Whole grains are rich in phytochemicals, which may help cut the risk of cancer and heart disease. And theyre naturally rich in magnesium and potassium, which may help keep blood pressure in check.
Nearly all hot cerealsincluding oatmealare whole-grain. Exceptions: cream of wheat, cream of rice, and grits.
Our Best Bites are whole-grain and have no added sugars. Your best bet is to throw in a handful of blueberries, raisins, or banana slices. That way, your sugar comes from a serving of fiber-rich, phytochemical-rich fruit.
When cereal-makers do the throwing, theres no telling how much (or how little) youll get. Even brands like Arrowhead Mills sometimes add apple or banana powder instead of chunks of fruit. Dr. McDougalls Instant Oatmeal & Barley with Real Peaches & Raspberries shows what companies could do if they wanted. One spoonful and you know that youre eating chunks of real fruit, not just powder and natural flavors. Bonus: cereals with no added sugars usually have no added salt.
How do you find them? Not by looking at the Sugars number on the packages Nutrition Facts panel. That would include any naturally occurring sugars in the grain or added fruit. Instead, check the ingredient list. Some companies (among them Quaker) come right out and say sugar, but other labels may list dextrose, maple sugar, or cane juice. Theyre all essentially the same.
If adding hot water to your cereal is about all you can manage in the morning, and if you dont like your grains plain, look for a lightly sweetened cereal.
We gave Honorable Mentions to ones that get less than 30 percent of their calories from sugar. In theory, its possible that our cutoff could have penalized a cereal with far more fruit than added sugars. But the cereals that had too much sugar for an Honorable Mention appeared to be higher in added sugar, not fruit.
We used percent of caloriesrather than a limit on the number of grams of sugarbecause serving sizes vary so much. If we hadnt done that, some cereals would look high in sugar only because they come in a larger packet or cup.
Any whole grain is a good grain, but extra fiber can help prevent constipation and may help lower the risk of heart disease, either by lowering blood cholesterol (if the fiber comes from oats) or by some other means (if it comes from whole wheat). Because their bran is still intact, whole grains always have more fiber than refined grains. But some whole grains have more than others.
Oat bran falls at the high end, with six or seven grams of fiber per serving. Whole wheat and multigrain mixtures are in the middle (five grams). And oatmeal (four grams) and brown rice (two or three grams) bring up the rear. But those numbers only apply to unsweetened cereal. A packet of sweetened Quaker Instant Oatmeal typically has only three grams of fiber, because sugar (and maybe some fruit) replaces some of the oatmeal.
Most Quaker instant cereals are fortified with 20 percent of a days worth of six vitamins and iron and 10 percent of a days calcium. (Others, like Quakers Nutrition for Women, have even more.) Thats no advantage if you take an ordinary multi-vitamin-and-mineral supplement. If you (or your kids) dont take supplements, though, you might want a fortified cereal. Just remember that a supplement is more complete.
The information for this article was compiled by Jackie Adriano, with help from Tamar Genger.