The meal that starts the day for most Americans isn’t a bowl of oatmeal or an omelet and breakfast potatoes. It’s ready-to-eat cereal. Behind beverages and bread, cereal is America’s most popular purchase in the grocery store.
The $6 billion industry has been declining in recent years, but for those of us who do partake, it’s important to know how to keep the added sugar cereal is known for to a minimum. Sure oatmeal, barley, or millet with fruit and nuts are the ideal iteration of a healthy whole grain breakfast, but not everyone can give up their cereal bowls. Here’s how familiar cereals stack up on the added sugar front.

The American Heart Association recommends no more than 100 calories of added sugar a day for women and 150 for men. That’s just 24 and 36 grams respectively. A single serving of some cereals exceed this amount. Take the most popular breakfast cereals in America: Honey Nut Cheerios, Special K, and Honey Bunches of Oats.
Honey Nut Cheerios – 110 Calories Serving Size: 3/4 cup, Protein: 2g, Added Sugars: 9g, Fiber: 2g
A better Cheerios choice may be regular Cheerios which boasts just 1 gram of added sugar in its 1 cup serving size. Multigrain Cheerios has a little less sugar than the Honey Nut variety at 6 grams, and its larger 1 cup serving size boasts the same 110 calories with an extra gram of fiber.
Special K Original – 120 Calories Serving Size: 1 cup, Protein: 6g, Added Sugars: 4g ,Fiber: 0g
The calorie count of this rice-based cereal got some unwanted publicity recently as an advertisement was deemed misleading for not mentioning the additional calorie count of added milk. The Advertising Standards Authority banned the commercial saying Kellogg’s should have made clear the calories listed did not include milk calories.
So you know, a cup of 2% milk would add 122 calories. Interesting how they didn’t mention the fact that the ad calls the 1 cup serving a “bowl.” By the way, according to the nutrition facts on their website, there is no fiber in a serving of this cereal, which may leave you less satiated than other more fiber-packed options. Sad that the box lists the milk calories of 1/2 cup of skimmed milk, when that seems like a very small amount of milk to add to a “bowl.”
Honey Bunches of Oats Honey Roasted – 120 Calories Serving Size: 3/4 cup, Protein: 2g, Added Sugars: 6g, Fiber: 2g
I like that their website mentions a serving has the same amount of calories as Special K, without pointing out that their serving size is a 1/4 cup smaller. Also interesting about this cereal is despite its name, corn, wheat and sugar are listed before oats, meaning it’s more like sugar bunches of corn.
To be fair there is honey in the ingredient list as well, just happens to be after salt, rice flour, vegetable oil and a few other ingredients. Other varieties of this Post brand cereal include Vanilla Bunches, Just Bunches and Raisin Medley, all of which add up to 200 or more calories per cup with ample amounts of added sugar.
More Filling Options
If you go for the less sugar claims, be extra vigilant in checking that yours doesn’t have artificial sweeteners. Some cereals get away with no added sugar labels, but hide the fact that artificial sweeteners are used. Fiber One and Special K Protein Plus are two examples. While a recent study in the Journal of Nutrition suggests foods, including cereals, that use artificial sweeteners can help control caloric intake, the findings show they may not be as satiating.
To help you stay full, find cereals with high protein and fiber content that aren’t too big on sugar. Many cereals bump up the protein grams with soy. Also, a number of high fiber cereals have smaller serving sizes, so if the calorie count looks minuscule, it’s probably because the serving size is smaller than usual. With the extra protein and fiber, the additional calories are nutritionally justified.
Kashi GoLean Cereal – 148 Calories Serving Size: 1 cup Protein: 13g Added Sugars: 6g Fiber: 10g
Nature’s Path Optimum Slim – 210 Calories Serving Size: 1 cup Protein: 9g Added Sugars: 7g Fiber: 9g
No Added Sugar
It’s slim pickings, but there are cereal options that have no added sugar. The drawback is that many also are scant on nutritional value. Adding sliced banana, blueberries, strawberries, or even a tablespoon of honey with protein-rich nuts will give these plain offerings a boost without the multiple sweeteners many other cereals have. These also don’t have salt in their ingredient lists, something many other cereals have in considerable amounts.
Post Shredded Wheat Original – 170 Calories Serving Size: 1 cup, Protein: 5g, Added Sugars: 0g, Fiber: 6g
Quaker Puffed Rice – 54 Calories Serving Size: 1 cup, Protein: 1g, Added Sugars: 0g, Fiber: 0.2g
Kashi 7 Whole Grain Cereals Puffs – 70 Calories Serving Size: 1 cup, Protein: 2g, Added Sugars: 0g, Fiber: 1g