Cereal has been an American breakfast staple for decades, but consumers have lately started exchanging their previously beloved Chocolate Frosted Sugar Bombs for more portable items like granola bars and Triple Breakfast Stacks. This might be because we all wised up to the fact that eating cereal while driving is, at best, somewhat tricky.
Another possible explanation might be that more people have come to realize that many mainstream cereals are loaded with sugar (although admittedly this doesn’t explain why Americans are turning to Triple Breakfast Stacks, which are also unhealthy AF). Nonetheless, the decline of cereal must have at least something to do with the fact that Americans are becoming more health-conscious.
In order to help cereal lovers mitigate the damage by choosing healthier flakes, we asked Dana Hunnes, senior dietitian at the Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center, to help us rank popular brands of cereal — from kinda unhealthy to very unhealthy.
Note: We’re ranking cereals without milk added. If you want to know how the addition of milk affects your cereal, check out our ranking of every type of milk.
With that, let’s rank 10 of the most popular cereals…
1. Raisin Bran: “This cereal has double the portion size [59 grams] when compared to the other cereals on this list, so keep that in mind in regards to the calorie content,” Hunnes says. (One serving contains 190 calories, 200 milligrams of sodium, seven grams of fiber, 18 grams of sugar and five grams of protein.) “Per calorie, Raisin Bran has the highest amount of fiber and protein, while sporting the lowest amount of sugar. Raisin Bran is also most likely to keep you full for the longest because of its fiber and portion size.”
2. Special K: “This has the next largest portion size at 39 grams,” Hunnes says, adding that Special K has a similar portion of sugar when compared to Raisin Bran if you consider the difference in serving size. “It has less fiber per calorie and much more more sodium per calorie.” One serving of Special K contains 150 calories, 270 milligrams of sodium, less than one gram of fiber, five grams of sugar and seven grams of protein.
3. Life: “This has a smaller portion size [32 grams] that won’t fill up anyone except maybe my four-year-old,” Hunnes explains. “It has less fiber than the two mentioned above [per calorie], and it has a fairly high amount of sodium for the portion size. It doesn’t, however, overdo the sugar.” One serving of Life contains 120 calories, 160 milligrams of sodium, two grams of fiber, six grams of sugar and three grams of protein.
4. Honeycomb: Similar to Life, the portion size for Honeycomb is 32 grams. “It has more sugar than Life, but less sodium and minimal fiber, which isn’t good,” Hunnes emphasizes, since fiber helps us absorb vitamins from food and aids with digestion. One serving of Honeycomb contains 130 calories, 150 milligrams of sodium, less than one gram of fiber, 10 grams of sugar and two grams of protein.
5. Oreo O’s: “While definitely not healthy, at least this product doesn’t contain food dyes and is made mostly of ingredients that I can recognize as a dietitian,” Hunnes says. “But trust me, this doesn’t make a healthy meal.” One serving (30 grams) of Oreo O’s contains 120 calories, 150 milligrams of sodium, less than one gram of fiber, 13 grams of sugar and one gram of protein.
6. Pops and Cap’n Crunch (tied): “These two cereals are almost identical in their nutrient profiles, which refers to calories, fiber, sodium and sugar,” Hunnes explains — one serving of Pops (30 grams) contains 120 calories, 105 grams of sodium, zero grams of fiber, nine grams of sugar and one gram of protein, whereas one serving of Cap’n Crunch (27 grams) contains 110 calories, 210 milligrams of sodium, less than one gram of fiber, 12 grams of sugar and one gram of protein. If she absolutely had to choose one over the other, Hunnes says that Cap’n Crunch might be worse due to the existence of artificial colors, “Which aren’t necessarily safe, especially for young children.”
8. Froot Loops and Trix (tied): “Again, these are very similar products made by two different companies,” Hunnes says. “They’re both sugary, refined, low in fiber, high in sodium and filled with food dyes. They won’t really keep anyone full. It’s like eating a bowl full of sugar.” One serving of Froot Loops (29 grams) contains 110 calories, 150 milligrams of sodium, three grams of fiber 10 grams of sugar and two grams of protein, while one serving of Trix (31 grams) contains 120 calories, 150 milligrams of sodium, one gram of fiber, 10 grams of sugar and one gram of protein.
10. Count Chocula: “Not only is this a fairly unhealthy meal, full of sugar and lacking fiber, it also has food dyes in it,” Hunnes says. One serving of Count Chocula (27 grams) contains 100 calories, 130 milligrams of sodium, one gram of fiber, nine grams of sugar and one gram of protein.
Even if your favorite cereal sits toward the bottom of this list, take solace in the fact that even a bowl (or two) of Count Chocula is a much better choice than that new Triple Breakfast Stack from McDonald’s, which boasts a whopping 780 calories and 1,560 milligrams of sodium and is, for all intents and purposes, an eggy heart attack bomb.