Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Healthy Cereals for Kids

Do you get confused when cruising down the cereal aisle? One cereal package carries the claim "helps prevent heart disease" and another flaunts a "low sugar" claim loud and clear. But reading the fine print to discover which is best can literally take all day. To save you time, money (and sanity), here is easy nutrition criteria to keep in mind when choosing the right cereal for you and your family.

Each serving should contain:
At least 16 g whole grains (16g equals one serving of whole grains) or at least have a whole grain as the first ingredient
Low in sugar (10g or less)
Be a good source of fiber (3g per serving)
Free of artificial colors and dyes.

A study published in Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (formerly The American Dietetics Association) found that 35 percent of children (9 to 13 years) and 25 percent of adolescents (14-18 years) consumed ready-to-eat cereal. When compared to the breakfast skippers and non-cereal eating kids, the cereal eaters had diets lower in fat and cholesterol and higher in fiber and vitamins and minerals and these kids were leaner.  So, if you are a cereal lover, the research is on your side!

Here are some of the best cereal options falling within the nutritional parameters I stated before.  

1. Cheerios: 1g of sugar, 3g of fiber and whole grain oats as the first ingredient (16g whole grain). Cheerios also contains 45% Daily Value (DV) for iron, making it a great food for toddlers. There are other similar natural products such as Trader Joe’s Os and Annie’s Bunny Love (not fortified).

2. Honey Nut Cheerios: 9g of sugar, 2g of fiber and whole grain oats as the first ingredient (8g whole grain). It falls short a little short on fiber/whole grains and has more sugar than Cheerios but it still rated well.

3. Kix: 3g of sugar, 3g of fiber and whole grain corn as the fist ingredient (8g whole grain). This cereal also contains 45% of the DV for iron.

4. Life: 6g of sugar, 2g of fiber and whole grain oat flour as the first ingredient (18g whole grains). Again, falls one gram short of fiber but is packed with whole grains and contains 45% DV for iron. [This products contains BHT preservative]

5. Frosted Mini Wheats Bite Size: 12g sugar, 6g of fiber and whole grain wheat as the first ingredient (49g of whole grains). While its sugar content is greater than 10g, it has 6g of fiber, 49g of whole grains (3 servings worth!) and 90 percent DV for iron. This is the only cereal on my list with high fructose corn syrup.  For no sugar try the unfrosted variety.

The following items are adult-targeted cereals that have kid appeal.

6. Kashi Honey Sunshine: 6g of sugar, 6g of fiber and organic whole grain yellow corn meal as the first ingredient (20g whole grain).

7. Kashi Cinna-Raisin Crunch: A bowl of Kashi contains 13g of sugar and 8g of dietary fiber. With its sweet taste and crunchy texture, is a great cereal for both kids and adults. Many kids enjoy eating the crunchy Kashi mixed with smooth and creamy yogurt for breakfast or a snack.

8. Wheaties: 4g of sugar, 3g of fiber and whole grain wheat as the first ingredient (16g whole grain). [This product contains BHT preservative]

One word of caution though is it's easy to pour too much cereal in the bowl. Don't forget to check the nutrition label to be sure you're eating the right amount of the recommended serving.

Have you have found a healthy cereal your family loves?

Amber Massey RD, LD, Registered Dietitian
Executive Health Program
Texas Health Harris Methodist Hospital Fort Worth

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