With so many breakfast cereals out there, health-conscious consumers are often paralyzed by decisions. Many cereal brands market themselves as healthy, but marketing claims are often a stretch of the truth.
Is cereal even healthy in general? What makes cereal healthy or unhealthy? Are the healthiest brands necessarily more expensive? And do healthier cereals taste worse?
In this article we’ll answer all of these questions and more as we give our take on what makes a cereal healthy or not and share the cereal brands that we would recommend to health-conscious consumers, as well as why we recommend them.
What Makes Cereal Healthy or Unhealthy?
Everything in health exists on a spectrum, but our position is that as a general rule, food products made entirely of whole foods are healthier than food products that contain synthetic additive ingredients.
Whether or not we recommend a food product depends more on what it doesn’t have than what it does have. Whether a cereal brand uses oat flour or millet flour as the base ingredient doesn’t matter much from a health perspective, but whether it contains added sugar or artificial dye does.
We know from medical research, and it seems logical, that synthetic additive ingredients are not ideal for human health, so we will only recommend cereal brands containing entirely whole foods ingredients and free of added sugar.
Since we know from clinical studies that a whole foods diet is associated with improved health, it seems obvious that a cereal containing entirely whole food ingredients is a healthier option than a cereal with processed industrial ingredients that is low in nutrition and contains questionable additives like processed cane sugar, artificial dye and preservatives. This is how we will base our ratings.
Healthiest Cereal #1 - Ezekiel Cinnamon Raisin
Ezekiel is the healthiest cereal brand in our opinion, and features entirely sprouted grains like organic sprouted wheat, organic sprouted barley and organic sprouted millet.
A Harvard Health review found that sprouted grains have more bioavailable nutrients than unsprouted grains, and a medical review published in the Nutrients journal found that “the amount of anti-nutritional factors…decreases significantly” when grains are sprouted.
Making food products from sprouted grains takes longer, and so is discouraged by many commercial cereal brands, but this more closely resembles the process that humans evolved to prepare grain products for consumption.
Rather than processed white sugar, Ezekiel Cinnamon Raisin cereal is naturally sweetened with organic raisins, which are shown in medical research to improve cardiovascular health and gut function.
There are no questionable additive ingredients in this product at all. Every ingredient is a whole food, and due to the nutrient density of the grains, it’s rich in vitamins and minerals, providing 15% of the Recommended Daily Allowance (RDA) of thiamin, 15% RDA of niacin, 15% RDA of magnesium and more.
Interested consumers can check out Ezekiel Cinnamon Raisin Cereal at this link to the product’s Amazon listing. It’s cheapest when purchased in bulk.
Healthiest Cereal #2 - One Degree Cereal
One Degree Cereal is another brand that makes sprouted cereal. The product contains organic sprouted whole grain brown rice as the main ingredient, so it may be a good option for consumers that are gluten-free and can’t try Ezekiel products due to the wheat.
Rather than artificial flavoring, this cereal is naturally flavored with organic cacao which is unsweetened cocoa bean. It’s sweetened with organic coconut sugar, which was shown in a 2020 medical review to be significantly more nutrient-rich than processed white sugar. The study authors even described coconut sugar as “a better potential source for production of healthier sugar.”
One Degree Cereal does contain vitamin E as a natural preservative, and while we typically don’t recommend products with added vitamins and minerals, there’s such a small amount of vitamin E included that it’s not even included in the individual nutrient listing on the Nutrition Facts label.
Interested consumers can check out One Degree Cereal Cacao Crisp at this link to the product’s Amazon listing.
Healthiest Cereal #3 - Awsum Snacks
Awsum Snacks makes a “Supercereal” based on quinoa with an impressive formulation.
The main ingredient is organic royal white quinoa seeds. A medical review published in the Foods journal found that quinoa is rich in essential fatty acids like omega-3 (which have to be obtained from diet), vitamins and fiber, while actually having a blood sugar lowering effect (the opposite of processed grains.
This cereal is flavored naturally with organic cinnamon powder which has clinically proven antioxidant, antitumor, anti-inflammatory and cholesterol-lowering effects.
Awsum is sweetened naturally with organic stevia. As we documented in our review of Metamucil Gummies, stevia is a whole foods, plant-based sweetener that has more favorable effects on blood sugar and inflammation than table sugar.
This cereal is free of any questionable additives. It’s the only cereal product we currently recommend that does not contain sprouted grains, so it may be a good option for health-conscious consumers who don’t like the taste of sprouted grains.
Interested consumers can check out Awsum Snacks Quinoa Supercereal at this link to the product’s Amazon listing.
Is Popular Cereal Actually Unhealthy?
Most consumers who have read to this point in the article are probably wondering: how do these products compare to commercial cereal brands? Are they really worth the increased price?
In our opinion, they are. The ingredient label for Cinnamon Toast Crunch is shown below.
This cereal contains added sugar and fructose as a sweetener. We know from medical research that fructose promotes the production of toxic byproducts in the body, and is associated with the development of atherosclerosis (cholesterol buildup in arteries).
BHT is a synthetic preservative and we recommend choosing preservative-free foods whenever possible (although we do consider BHT to be a safer preservative choice than some others).
Cinnamon Toast Crunch is also "fortified," meaning it contains a wide range of added vitamins and minerals. As we explained in our recent Kachava reviews article of a popular meal replacement blend, we consider it illogical to consume products containing many added vitamins and minerals without a documented deficiency in those vitamins and minerals.
A wellness brand called Isagenix had to recall several products from the market in early 2022 because the added vitamins were causing toxicity in some consumers.
Cinnamon Toast Crunch also contains more sugar per serving than any of the brands we recommend.