With so many breakfast cereals on the US market, health-conscious consumers are often paralyzed by choice. Many cereal brands market themselves as healthy, but marketing claims are often a stretch of the truth.
But is cereal healthy in general? What makes a cereal brand healthy or unhealthy? Are the healthiest brands more expensive? And do healthier cereals taste worse?
In this article we’ll answer all of these questions and more, as we explain what to look for when choosing a healthy cereal brand.
We pick our top three healthiest cereal brands, explain why we picked each one, and share an ingredient list from a popular commercial cereal brand to discuss whether or not popular cereal brands are bad for you.
What Makes Cereal Healthy or Unhealthy?
Healthiness exists on a spectrum, but our position is that as a general rule, cereals composed entirely of whole food ingredients are healthier than cereals that contain synthetic, "processed" 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 refined, added sugar or artificial dye does.
We know from medical research, and it seems logical, that synthetic additive ingredients are non-ideal for human health, so we only recommend cereal brands composed entirely of whole food ingredients and free of added sugar (in the form of refined, "processed" cane sugar — we have no issue with added sugar from whole food sources like fruit).
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.
So in picking the healthiest cereals, we'll select brands that use entirely whole food ingredients.
1st Place — 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 sprouting grains is a process that humans have used for centuries to make them more digestible.
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 vitamin B1, 15% RDA of vitamin B3, 15% RDA of magnesium and more.
Interested consumers can check out Ezekiel Cinnamon Raisin Cereal at this link to the product’s official Amazon listing. It’s cheapest when purchased in bulk.
2nd Place — One Degree Cereal
One Degree Cereal is another sprouted cereal brand.
This cereal contains organic sprouted whole grain brown rice as the main ingredient, which makes it a great option for consumers who avoid gluten and therefore can't try Ezekiel cereal.
Rather than artificial flavoring, this cereal is naturally flavored with organic cacao which is unsweetened cocoa bean, and which has anti-diabetic and anti-inflammatory effects as we documented in our Hu Chocolate reviews article.
One Degree Cereal is 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 added 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 that it’s not even shown on the Nutrition Facts label.
Interested consumers can check out One Degree Cereal Cacao Crisp at this link to the product’s official Amazon listing.
3rd Place — Awsum Snacks
Awsum Snacks makes a “Supercereal” with a nutritious ingredient list.
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, vitamins and fiber, while possessing 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 food, plant-based sweetener that has more favorable effects on blood sugar 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, which makes it a great 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 official 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 these healthy cereals 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 sweeteners.
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 that has a metabolite described in a clinical trial as a "tumor promoter."
Cinnamon Toast Crunch is also "fortified," meaning it contains a large number of synthetic, added vitamins and minerals.
As we explained in our recent Kachava reviews article on 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.