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Heart Healthy Cereal: The Sweet Spot Sixteen

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Granola isn’t often thought of as a healthy food these days, but in fact some granolas are mostly whole grains and provide a hefty dose of heart-healthy fiber. They’re also a good vehicle for fruit, nuts, and seeds, as I illustrated in last year’s Diabetes-Friendly Breakfast Makeover. And when it’s hot or you’re in a hurry, let’s face it, a bowl of cereal is just the ticket.

I originally wrote this review over six years ago and it was popular. There are more cereal fans out there, thanks you may be thinking!

Since then, some of the products I highlighted have been discontinued and new ones added, so I’ve updated them with the help of Acadia dietetics student Christyna Dashko.

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We used the following criteria. (If you are interested, below is an explanation of the criteria.)

The first ingredient is a whole grain (or bran).

No more than 8g of sugar (worth 2 teaspoons) per serving.

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At least 4g of fiber per serving.

No more than 140 mg sodium/serving.

The sweet point sixteen

There are MANY products to choose from! Superstore’s website lists 84 “healthy” cereals alone! (This doesn’t include hot cereal. See my oatmeal review for that.)

Christyna and I combed the grain aisle and could only find 17 that met the criteria. So if you don’t have all day to stand around the cereal shelves reading labels, this should make it easier.

(When I first wrote this, I found 16 cereals that met the criteria. This time it was 17, but “Sweet Spot Seventeen” doesn’t have the same ring to it, does it? But I couldn’t bring myself to make one throw .)

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Click on an image below if you would like to see the image better. And note that these are the Canadian versions. Some products may vary in the United States and elsewhere.)

What if your favorite muesli isn’t there?

If your favorite granola didn’t make it, don’t worry! Quite a few came close enough to be safe to keep in the mix if you wanted to.

If you like a muesli that has something more sugar, you could always have it anyway. Not the end of the world – it depends on your overall eating habits.

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Or maybe a smaller portion, perhaps combined with a generous handful of almonds or walnuts. Or if you fancy a bigger bowl, maybe pair a higher sugar granola with something similar Spoon-sized ground wheatthat has no sugar or sodium.

If your favorite is a bit above that sodium Aim for 140mg, factor in the rest of your sodium for the day. If you cook most of your food yourself, you might be able to afford it. (Roughly 75% of our sodium comes from restaurants and processed foods.)

If something like Cheerios isn’t quite enough for you fiberyou could always have it with a few spoonfuls of something like this All Bran Buds or fiber 1 Or top it with raspberries, a particularly high-fiber fruit.

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Popular cereals that didn’t make the list

Below is a collection of cereals I hear about often from customers, including many sold at the ever-popular Costco.

Unfortunately none of the cold cereals that I could find at our restaurant Costco meets the criteria! Too much sugar or sodium, or low in fiber. 🙁

  • I had All Bran Buds on the list, but I lowered the sodium target to 140mg to match Health Canada’s “low sodium” so it’s knocked out. However, this one is more of a fiber supplement, with an impressive 11 grams of fiber per serving, of which about three grams is cholesterol-lowering soluble fiber. If this is important to you, ground flaxseed, chia seeds, psyllium husk, and oatmeal are lower-sodium sources. Or you could just use a smaller portion. If the serving size was 1/4 cup (instead of 1/3 cup), the sodium would be low enough and the fiber would still be an impressive eight grams. Or, add a few tablespoons of All Bran Buds to yogurt or a low-sodium granola.
  • That Kirkland Signature Organic Ancient Grains with Probiotics granola has 19 grams of sugar per serving and 240 mg of sodium. That is a lot! It would be like adding five teaspoons of sugar to something like shredded wheat. The serving size is a whole cup though, so if you like those, maybe more of a crumble than a meal.
  • Quaker Harvest Crunch Original Muesli Cereal. Again over the sugar target, even more. Plus quite a bit of saturated fat, something we don’t typically have for cereal.
  • Post Cranberry Almond Crunch. Sugar again. And sodium. I see this so often on food records! People see almonds and cranberries and think it must be heart healthy. We’re sorry.
  • raisin bran. A bit much sugar, plus the sodium makes up more than ten percent of a daily value. From muesli!
  • Cheerios are close, but no cigar. The fiber just isn’t high enough, even in the multi-grain Cheerios. However, it does point out that it’s made from oats, meaning it’s partially soluble fiber with cholesterol-lowering potential. Would be nice if there were more of these, that’s all. Try any of the 17 cereals above. There’s even a couple that’s similar to Cheerios.
  • Special K. Despite all the women’s and weight loss advertising, this muesli is a lightweight. Look at the ingredients list.

rice, as in white rice. If there is no brown rice or any type of whole grain, it is not. And the nutritional values:

No fiber. Right, zero! They have a lot of nerve marketing it as a healthy cereal. (Peeve alert.)

  • Kashi Go Lean Crunch. A health halo hangs over the Kashi brand, but it’s just a Kellogg’s product. The whole grains are nice, but that’s quite a lot of sugar for only 3/4 cup of granola. As a general rule, anything called “crunch” has more sugar in it.

Don’t worry if we’ve just given you bad news about your favorite cereal. You can always combine with a higher-fiber, lower-sugar/lower-sodium item, or experiment with those on the Sweet Spot Sixteen (17) list. You’re bound to find one you like.

An explanation of the criteria

For the nutrition geeks out there, here is a slightly more detailed explanation of the criteria:

  • The first ingredient is a whole grain or bran. Claims on the front of the pack can be misleading, but if you see the word “whole” in the first ingredient, you’re on the right track. I also include “wheat bran” and “oat bran,” although they’re not technically whole grains, but rather the highest fiber content of the grain. If you are unsure whether an ingredient is whole grain, you can check here.
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Healthy Grains: Ingredients in All-Bran Flakes

Kellogg’s All Bran Flakes

  • It contains 8g or less of sugar per serving. See how the third ingredient above is sugar? When you see that, ask the question, “But how much?” The nutritional information table will tell you.

Ideally, less than 5% of our calories come from “added” or “free” sugar, which is about 25g if you’re consuming about 2000 calories. (There’s 4g in a teaspoon, so about six teaspoons over the course of a day.) If you go over 8g, or two teaspoons, as is the case with many cereals, it becomes a significant chunk of your sugar budget. Doesn’t leave much room for chocolate, does it?

  • It contributes at least 4g of dietary fiber. Again, if you’re eating 2000 calories, you should aim for about 28g of fiber. If you don’t get at least 4g out of your breakfast cereal, you’re going to have a hard time getting there! More would be better, but I wouldn’t settle for less than 4g. This is the number Health Canada uses to label products as High Fiber.
  • No more than 140 mg sodium. Products with 140 mg of sodium or less can be labeled “low sodium” in Canada, which seemed like a good target. For comparison, Hypertension Canada recommends no more than 2000 mg per day.

More tips for the muesli lovers among us

If you like a good bowl of cereal, go for it! If you want to make it a heart-healthier breakfast, here are a few suggestions:

  • Aim for 3/4-1 cupunless you’re a marathon runner, an active teenager, or otherwise need a lot of extra food energyDSC_0112 (1). If you’re more hungry than that…
  • Add fruits and nuts or seeds. Sprinkle a handful of blueberries for antioxidants, vitamins, and extra fiber, or slice in a banana. Sprinkle generously with slivers of almonds, hemp hearts, or chia seeds for protein, healthy fats, and even more fiber.
  • Enjoy with milk or another high-protein alternative. I usually recommend cow’s milk or soy drinks because they offer a decent amount of protein, but oat milk is fine too, with about half that. Mandel has almost none.

What hits the sweet spot?

Which of the “Sweet Spot Sixteen” (17) cereals have you tried? What did you think? Personally I enjoy the Nature’s Path Flax Plus and Heritage Flakes but haven’t tried many of the others. Join the conversation on Facebook to see what others think.

(This post is not sponsored. Nothing I write is sponsored.)

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