Healthy cereals: 33 healthy options, toppings and tips

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Sort the wheat from the chaff with our pick of healthy cereals, as recommended by experts.

By Annie Hayes

Breakfast is billed as the most important meal of the day, but it’s also usually the one you’re least inclined to invest your culinary efforts into. Few of us have the time to prep, cook, and clean up after a hearty feed before 8am. Thankfully healthy cereals save the day! But are they really good for you and how do you know which brand to choose?

Browsing the cereal aisle at your local supermarket, it can be difficult to discern genuinely healthy cereals from the sugar and salt-laden imposters. To help you sort the wheat from the chaff, we spoke to Jo Travers, dietitian for Love Your Gut Week, and Georgine Leung, nutritionist at Kurami, about which healthy cereals stand up to scrutiny:

18 healthy cereals to start your day

It’s called breakfast for a reason. Depending on your sleeping habits, your first meal of the day typically breaks a 10, 12 or even 14 hour-long fast. ‘After sleeping all night – when your body is still using energy and nutrients – it’s important to top-up the nutrients that we can’t store a great deal of; water-soluble vitamins and energy in particular,’ says Travers.

Healthy cereals are a source of carbohydrates, she says, which are the body’s first port of call for energy. ‘The evidence shows that although people who eat breakfast tend to consume more calories over the day, there is no difference in weight,’ Travers adds, ‘This suggests that the energy consumed during breakfast is being put to good use.’

When browsing healthy cereals, what should you look for on the label? ‘Cereals encompass a wide variety of grains – from wheat, maize, rice and oats, to less common types such as rye, teff, millet and sorghum,’ says Leung. ‘Sometimes, pseudo-cereals such as quinoa and buckwheat may also be listed, due to the way these are consumed in the diet as a starchy base.’

Although people who eat breakfast tend to consume more calories over the day, there is no difference in weight.

The term ‘whole grain’ is frequently referenced in healthy cereals. These refer to cereals that have the entire grain – outer bran, middle endosperm and inner germ – intact. They’re more nutrient-dense, says Leung, which means they are packed with essential vitamins and minerals including B vitamins, iron and zinc.

Whole grain cereals are also typically high in dietary fibre, which brings a whole host of health benefits – supporting your digestive, bowel and even heart health. Give your fibre and nutrient intake a boost at breakfast with our pick of healthy cereals:

  1. Oats

Among the healthiest grains on earth, oats are naturally high in vitamins, minerals, fibre – including highly healthful beta-glucan – and several powerful antioxidants, all wrapped up in around 24g of carbs, 5g of protein and 3g of fat per 40g serve. When buying oats, avoid pre-portioned or pre-flavoured options, since they’re usually high in added sugars. In order of nutritional value, oat groats are the highest, followed by oat bran, then steel-cut oats, then rolled oats, and finally instant oats. Oats are extremely high in the mineral manganese, in fact a 40g bowl contains your entire recommended daily amount (RDA).

  1. Muesli

Muesli is made by combining rolled oats, nuts, seeds, dried fruit, and sometimes other rolled cereal grains such as wheat or rye flakes. Muesli typically has a higher protein and nutrient content than a bowl of oats, but it often contains more calories. The nutritional profile of muesli will vary depending on the exact quantities, but it’s guaranteed to be high in fibre, vitamins and minerals. Avoid the pre-packaged varieties and make your own muesli to ensure there’s no additional nasties such as added sugar or preservatives. Start with a ratio of four parts grains, one part nuts and seeds, and one part dried fruit.

  1. Homemade granola

Granola is a baked cereal that typically combines rolled oats, nuts and seeds, and a sweetener like sugar or honey. It may also include other grains, dried fruit, spices, and nut butters. Like muesli, the nutritional profile varies widely depending on the specific ingredients used. It’s best to make your own so you can control the amount of sugar, avoid added oils, and appropriately portion any calorie-dense nuts and seeds.

  1. Sprouted grains

Sprouted grains are whole grain seeds that have just begun to sprout. Pretty much any whole grain – including whole-grain wheat, barley, rye, millet, rice and oats – can be sprouted. Sprouted grains can be easier to digest than whole grains, and the nutrients in them may also be easier for your body to absorb. Most grains contain a substance called phytic acid which binds to minerals and makes them tricky to digest, but the sprouting process breaks it down. Sprouted grains can be more expensive than other healthy cereals.

Sprouted grains can be easier to digest than whole grains, and the nutrients may also be easier to absorb.

  1. Shredded wheat

Shredded wheat typically contains 100 per cent whole wheat and nothing else, but it’s worth checking the label, since many brands add sugar. Wheat has a similar nutritional profile to spelt, and can similarly be a little flavourless when consumed on its own, so it’s worth investing in some toppings.

  1. Puffed rice

Most healthy cereals contain gluten, a family of proteins found in grains, including wheat, rye, spelt, and barley. Puffed rice doesn’t, so it’s a great cereal alternative for people with celiac disease or gluten intolerance. The process of puffing rice has been shown to decrease its antioxidant content, so many brands fortify their product to make up for this.

  1. Millet

Millet is a small cereal grain that belongs to the grass family. It provides more essential amino acids than most other cereals – equivalent to around 6g protein per 40g serve – and has the highest calcium content of all cereal grains, providing six per cent of your RDA in every 40g bowl. Millet contains plenty of phosphorus and magnesium, and is rich in potent antioxidants. Plus, it’s gluten-free, making it a great option for people who have celiac disease or follow a gluten-free diet. You can make millet into a creamy breakfast porridge.

  1. Spelt flakes

Spelt is an ancient species of wheat that has been cultivated since approximately 5,000 BC. To make spelt flakes, a grain of spelt is steamed, rolled and lightly toasted to create a malty, crispy cereal. Each 40g serving contains around 35 per cent of your manganese needs, all wrapped up in 6g protein, 4g fibre, and around 160 calories.

  1. Rye flakes

Rye is a member of the wheat family, but contains fewer carbs and more vitamins and minerals than regular wheat. It’s exceptionally high in fibre, with a 40g bowl containing around 30 per cent of your RDA, plus high levels of minerals like copper, phosphorus and magnesium. Rye’s health benefits – reduced blood sugar levels and a lower risk of cardiovascular diseases – are caused by the interplay between lactic acid bacteria and gut microbes, the University of Eastern Finland found. You can eat rye flakes raw with milk or plant-based milk alternatives, soak them overnight, or cook them into porridge.

  1. Quinoa flakes

As well as being totally gluten-free, quinoa flakes are one of the few plant foods that contain all nine essential amino acids, which means they are a complete protein. Made from pressed quinoa seeds, they’re also high in fibre, B vitamins, potassium, calcium, vitamin E and various beneficial antioxidants. Quinoa flakes don’t need special treatment – they can be used in similar ways to oats e.g. eaten raw in muesli or heated in porridge.

  1. Teff flakes

The world’s smallest grain, teff belongs to the grass family and has a distinct earthy, nutty flavour. Like quinoa, teff flakes contain all the essential amino acids – particularly lysine – and provide around 2g of protein in every 40g serving. Teff is also a good source of dietary fibre, including resistant starch, which has powerful health benefits – such as improving insulin sensitivity, lowering blood sugar levels, and regulating your appetite. Plus, eating teff enhances the nutritional value of iron and zinc, a study from Cornell University found.

  1. Bran flakes

This popular breakfast choice is made from wheat bran, which describes the hard outer layer of the wheat kernel. Often seen as a byproduct of the milling process, it’s packed with fibre, with each 40g bowl providing 20 per cent of your intake. This nutritious grain is high in iron, with 62 per cent of your daily requirements per serving, but bran flakes’ b-vitamin content is where the cereal shines. Each bowlful contains 114 per cent of your daily folate intake, and around half of your niacin, riboflavin and thiamin needs.

At the centre of a wheat kernel you’ll find wheatgerm, which contains a shedload of nutrients.

  1. Wheatgerm

At the centre of a wheat kernel you’ll find wheatgerm, which is responsible for making the plant sprout and grow new wheat. As such, it contains a shedload of nutrients​. A single 40g serving contains 12g protein and almost every vitamin and mineral your body needs. It’s especially rich in zinc and phosphorous, providing 65 per cent of your daily needs in one bowl, as well as around one third of your intake for vitamin E, magnesium, copper, iron, and selenium.

  1. Sorghum cereal

This ancient grain belongs to the same grass family as teff. It’s a rich source of antioxidants like flavonoids, phenolic acids, and tannins, which lower oxidative stress and fight inflammation in the body. Some varieties of sorghum have greater antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties than blueberries and pomegranates, research from the University of Georgia found. Sorghum is naturally gluten-free, contains as much protein as quinoa, and provides a whole host of important nutrients, particularly B vitamins.

Barley flakes are similar to rolled oats, except thicker and chewier. They’re made by husking kernels of barley, which are flattened, rolled and toasted. As well as being a rich source of magnesium, iron and vitamin B6, barley contains a special mix of dietary fibres that can rapidly improve your health by reducing blood sugar levels and the risk for diabetes, researchers from Lund University found.

  1. Amaranth flakes

Made up of than 60 different species of grains, amaranth is classified as a pseudocereal. It’s especially rich in magnesium, phosphorus, and manganese, and best eaten sprouted, so your body can absorb the nutrients better. Certain healthful compounds in amaranth fight inflammation by blocking the activation of a pathway that triggers inflammation, a study by Ciudad Universitaria found.

  1. Buckwheat

Widely-considered to be a superfood, buckwheat is particularly high in the antioxidants rutin and quercetin. This highly-nutritious pseudocereal has been shown to reduce some risk factors for heart disease – people who regularly eat buckwheat have a lower risk of high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and high blood sugar, research from China’s Second Military Medical University found. We think it’s best enjoyed as a porridge.

  1. Kamut

Kamut is ancient cereal grain that is part of the wheat family, and it’s a legally-protected variety of khorosan wheat. The wheat can only be called Kamut if it meets strict requirements, which include being certified organic, 99 per cent free of contamination from modern wheat, and contain 12 to 18 per cent protein. It’s loaded with fibre, and extremely high in selenium, zinc, and vitamin B3. You can buy the rice-like grain as it is – which is suited to porridge – or as Kamut puffs, which are best enjoyed as a cereal.

Net Doctor

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