20 Nov I Am a Dietitian Who Recommends Breakfast Cereals and Here’s Why
This post was sponsored by General Mills. All opinions are my own.
As a registered dietitian (RD) and mother of three kids, I always make sure that we are all eating breakfast. If you’re trying to get kids to school in a timely fashion, you know that getting the whole family (including parents) to eat breakfast is no easy feat. That’s why I always look for quick, easy, nutritious options—and let’s not forget tasty, especially for some of those younger picky eaters! Cereal became one of our go-to breakfast options very quickly. Two of my kids enjoy cereal with milk on the side while the third kiddo enjoys cereal and milk together. For me, I always take my cereal with milk and blueberries or raisins. Now that two of my kiddos are in college, I always make sure they have a big box of cereal in their room and milk in their mini fridge. I love the fact that the cereal is shelf-stable and available to my kids even after late night volleyball practice or a long night at the library.
I am aware that while reading this, the word “SUGAR” may be flashing in your head and you may be asking, “how can a dietitian recommend a food with added sugar?” I address the misconception around added sugar along with several other myths about the nutrition of cereal while expanding on its role in a balanced, nutritious diet below.
Myth #1: Breakfast cereals are not a nutritious option to start the day
Think about what is in many breakfast cereals. Many cereals deliver vitamins, minerals, whole grain, and fiber in one bowl which is tough to find in other common breakfast foods. NHANES data reveals that ready-to-eat cereal eaters have higher intakes of several nutrients, including the nutrients of public health concern, such as calcium, vitamin D, and fiber, compared to those that don’t eat ready-to-eat cereal. Further, ready-to-eat cereal eaters tend to have greater intakes of under-consumed food groups, like whole grain and dairy. Breakfast cereal is also the #1 source of whole grain for Americans at breakfast.
Even better—breakfast cereal tends to be eaten together with cow’s milk, a combination that makes this morning meal even more nourishing. NHANES data shows that for kids ages 2 to 12 years that ate cereal for breakfast, 54% of their milk consumption was with cereal, providing them with even more calcium and vitamin D. Both calcium and vitamin D are identified as under-consumed nutrients by the 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans in all age groups, including kids. For adults 18 years and older, 74% of their milk is consumed with cereal – meaning, they’re getting more calcium and vitamin D, too!
Myth #2: Breakfast cereals are a leading source of sugar in children’s diets
Added sugar is a big concern, especially to parents, and this post wouldn’t be complete without addressing the issue of added sugar. According to the 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, the top sources of added sugar in typical U.S. diets are sugar-sweetened beverages, desserts and sweet snacks, sweetened coffee and tea, and candy. Breakfast cereals/bars and sandwiches tie for 5th place.
Of the top 5 sources of added sugar, the first 4 sources contribute a dramatically higher percentage of calories from added sugars than cereals and bars. As you can see from the image above, 24% of calories from added sugars come from sugar-sweetened beverages, while only 7% of calories from added sugars come from breakfast cereals and bars for the American population. Sandwiches also contribute 7% of calories from added sugars but you don’t see them being vilified the way breakfast cereals are.
Further, sugar-sweetened beverages, desserts and sweet snacks, sweetened coffee and tea, and candy DO NOT offer positive nutrition. The 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines recommend no more than 10% of total calories come from added sugar. You want to use that added sugar wisely in foods like breakfast cereal that delivers positive nutrition as well like vitamins, minerals, fiber, and whole grain. In fact, cereal is the #1 source of fiber and whole grain at breakfast.
Finally, NHANES data looked at those nutrients that should be limited (calories, added sugar, sodium, and saturated fat) and found that there is no difference in total energy (calories), added sugar, sodium, or saturated fat intake between cereal and non-cereal eaters. Cereal eaters actually had an overall higher diet quality compared to those who did not eat breakfast cereal.
Myth #3: Breakfast cereals can’t be part of a balanced diet
Breakfast cereal is the #1 source of whole grain and fiber for all Americans at breakfast. The 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines identify fiber as an under consumed nutrient by all life stages – and cereal is one more way to take it in. Plus, cereal is the #1 source of thiamin, niacin, B6, folate, iron, zinc, B12, and vitamin A for all Americans at breakfast.
Ready-to-eat cereal is an affordable, delicious, and nutritious choice that is accessible to all as it is shelf-stable and can be found in small stores in big cities, large supermarkets, and online.