As a qualified nutritionist, I’m often asked for my advice on the best quick and healthy breakfast options, and it probably comes as no surprise that everyone wants to know what the healthiest store-bought cereals are. While homemade cereals are always the best option, I’m also realistic about how busy mornings can be. There will be days when you need something quick to eat, so picking up a box of cereal from the supermarket is the easiest and quickest solution for most people.
With that said, let’s move onto my healthy cereal review for 2020. I’ll also reveal what the unhealthiest cereals are, and I’ll show you how to read cereal box labels, so you can quickly see past the marketing jargon to make healthier breakfast choices for you and your family.
What factors define if a cereal is healthy?
The problem with store-bought cereals is that most are unhealthy because they’re heavily processed or full of added sugar and additives – and that isn’t the kind of quality fuel that will power you through your day.
The good news is that there are healthy cereals on Australian supermarket shelves… you just need to know what to look for.
There are 4 factors I consider when assessing how healthy a store-bought cereal is, and I’ve listed them in order of importance:
- The type and quality of ingredients used
- The amount of sugar per 100g
- The fibre content per 100g
- The number of calories in a standard serving
You’ll notice the calories of a standard serving of cereal isn’t in my top 3. This is because, when it comes to health, the quality of the calories you’re eating is more important than the number of calories you consume. There are a number of reasons for this ‘quality first’ approach, which I’ll cover in another article soon.
What is a ‘quality’ cereal ingredient?
We classify a quality ingredient to be any food that has been used in its natural form, without manipulation. We want to ensure your first meal of the day has quality ingredients to fuel your body.
How to know if your cereal contains quality ingredients
If you want to buy a healthy cereal with quality ingredients, take a look at the ingredient list. If you see a number or a word that looks like a science experiment, chances are it isn’t a natural food and, therefore, it isn’t a quality ingredient so it doesn’t belong in our cereal.
Healthy, quality ingredients to look for when buying cereal:
- Whole grains: like rolled oats, barley, spelt, quinoa, puffed rice, etc.
- Nuts: including almonds, walnuts, brazil nuts, hazelnuts, macadamias, etc.
- Seeds: such as sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, chia seeds, linseed, etc.
It’s a good sign if the ingredients on the side of your breakfast cereal box mentions ‘whole grains’, ‘nuts’ or ‘seeds’ but, be warned, this doesn’t mean your cereal is definitely healthy. There could be other factors holding it back, which I’ll explain next.
Keep on reading to learn the full story of what makes a healthy cereal, how to read a cereal’s nutritional panel, plus we explain our problem with vegetable oil and how to spot hidden sugars in cereal!
Why we don’t recommend cereals with artificial ingredients, preservatives or ‘natural flavours’.
We have a ‘just eat real food’ philosophy at 28, and we recommend eating a diet rich in wholefoods, that are as close to their natural form as possible. So any ingredient that is synthetic, made or manipulated in a lab simply doesn’t meet our real food standards. For similar reasons, we don’t recommend ‘natural flavours’ for regular consumption as, although they have been derived from natural sources, it may have gone through a number of unknown manipulations before it reaches your food. Reference: FDA
How to read the ingredients list on your box of cereal
A helpful thing to know is that food labels always show ingredients in an ordered list, from highest percentage in the cereal to the lowest. So, if you see sugar as one of the first few items mentioned, drop that box and run!
One way to find a healthy, low-sugar cereal is to avoid any product with added sugar. Of course, sometimes the biggest challenge is recognizing sugar for what it is. Sugar can be sneaky, and can hide in your ingredients list under many different names.
Sugar sneaks into your cereal under different names, so get used to all the names it likes to hide behind!
You can find hidden sugar content by the sugar levels on the nutritional panel, you can also recognize it by the name used in the ingredient panel… if you can recognize the name!
It is important to have a look at the ingredients list on the nutrition label to see the overall sugar content of any product you buy, because sugar sneaks into your cereal under different names. For example, the following ingredients are all commonly found in cereals, and they are ALL sugar:
- Golden syrup
- Glucose syrup
- Maple syrup
- Rice malt syrup
- Date syrup
- High-fructose corn syrup
- Brown sugar
- Raw sugar
- Agave syrup
- Coconut nectar syrup
- … And the list goes on!
Can you find the sugars on this label?
An example of this is the following ingredient list, taken from the side of a Kellogg’s Sustain cereal box. Not only is there ‘sugar’ in the list below, but also ‘invert syrup’ and ‘barley malt extract’, both of which are hidden sugars that we need to be mindful of.
How to read the nutrition panel and check if sugar is hiding in your cereal
- Look at the cereal’s nutrition panel
- Directly underneath ‘carbohydrates’, you’ll find ‘sugars’.
- Look across at the amount of sugar per 100g
- The number you’ll see tells you what percentage of the cereal is pure sugar.
Let’s look at Kellogg’s Sustain to see where to find the sugar content.
Lowest sugar cereals in Australia
If you’re a diabetic, or you’re only concerned about the sugar content in your cereal rather than the overall quality of the cereal, here is our list of Australian supermarket cereals with the lowest sugar content.
- *Uncle Toby’s Vita Brits (0.4% sugar)
- Jordan’s Low Sugar Granola (2.9% sugar)
- *Sanitarium Wheetbix (3.3% sugar)
- *Kelloggs Corn Flakes (7.2% sugar)
- Carman’s Original Fruit Free Muesli (8% sugar) – our winner for healthiest cereal!
*Note: Cereal 1, 3 and 5 do NOT meet our criteria for a healthy cereal.
While these cereals may be low in sugar, they don’t stack up to our other criteria that determine a healthy cereal, so we’d recommend going for a product from the winners of our healthiest cereal review, as you’ll get more benefit nutritionally.
Highest sugar cereal in Australia
This product is 41.3% sugar!! It’s mindblowing it’s still allowed to be marketed as a cereal!
What are ‘free sugars’? And why should we worry?
Alas, it doesn’t mean they’re free from calories. Free sugars refer to sugars that have been added to a food product by the manufacturer and is not naturally occurring within the food itself. Unfortunately so many packaged foods have free sugars added to them in order to make them more palatable, which is another reason why we say it’s best to eat natural, real food and avoid packaged, labelled foods.
World Health Organisation’s Recommendation on ‘free sugars’
The World Health Organisation recommends keeping our daily intake of free sugars below 5-10% of our total energy intake.
What is the maximum amount of sugar in a cereal before it becomes unhealthy?
We believe that up to 8% is a reasonable amount of sugar for a product to contain. This also keeps it within the range that is commonly considered a ‘low sugar’ food.
Buy cereals that have no more than 8g of sugar per 100g.
How much fibre should healthy cereal have?
Given most Australians don’t eat enough fibre, we should aim to incorporate higher fibre foods into all of our meals, and breakfast is no exception.
Fibre is an essential part of a healthy diet, it is vital for our digestive health and can help to regulate our weight. Unfortunately, most people aren’t getting anywhere near a healthy level of daily fibre, with a recent study reporting only 42.3% of children and 28.2% of adults achieved an adequate intake of fibre in Australia.NCBI
A healthy fibre content for cereal should be around 10g of fibre per 100g of product.
How many calories should a healthy cereal have?
We don’t advocate counting calories as a general practice, but they can be useful to consider when it comes to weight loss. When looking at calories, it is important to factor in the ingredients that the calories come from, and this links back to our earlier criteria of only eating quality ingredients.
On average, a recommended breakfast on our 28 program is around 400 calories. This includes the cereal (usually a tasty, homemade serve of muesli), along with any of the ingredients that you plan to serve it up with, such as milk or fruit or additional nuts
Look for a cereal around 200-300 calories per serve, depending on what you’ll be serving it up with of course.
What is the healthiest cereal in Australian Supermarkets?
If you haven’t got time to worry about the details and just need a simple guideline then I recommend muesli as the easiest and healthiest cereal option you can buy. Of course, some mueslis are better than others, so keep on reading for the healthiest cereals to buy.
The truth is, the healthiest cereals aren’t sitting in the supermarket, the healthiest cereals are the ones you make at home. And, in our opinion, homemade muesli is the healthiest cereal of all. Get our favourite fast & healthy homemade muesli recipe.
Whole Grain Oats, Nuts (Almonds 9%), Pecans 1%), Golden Syrup, Seeds (Sunflower Seeds, Pepitas 3%, Sesame Seeds), Sunflower Oil, Oat Flour, Cinnamon.
Serving size: 45g
Sugar per 100g: 8g
Fibre per 100g: 9.6g
Calories per 100g: 451 kcal
THE NUTRITIONIST’S VIEW: Overall, most of the ingredients are good and meet our quality ingredient criteria, however golden syrup and sunflower oil are ingredients we don’t recommend as something you consume regularly. With just 8% sugar, it just passes the sugar test and also has a decent fibre content. In terms of calories, it’s 203 kcal per serve, which is the perfect amount to then serve with natural Greek yoghurt and fresh berries of your choice.
Other healthy(ish) store cereals if you’re in a rush
Any cereals that meet (or come close to meeting) our recommended criteria of a healthy cereal are fine for when you don’t have the time to make up your own batch. This store-bought cereal came in as a very close second best for the healthiest cereal award:
Whole Grain Oat Flakes (55%), Barley Flakes (19%), Chicory Root Fibre (11%), Nuts (7%) (Sliced & Whole Almonds (5%), Chopped Roasted Hazelnuts (2%)), Sunflower Oil, Seeds (1%) (Pumpkin Seeds, Sunflower Seeds), Desiccated Coconut, Natural Flavouring.
Serving size: 45g
Sugar per 100g: 2.9g
Fibre per 100g: 7.9
Calories per 100g: 448 kcal
THE NUTRITIONIST’S VIEW: Here, the sunflower oil and natural flavouring are not ingredients that we normally recommend but it does have very low sugar levels and the fibre content is close to the recommended amounts. Overall this product and similar ones, are better than many of the other cereals in Australia supermarkets. [The term natural flavour does require that the flavour be derived from real food, however the keyword here is ‘derived’. As we focus on whole foods, as close to their natural form as possible, we don’t recommend natural flavours for regular consumption. Reference: FDA
Why we don’t recommend vegetable oil in cereals
Vegetable oils are polyunsaturated fats and oils, like sunflower oil and canola oil, which are high in omega-6.
The reason why we recommend avoiding vegetable oil is that an average western diet typically provides us with too much omega-6 in proportion to the amount of omega-3 we consume.
For optimal health, the recommended ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 is 1:1.
The problem with consuming omegas in an incorrect ratio, especially if we consume too much omega-6, is that it can contribute to inflammation and weight gain.NCBI
What are omega-6 & omega-3s?
Both omega-3 and omega-6 are essential fatty acids that our bodies need, but cannot make. This means we must obtain both of them through our diet.
The healthiest cereal to buy NOT stocked in supermarkets
For the purpose of this article, we looked at what you can buy in the major Australian supermarkets. However, there are more options to buy in Australia that aren’t in a big supermarket. Often you can find a wider range of healthy options online or in health food stores. Given that, we felt it important to at least mention one healthy cereal you can buy online that is NOT stocked by the main Aussie supermarkets.
CEREAL REVIEW: The Muesli
One of the best breakfast cereals available is ‘The Muesli’. Sadly, this one has not made it to the supermarket shelves, but it is worth buying online or from health food shops that stock them.
Rolled Oats, Almonds, Cashews, Walnuts, Hazelnuts, Brazil Nuts, Sunflower Seeds, Sesame Seeds, Linseed, Pumpkin Seeds, Coconut.
Serving size: 50g
Sugar per 100g: 1.6g
Fibre per 100g: 9.3
Calories per 100g: 525 kcal
THE NUTRITIONIST’S VIEW: Taking more of a look at this product, it meets all of the main criteria by having good quality ingredients, low sugar and high fibre.
Did you know?
Our list of healthiest supermarket cereals might be the healthiest cereals you can buy, but they aren’t the healthiest cereals you can eat.
There’s an even healthier cereal!
Your best option is to make up a batch of homemade muesli because you get to choose the highest quality ingredients, and you are able to avoid all the questionable ingredients that sneak into even the best store-bought cereals.
Check out our time and money-saving hack to make the healthiest homemade muesli!
What is an unhealthy breakfast cereal?
Unhealthy cereals will have:
- high sugar
- low fibre
- an excessive number of calories per serve
How much sugar is too much in a cereal?
Anything over 10g of sugar per 100g is not going to give you a great start to the day, particularly if you’ll be serving it with foods that already have naturally occurring sugars.
Sugary cereals may satisfy our sweet tooth but it won’t leave us full and satisfied until our next meal. Even worse, high sugar cereals cause a spike in our blood sugar and, although they act as fast energy, the subsequent blood sugar drop isn’t pleasant, and it’s likely to send us hunting for more energy-rich treats which will create an unhealthy cycle that can be hard to break.
The unhealthiest cereals in Australia (2020)
If you asked a friend to name five popular cereals, most of the products would likely be something a nutritionist would struggle to call an acceptable breakfast food. Almost all of the popular cereals are heavily processed and full of refined ingredients, added sugar and unnatural preservatives.
It’s a sad state of affairs that most of the foods being marketed to Australians are simply not good for us to consume on a daily basis. This includes products from popular cereal brands like Uncle Toby’s, Kelloggs and Sanitarium.
The 3 worst cereals in Australia
Kellogg’s Crunchy Nut Cornflakes
Kellogg’s Coco Pops
Kellogg’s Fruit Loops
Cereals people think are healthy… but aren’t!
‘Just Right’ from Kelloggs is a perfect example of an unhealthy cereal that people regularly mistake for being good for you. If you take a look at the label, you’ll soon see why.
Whole Grains (64%)(Wheat, Oats), Fruit (Sultanas, Apricot Piece [5%] [Concentrated Apricot Puree, Concentrated Apple Puree, Invert Sugar, Humectant (Glycerol), Sugar, Wheat Fibre, Gelling Agent (Pectin), Acidity Regulator (296), Natural Flavour, Colours (Tumeric, Paprika)]), Sugar, Puffed Triticale, Wheat Flour, Barley Malt Extract, Salt, Natural Flavour, Minerals (Iron), Vitamins (Niacin, Riboflavin, Folate, Thiamin).
Serving size: 40g
Sugar per 100g: 22.9
Fibre per 100g: 10.2
Calories per 100g: 363 kcal
THE NUTRITIONIST’S VIEW: Looking at the above information, it’s clear that there are numerous ingredients that do not meet the guidelines. Additionally, it’s high in sugar, being almost 23% sugar. The fibre content is high, however, this doesn’t negate the fact Just Right is full of unhealthy ingredients and contains far too much sugar.
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Other kinds of unhealthy cereals to avoid
If a cereal doesn’t pass our top 3 criteria for having quality ingredients, low sugar and high fibre, our advice is simple: buy something else.
Muesli is generally a healthy choice, but this product proves the guideline can be wrong!
Muesli is perceived as a healthy option, and it usually is, but you still need to be vigilent and look at nutritional label to be 100% sure. Don’t believe us? Let’s take a look at a not-so-healthy muesli sold in Australian supermarkets by Morning Sun.
CEREAL REVIEW: Morning Sun Natural 97% Fat Free Muesli 650g
Wholegrain Wheat (39%), Rolled Barley (36%), (Dried Fruits [Sultanas (8%), Currants (4%), Apricot (2%), Paw Paw Pieces (Paw Paw (0.7%), Sugar), Apple (1%), (Preservative ( 220 ), ( 223 )*)], Wheat Bran, Sugar, Malt Extract ( Barley ), Salt, Emulsifier (471). Vitamins and Minerals Vitamins(E, B1, Niacin, Folic Acid, B6, B2), Minerals (Iron and Zinc).
Serving size: 45g
Sugar per 100g: 14.1
Fibre per 100g: 10.3
Calories per 100g: 339
THE NUTRITIONIST’S VIEW: There are preservatives and emulsifiers in this cereal which we don’t recommend so sadly it doesn’t meet our ‘just eat real food’ philosophy. It also has added sugar which means it has a higher sugar content than we’d like. The fibre is high, so that is a positive, however this isn’t enough to overcome all the other negative factors, so we can’t consider it a “healthy cereal”. It’s better than Just Right, and it’s a lot better than something like Fruit Loops, but still, there are a lot of healthier alternatives out there so we’d recommend you give Morning Sun’s Natural 97% Fat Free Muesli a miss.
What else should you consider when choosing a healthy cereal?
Some of our tips when shopping for a healthy muesli or cereal include:
- Choose fruit free options
You can add your own fresh fruit when you’re serving up your breakfast.
- Look at the ingredients list
Check to see if the ingredients are natural and make sure there are no added sugars, preservatives, artificial flavours, etc.
- Plain is best
Avoid gourmet or fancy flavours, chances are that they need added flavours and sweeteners to get this taste.
- Don’t fall for marketing claims
Disregard all claims of ‘Low fat’, ‘No added sugar’, ‘Packed full of superfoods’, and look for the facts. The truth will always be found in the ingredients list and nutrition panel.
Our time & money hack for the healthiest cereal in Australia
Homemade muesli! One of our favourite muesli time (and money) saving ‘hacks’ is buying a large bag of rolled oats and a bag of mixed nuts and simply… combining them! Yes, it can be that easy.
Sure, once a month you’ll have to buy your ingredients and take a few minutes to mix your ingredients in an airtight container but, every morning after that, there isn’t a faster or healthier cereal we can think of!
To serve your healthy muesli for breakfast, just add some fresh milk or natural Greek yoghurt and scatter some of your favourite seasonal fruits and, voila, you’re ready to eat the healthiest muesli you can find!
HOW TO SAVE EVEN MORE MONEY: You’ll save the most money by buying your rolled oats and mixed nuts in bulk, as your muesli will store in the cupboard in an airtight container for up to a month.
Remember, healthy eating is often just about going back to basics and at 28 we aim to make this as achievable as possible through little tricks, just like this. In the end, healthy cereals, or food of any kind, comes down to choosing good quality ingredients. And if you only remember one thing today, remember this: just eat real food.