I’m not a big fan of breakfast cereals.
For starters, few of us eat a true “serving,” especially considering the over-sized bowls that fill many of our kitchens.
Try it: Use a measuring cup to pour out a serving as stated on the box label. Then, pour that portion it into your usual cereal bowl. You’ll likely find a coffee mug is a better vessel.
Another reason is that nearly all breakfast cereals are high in refined, processed carbs with minimal fiber and a negligible amount of fat. Combined with regular cow’s milk (carbs) and the fresh fruit and/or juice that often accompanies a bowl of cereal (carbs and more carbs), we’ve just downed a breakfast that sets us up for hunger and cravings within hours.
And finally, most cereals are low in protein. A cup of Cheerios, for example, has just 3 grams of protein – half of what we could get from an egg.
Even brands marketed as “protein” cereals don’t always live up to their names.
Kellogg’s Special K Protein Cinnamon Brown Sugar Crunch, for example, has three times more sugary carbs than protein, with 22 grams of carbohydrate and 9 grams of sugar for every 7 grams of protein, thanks to the added sugar, brown sugar syrup and fructose.
The front label of Kashi Go Lean describes it as a “plant protein and multigrain cereal” but their flavored varieties have more sugar than protein. Kashi Go Lean Crunch may be filled with whole grains, but it’s sweetened with brown rice syrup, dried cane syrup and honey, adding nearly 50 percent more sugar than protein. (See details on the better-for-you Kashi Go Lean Original below.)
Even worse is General Mill’s Protein Cheerios. Sugar shows up 12 different times on the ingredient list, packing in 17 grams of sugar and just 7 grams of protein. At least the front label states that it’s a “Sweetened Whole Grain and Oat Cereal” in a font at least 50 percent as large as the word “Protein.” That’s thanks to a recently settled lawsuitfiled by the Center of Science in the Public Interest (CSPI).
Nature’s Path Optimum Power Blueberry Cinnamon Flax cereal with 9 grams of protein and 9 grams of sugar looks promising – at least it doesn’t have more sugar than protein – but still, a single cup has nearly half a day’s worth of added sugar.
Compared to most options in mainstream groceries, Kellogg’s Special K Original Protein Cereal is a decent option.
The nutrition stats are a better, with about 50 percent more protein than sugar and just a moderate amount of carbs (19 grams carbohydrate, 7 grams sugar and 10 grams protein). The “but” is that the cereal is sweetened with sucralose (Splenda) and contains the preservative BHT. Avoiding gluten? Take note: It’s the second ingredient on the list, added to boost protein.
Still, it isn’t all doom and gloom on the cereal aisle.
Here are three varieties that are legitimately nutritious options, providing a substantial dose of protein (and fiber), with minimal sugar.
Kay’s Naturals Cereal (available in Apple Cinnamon, Honey Almond, or French Vanilla) is my long-time favorite. It has four times more protein than sugar, and is available in single-serving packs for easy protein-rich snacking or breakfast on the go – a giant help for those who struggle with portion control when pouring from a box of cereal.
Ingredients include non-GMO soy protein isolate, corn flour and rice flour as well as pea fiber, honey, sugar and stevia. Nutrition Facts per one-cup serving: 120 calories, 19 grams carbohydrate, 4 grams fiber, 3 grams sugar, 12 grams protein.
Kay’s Naturals isn’t available in New Orleans-area stores, but is offering a 30 percent discount online right now. Enter NOLA2019 at checkout at KaysNaturals.com.
Kashi Go Lean Original is a consistent top pick as well, though the flavor and texture aren’t always as well-received as Kay’s Naturals. The sugar is a bit higher than ideal, but it’s also rich in a variety of whole grains.
Ingredients include Kashi’s Seven Whole Grain Honey Puff Cereal (a blend of whole grains sweetened with honey and cane syrup), soy protein isolate, oat fiber and Kashi’s Seven Whole Grains & Sesame Flour blend. Nutrition Facts per 1 1/4 cup serving: 180 calories, 40 grams carbohydrate, 13 grams fiber, 8 grams sugar, 12 grams protein.
Uncle Sam’s Original Wheat Berry Flakes is an under-the-radar favorite – just keep an eye on serving size, since calories can quickly add up. With just four ingredients, it has one of the simplest ingredient lists on a cereal box: whole wheat kernels, whole flaxseed, salt and barley malt. Nutrition Facts per 3/4 cup serving: 210 calories, 37 grams carbohydrate, 10 grams fiber, less than one gram sugar, 9 grams protein.
4 ways to add protein to cereal
Switch milk. Regular cow’s milk has 12 grams of sugar and 8 grams of protein per cup. Fairlife is a brand of cow’s milk that’s “ultra filtered” – a process that strains out much of the sugary carbs. The result is milk with 50 percent more protein and 50 percent less sugar and carbs than regular milk. A side note: This straining process also filters out the lactose. Another option is Orgain’s Organic Protein Unsweetened Almondmilk 10x Protein, with 10 grams protein, zero sugar and just 3 grams of carbs per cup.
Top it with a protein drink. Skip the milk altogether and pour a ready-made protein drink over cereal instead. My favorite is ICONIC, but there are plenty of options on shelves. Just read the labels carefully.
Stir a scoop of protein powder into milk (unsweetened almond milk or coconut milk if you’re watching your carbs), then pour it over cereal for a boost of 10 to 20 grams of protein. Tip: Make sure to dissolve the protein powder first or you’ll wind up with a clumpy mess in your cereal bowl.
Skip the milk altogether and sprinkle your favorite whole grain cereal over cottage cheese or Greek yogurt, turning cereal into a crunchy topping, not the main event.