What is a healthy breakfast cereal?

Ask Peggy

Ask Peggy

Dear Peggy: I do not care for the good-for-you, dry and dense, no-sugar-added cereals. What other type of breakfast cereal would make a good choice for a healthy start to the day? —M.H., Chicago, Illinois

Finding a healthy breakfast cereal that also tastes good can be a complicated task. Part of the problem is that the health claims sometimes promoted on the cereal boxes themselves can be confusing.

Don't assume that the wording "whole grains" splashed across the front of the box is the answer. I've seen whole-grain cereal with only 1 gram of fiber per serving. How does that happen?

Whole grains, it turns out, can vary tremendously in their fiber content.

A whole-grain kernel has three parts: the bran, the germ and the endosperm. When these kernels are heavily processed or refined, they no longer remain whole. Most of the bran and some of the germ is removed, resulting in the loss of fiber as well as a multitude of vitamins, minerals and other health-promoting nutrients.

Although manufacturers can "enrich" grains by adding back iron and B vitamins, they cannot add back the whole grain's original fiber content. Most of us fail to get the amount of fiber recommended for a healthy diet: about 25-35 grams per day.

So how do you find the right cereal? First, check the ingredients to make sure the word "whole" describes the grains that come first in the ingredient list. Then check the Nutrition Facts label. Look for at least 5 grams of fiber per serving. Also look at calories and sugar. I suggest cereals with around 200 calories or fewer per serving and a sugar content of less than 12 grams. As for the cereal's taste, that's pretty specific to personal preference.