.

One of the biggest costs is not the value of the ingredients, nor the cost of production, but the marketing, which as you might expect from all the activity described above, is typically 20 to 25 per cent of the sales value, according to analysts JP Morgan. About a quarter of your money is going not on the food but on the manufacturer’s cost of persuading you to buy it. That still leaves room for gross margins on processed cereals that are 40 to 45 per cent, with profit margins around the very healthy 17 per cent mark.

Start selling this kind of processed diet to new consumers in the booming economies of China and India and your profits, and those of the country that has dominated grain exports and trading, the US, will soar. This is what the food industry calls adding value. The added value is not nutritional value of course; quite the opposite. The added value is shareholder value, and as a very rough rule of thumb I reckon on nutritional value being stripped away in inverse proportion to the shareholder value added.

• Extracted from Eat Your Heart Out: Why the food business is bad for the planet and your health by Felicity Lawrence, published by Penguin. Buy both Felicity Lawrence’s books, Eat Your Heart Out (RRP £8.99) and Not on the Label (£9.99) for only £13 (save £5.98) or buy them individually for £7 each. Visit guardianbookshop.co.uk or call 0330 333 6846

WELCOME TO THE CEREAL SERVING SIZE GUIDE

A bowl of cereal as part of a balanced breakfast is a great way to start the day, but how much cereal you consume should depend on your energy needs. When it comes to cereal, we have found that a 30 gram portion fits well with the energy needs of a child between 6 and 8 years old as part of a balanced breakfast. In fact, this is the standard reference that we use on most of our cereal packs. This reference value makes it easy to compare the nutrition values of one cereal to another.

However, energy needs are variable. Some of the main factors to determine energy needs are age, size and activity level. Many adults and teenagers have higher energy needs than children simply because they are bigger. As a result, teens and adults are likely to consume more than children.

Keep things simple by remembering the following approximate portions: 25 to 30 grams for children and 30 to 45 grams for adults.

So what does that mean for my favorite cereal?

Every different cereal has a different shape, volume and thus density, so the same portion may look different from one product to another. Below, you will find tips to get the right amount in your bowl.

This is an update to a popular blog written years ago. Interestingly, it doesn’t seem much has changed with regard to the iron fortification in cereal. Iron requirements for humans have not changed, and many cereals still have way too much iron for certain people. Many people do not need a lot of iron. Those people include all adult males and women who are menopausal. Women of childbearing age require the most iron and iron fortification mandates that this be taken into consideration when setting the amount of iron added to a food in the fortification process. So, some people win on this matter (women that need iron) but, other people are eating cereal and inadvertently eating way too much iron!

Excess iron from cereal and foods in general

Iron is toxic in large amounts. Once absorbed inside the body, it’s difficult to excrete. A healthy person will be able to defend against too much iron absorption in numerous ways. Typically, the body can prevent too much iron from being absorbed by trapping in intestinal cells and then shedding it through digestion. The iron exposure to the intestinal cells can, however, pose a risk for colon and rectal cancer. In healthy people, the hormone hepcidin also swings into action to prevent too much iron from being absorbed. For some with a genetic condition, these safety measures to prevent iron absorption do not happen. Iron overload (technically called Hemochromatosis) then occurs with symptoms of fatigue, abdominal pain, depression, and eventual liver failure, diabetes, and bone damage if left untreated.

For those healthy people that can defend against too much iron, even they can experience the downside of too much iron. Excessive iron is constipating. That constipation can prevent food from moving through the digestive tract efficiently. Food moving through the digestive tract too slowly poses a risk of increased exposure to food borne pathogens and toxins that are present in our foods. As those not so nice things in our food supply linger too long in our gut, we can get sick. It’s so much better for our food to move nicely through our digestive tract rather than taking days to move along!

Gender and age determine iron requirements

  • Adult males aged 19 to >70 need only 8 mg/day
  • Adult females aged 19 to 50 need 18 mg/day
  • Once an adult women reaches 51 years of age and older, requirements decrease to 8 mg/day
  • Children aged 1-3 need only 7 mg/day
  • Children aged 4-8 need 10 mg/day
  • Growing adolescent males aged 9-13 need only 8 mg/day
  • Growing adolescent males aged 14-18 need 11 mg/day
  • Females aged 9-13 need only 8 mg/day
  • Females aged 14-18 need 15 mg/day to accommodate growth and menstruation

Avoiding cereal with too much iron

Cereals with too much iron can be avoided by first checking the Nutrition Fact Label. If you walk down the cereal aisle and start looking at the Nutrition Fact Label on cereal boxes, you will see that some of the most popular cereals are often packed with 50 to nearly 100% of “the requirement”. Remember, iron requirements vary by gender and age. So, the Nutrition Fact Label must select only the iron requirement of the part of the population needing the most iron. Therefore, all the iron percentages on the label are based off the 18 mg recommended for 19-50 year old females as their requirements are the highest!

So, what about a man or older woman who chooses to eat multiple servings of a these cereals in a given day? They would be ingesting much more iron than they need, potentially placing themselves at medical risk over the long run. The solution to this dietary dilemma is to simply know your requirements and choose the cereal that matches your needs. The Nutrition Fact Label reading can get complicated, so I’ve gone ahead and looked up popular cereals and done the calculation to note the iron content per serving so it is easier to review what can work best into your own diet.

Cereals with less than 3 mg of iron per serving

  • Puffins have < 1mg
  • Kind Healthy Grains (all varieties) have <1 mg
  • Erewhon Brown Rice Cereal has <1 mg
  • Cascadian Farm Cereal Berry Vanilla Puffs Organic have <1 mg
  • Nature’s Path EnviroKidz Panda Puffs Cereal Peanut Butter Organic has <1 mg
  • Nature’s Path Sunrise Cereal Crunchy Vanilla Gluten Free Organic has <1 mg
  • Raisin Bran Crunch has 1 mg
  • Shredded Wheat has 2 mg
  • Kashi Whole Wheat Cereal Berry Fruitful has 2 mg
  • Nature’s Path Heritage Flakes have 2 mg
  • Kashi Golean has 2 mg
  • Nature’s Path Flax Plus has 2 mg

Cereals with 5-9 mg of iron per serving

  • Cracklin Oat Bran has 5 mg
  • Cinnamon Toast Crunch Cereal has 5 mg
  • Fiber One has 5 mg
  • Frosted Flakes have 5 mg
  • Golden Grahams have 5 mg
  • Honey Nut Cheerios have 5 mg
  • Life Cereal has 7 mg
  • Cornflakes have 8 mg
  • Smart Start has 8 mg
  • Regular Cheerios have 8 mg
  • Kix has 8 mg
  • Wheaties has 8 mg
  • Great Grains Cereal Raisins, Dates, & Pecans have 9 mg

Cereals with more than 10 mg per serving

  • Corn Chex has 11 mg
  • Special K has 11 mg
  • Rice Krispies have 11mg
  • Cheerios Oat Crunch has 14 mg
  • Grape Nuts have 16 mg
  • Frosted Mini Wheats have 16 mg
  • Quaker Oatmeal Squares Cereal with Hint of Brown Sugar have 16 mg
  • Total Cereal has 18 mg

Serving sizes and cereal with too much iron

It’s important to take note that the serving sizes of most cereals are only 1/2 to one cup. If someone eats, say double, the above iron numbers double as well. Another little known fact is that if iron rich foods are eaten with a source of vitamin C, the absorption rate of the iron is tripled! Think orange juice with breakfast cereal. And, note that all fruit has vitamin C, so eating berries or melon with your cereal will also triple the iron absorption. This is great for those that have iron deficiencies, but not so great for those that need less iron. And remember, other popular foods are also either fortified with iron or are natural sources of iron. Pasta, bread, lentils, dried fruits, beef, and fish all contain iron. And, the more calories consumed, the greater the dietary iron consumed.

Key points on cereal with too much iron

Know your individual iron requirements. If you are male or an older female, you need much less iron than a younger woman. If you like large amounts of cereal (like me), then make sure you are eating within your recommended limits by picking a lower iron cereal. Cereal is really a healthy breakfast (and can be a creative good dinner, if I’m honest). It can be a great source of fiber and B vitamins, but also a source of too much iron for many except the anemic. Besides the iron content of a cereal, fiber and sugar content should be evaluated when you buy cereal.

Do you have any favorite low iron cereals you enjoy? If you found this blog post helpful, please share comments and the post itself!

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Sue Rose

Sue Rose, MS, RD, LDN is a dietitian/nutritionist that has been practicing for decades. She has had a private practice for over 30 years and worked in numerous and varied settings as a clinical nutritionist and consultant. She has also taught nutrition at the college level for almost a decade. Her blogs cover nutrition for wellness and disease, as well as lifestyle. Her goal is to provide current nutrition content for educational and informational purposes that the public finds beneficial.

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