Breakfast is known to be the most important meal of the day, mostly for its ability to jumpstart your metabolism. But let’s face it, we all can admit to sleeping an extra ten minutes instead of making time for a balanced, healthy breakfast before class.

Cereal has two very enticing qualities – it’s easy and it’s quick. If you aren’t careful, this can often be a recipe for spikes in sugar and all around unhealthiness. Since I’m not convinced that the desire for sleep diminishes during college years, cereal choice is crucial.

The first and most important step is to look at nutrition labels. Most companies will go to great lengths to hide the high levels of sugar or fat in their products, promoting other nutrients in big bold letters on the front of the box. But we’re here to help you navigate nutrition labels and be aware of what you’re putting in your belly.


Photo by Jessica Payne

Here are just a handful of cereals that are especially crummy for your health, based on the existence of trans fat, sugar levels and high fructose corn syrup per serving.

Cereal Serving Size (cups) Calories Total Fat (g) Saturated Fat (g) Fiber (g) Sugar (g) Protein (g) Trans Fat? High Fructose Corn Syrup?
Honey Smacks (Kellogg’s) .75 100 .5 0 1 15 2 Yes No
Basic 4 (General Mills) 1 200 3 .5 3 13 4 Yes No
Fruity Pebbles (Post) 30 g 110 1 1 3 11 1 Yes No
Corn Pops (Kellogg’s) 1 120 1 .5 1 13 1 Yes Yes
Froot Loops (Kellogg’s) 1 120 1 .5 1 13 1 Yes Yes
Corn Pops (Kellogg’s) 1 120 0 0 Less than 1 14 1 Yes No
Lucky Charms (General Mills) .75 110 1 0 1 11 2 No No
Frosted Flakes (Kellogg’s) .75 110 1 0 1 11 2 No No
Golden Grahams (General Mills) .75 120 1 0 1 11 2 No No

The American Heart Association defines trans fats as an inexpensive and industrialized version of vegetable oils, created to last a long time and deceivingly help make food taste good. This cholesterol booster is most commonly listed as “partially hydrogenated oil” on nutrition labels. Be sure to watch out for this, as some consider it to be the worst ingredient available.

In terms of sugar, the number on the label is often a combination of added and natural sugars, if any. Natural sugars exist in foods such as fructose found in fruit or lactose in milk. Added sugars are put in during production processes, and not only contain absolutely zero nutritional value, but they also carry lots of extra unwanted calories. There are several different names that added sugars identify with, including cane sugar, molasses, corn sweetener, high fructose corn syrup and anything that ends in “ose,”.

High fructose corn syrup is unfortunately extremely prevalent in many processed foods today. Its inexpensive quality allows manufacturers to replace expensive sugars with it. Manufacturers create it by synthetically turning cornstarch into a sweet syrup, which is then turned into various other syrups for different processed foods.

But don’t worry, there are still some cereals out there that will get you those sacred extra minutes of sleep and actually benefit your health at the same time, especially in terms of protein and fiber. You will notice that none of these cereals have trans fat, and almost all of them are free of high fructose corn syrup.

Cereal Serving Size (cups) Calories Total Fat (g) Saturated Fat (g) Fiber (g) Sugar (g) Protein (g) Trans Fat? High Fructose Corn Syrup?
Shredded Wheat (Post) 47 200 1 0 6 0 5 No No
Cheerio’s (General Mills) 1 100 2 0 3 1 3 No No
Wheaties (General Mills) .75 100 .5 0 3 4 3 No No
Grape Nuts (Post) 58 g 200 1 0 7 4 6 No No
GOLEAN Cereal (Kashi) 1 140 1 0 10 6 13 No No
Fiber One (General Mills) .5 60 1 0 14 0 2 No No
All-Bran (Kellogg’s) .5 80 1 0 10 6 4 No Yes

Photo by Jessica Payne

If your cereal of choice isn’t listed, follow these rules and you’ll surely be on your A game until lunchtime.

Rule #1: Avoid the sugar. This is breakfast, not dessert. One serving of cereal should have less than 10 grams of it, but that doesn’t mean a cereal with nine grams is considered healthy. You should aim for the lowest amount of sugar possible, and take into consideration what the cereal is actually sweetened with, whether it be natural or artificial ingredients.

Rule #2: The more protein, the better. A cereal should have at least 3 grams of protein per serving to make sure your stomach doesn’t start growling during class.

Rule #3: Fiber makes you fuller, longer. Experts recommend a minimum of 5 grams of fiber per serving.

Rule #4: Look for a label from the American Heart Association. This will ensure that the cereal is restricted in fats, sodium, sugar, provides plenty of fiber and is free of partially hydrogenated oils.

One complaint that some people have against some of these hearty cereals is the difference in taste. Of course Frosted Flakes’ 11 grams of artificial sugary sweetness can appeal to the sweet tooth, but adding dried fruit to a bland cereal or mixing it with Greek yogurt are both naturally healthy ways to spruce it up.