Is cereal your breakfast of choice? If yes, it might be difficult to determine which cereal is the healthiest if you’re still a little bit confused as to how to dissect that nutrition label on the back of the box. Luckily, we’ve created a little cheat sheet for you so you can become a label reading pro! Check these five spots on the package to start your morning right!
1. Read the Ingredients List!
You’ll notice that this is not included in the image above. That’s because ingredients can be listed anywhere on the package. But don’t let this fool you! The ingredients are the first thing you should check when reading any label. It’s like a hidden lie detector test for packaged foods. Here’s a simple rule to follow when checking ingredients: Always make sure all (or at least most) of the ingredients are both recognizable and pronounceable. If they meet these criteria, chances are the cereal is minimally processed with man-made chemicals or preservatives.
Here’s an example: Ever heard of trisodium phosphate? It’s an ingredient found in many traditional breakfast cereals, used as a preservative. It’s hard to pronounce and definitely not something you could buy as a single ingredient. Keep in mind ingredients are listed by weight from heaviest to lightest, so at the very least make sure the first few ingredients meet this criteria. It’s best to choose a cereal with as few ingredients as possible.
2. Check the serving size.
The rest of the nutrition label won’t add up if you don’t first know what the serving size is. Make sure to check how many cups is in a serving of cereal before reading the rest of the label. Move on to #3 to find out why.
3. Check the calories.
After you check the serving size, check the calories. While we’re not big fans of “calorie counting” this can definitely give you some insight into whether or not this product is worth buying. For example, let’s say the serving size of your cereal is ½ cup, but the calories read 250. If you typically “eye ball” your cereal pour, you might be pouring upwards of one and half to two cups into your bowl. That would be almost 50% of your daily calorie intake in just one meal! Remember, the calories don’t give you the whole picture, so before you put the product back on the shelf check section #4.
4. Read the fiber.
Fiber is an indigestible carbohydrate. It adds bulk to our food, helping us feel more full and satisfied after a meal or snack. Generally, the more fiber a food has, the more satisfied we’ll be, and the less likely we are to overeat. When buying cereals, it’s best to find those that include ideally more than five grams of fiber per serving. If you have trouble finding a cereal you like that’s also high in fiber, consider decreasing your serving size and adding some fresh fruit and a sprinkle of nuts to help amp up the flavor and nutrition.
5. Check the sugar.
Sugar in all of it’s many forms loves to hide in our breakfast cereal. It certainly makes it tasty, but if you’ve ever experiences a mid-morning “crash”, or a 3 pm “slump” your breakfast cereal might be the culprit. Spiking your blood sugar levels first thing in the morning can make it difficult for your body to regulate your blood sugar levels later in the day, causing you to feel hungry more frequently, and lead to overeating. You might catch it in the nutrition label as “cane sugar” but there are over 60 names for sugar, including (but not limited to) corn syrup, maltose, palm sugar, dextrose, and maltose. If you don’t feel like memorizing all 60 names, check the “sugar” portion of the label. Try to find a cereal that has less than five grams of sugar per serving. And remember, if you choose to have more than one serving for breakfast, that’s how much more sugar will be in the bowl.
Keep in mind these are general recommendations. The food industry has a lot of tools at their fingertips to make processed cereals look healthier and more appealing, so always make sure to have your detective hat on when reading the label!
What’s your favorite breakfast cereal? Let us know in the comments below!