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Healthy breakfast cereals
View original article on NHS Choices
With shelves stacked with brightly coloured boxes competing for your attention, cereal aisles can feel like walking through a minefield.
Make the wrong choice and you or your child could end up with a breakfast cereal high in sugar, fat or salt.
If eaten too often, this can contribute to weight gain and health problems, including tooth decay and high blood pressure.
But whether it's puffed, baked or flaked, cereal can still form part of a healthy, balanced diet.
It is also important that you eat breakfast regularly.
What's a healthy breakfast cereal?
For a healthier option, choose breakfast cereals that contain wholegrains and are lower in sugar, fat and salt.
- wholewheat cereal biscuits
- shredded wholegrain pillows
- porridge oats
Wholegrains contain fibre and B vitamins, among other nutrients. Fibre helps keep our digestive systems healthy.
Research suggests a diet high in fibre may help reduce the risk of developing heart disease and type 2 diabetes.
Look at cereal nutrition labels and compare brands so you can find the healthier version.
Mueslis, which usually contain wholegrains and fruit, are often seen as a healthier option, but check the label first – many can be relatively high in fat, added sugar and, in some cases, salt.
Reading nutrition labels
Food labels can help you choose between brands and avoid breakfast cereals high in sugar, fat and salt.
All nutrition information is provided per 100g and per serving, which can be helpful when comparing one cereal with another.
Some brands also use red, amber and green colour coding on the front of the packet, sometimes known as traffic lights. The more greens on the label, the healthier the choice.
Find out more about food labels.
Sugar, fat and salt levels
You can use the per 100g information on the nutrition label to identify breakfast cereals that are:
High in sugar, fat or salt
- high in sugar: more than 22.5g of total sugars per 100g
- high in fat: more than 17.5g of fat per 100g
- high in salt: more than 1.5g of salt per 100g
Low in sugar, fat or salt
- low in sugar: 5g of total sugars or less per 100g
- low in fat: 3g of saturated fat or less per 100g
- low in salt: 0.3g of salt or less per 100g
Serving cereal with milk or yoghurt
Having breakfast cereal is a good opportunity to add calcium to your diet if you serve it with milk or yoghurt. Go for semi-skimmed, 1% or skimmed milk, or low-fat yoghurt.
Alternatives to cows' milk include fortified soya, rice and oat drinks.
Find out what types of milk are suitable for young children.
Adding fruit to cereal
Having cereal is also a good opportunity to get some fruit in your diet. Raisins, dried apricots, bananas and strawberries are popular choices and can be added to any cereal, depending on your tastes.
You could wash down breakfast with a small glass (150ml) of 100% fruit juice, which also counts towards your 5 A Day.
How many calories should breakfast provide?
A helpful rule to maintain a healthy weight is to follow the 400-600-600 approach.
That means having about:
- 400kcal for breakfast (including any drinks and accompaniments)
- 600kcal for lunch (including any drinks and accompaniments)
- 600kcal for dinner (including any drinks and accompaniments)
That leaves you with just enough left over to enjoy a few healthy drinks and snacks throughout the day. This advice is based on a woman's daily recommended calorie intake of 2,000kcal.
You might get about 150kcal from a 40g serving of cereal. You could add a medium sliced banana and 200ml of semi-skimmed milk, which altogether would provide about 350kcals.
'My child is hooked on sugary cereals'
If you want to get your child off sugary cereals, you can try mixing sugary cereals with similar looking lower-sugar ones.
You could then gradually increase the amount of lower-sugar cereal over time to get your child used to them. Or you could let your child pick from a selection of 3 healthier cereals.
'I don't have time to sit down for breakfast'
People are increasingly not eating breakfast cereals and will instead pick an "on-the-go" option, such as a breakfast muffin and a latte.
If you're short on time in the morning, you could try setting the table the night before. You could also grab a pot of porridge on your way to work or have your cereal when you get in.
Let yourself be tempted by our simple breakfasts designed to whet the appetite of even the most habitual breakfast skipper.