3 Reasons to Make Your Own Breakfast Cereal

By: Isabel Smith, MS, RD, CDN

Breakfast is often touted as the most important meal, and rightfully so– it’s the first meal you put in your body before a busy day. Because breakfast aims to power you up for the day, picking the right food that is both nutritious and provides long-lasting energy is important.

Of the many different breakfast options, cereals are a popular, quick-fix for breakfast. When they’re fresh, fiber-filled and home-made they make for a great way to start the day; however, most often it’s easier to pick ready-prepared varieties that are often laden with extra calories, sugar and artificial colorings.

Things to look out for in popular breakfast cereals:

  1. Extra Calories: Packaged and processed foods like cereals tend to be rich sources of extra and empty calories that typically come from artificial sources, so our bodies may not process them as well and in some cases when coupled with extra sugar can lead to weight gain and elevated blood sugars. Although homemade breakfast cereals may also be laden with calories (due to reasons such as added higher-calorie items such as nuts, added fruits, and even larger portion sizes), we can better adjust our ingredients when making foods in the home, allowing us to make better and more healthful options. To make the best choices, be conscious of portion sizes and cut back on items that are denser in calories (nuts, honey, added crunchy toppings such as granola) while picking ingredients that are nutrient dense such as: berries, shredded coconut, smaller portions of nuts.
  2. Sugar: Sugar comes in all shapes and sizes and is often snuck into processed foods in the sneakiest of ways. For example, ingredients that read “pear juice concentrate” or “mango puree” can mean added sugar, and although these types of ingredients appear healthful, in most cases they are added to make your food sweeter.
    Cereals usually range from 3-25+ grams of sugar per serving, depending on the cereal (remember 1 teaspoon of sugar equals 4 gm of sugar); therefore, cereals that contain 24 grams, actually contain 6 teaspoons of sugar per serving.Would you pile 6 teaspoons of sugar on your cereal?
    The answer is probably not, so try to aim for foods that contain not only less than 8 or 10 grams of sugar per serving (and even that is a lot!) and those that contain sugar from natural sources such as honey. Reading the ingredient label will give you a better idea of what kind of sugar they’re adding, which is just as important as how much. Remember that fruits and even vegetables have natural carbohydrates and sugars in them, but what they don’t have is concentrated sources of sugar. As always, it’s best to purchase the plainest variety you can find with the least ingredients, or make your cereal from scratch and add just a little natural sweetness from a touch of honey or by adding fruit.
  3. Added chemicals: Added man-made chemicals are frequently found in manufactured foods such as cereals and packaged foods and tend to be foreign to our bodies and over time may contribute to poor health outcomes in addition to providing little nutritional value to our food.
  • Artificial dyes: Although many cereals are beautiful and brightly colored,  unfortunately most of those colorings don’t come from natural sources. The most popular and FDA-approved include Yellow #5, Blue #1, and Red #40 — the same dyes that may not only be in the food you’re eating but may also be found in your skincare products (yes you may be consuming the same artificial dye that’s found in your shampoo). Since their creation, most artificial dyes have been removed from the list of those allowed to be used in foods- as many of them have been found to promote adverse health effects and in some cases, have been found to be carcinogenic. Although most found to be unsafe have been removed from the ingredient list, there is still pending research on those commonly used and their overall safety to our health. For example yellow #5 in its relationship to hyperactivity, migraines, and cancer. If you live in Europe, you won’t find Yellow #5 in your food because it’s already been banned, but here in the U.S. we’re still using it. If you’re buying food that has been colored using dyes, aim for all-natural ones, like turmeric and beet.
  • Added chemicals, such as Phosphates:Phosphorus along with calcium plays an important role in building healthy and strong bones and in maintaining the health of bones; however, a phosphorus imbalance, which occurs most often for those with kidney disease or decreased kidney function, can cause elevated phosphorus levels in the blood stream.  Inability to clear phosphorus from the blood or elevated phosphrous levels, can promote calcium leaching from the bones and therefore may be detrimental to bone health among other things.The most readily absorbable form is found in processed foods that use chemicals starting with “PHOS” as preservatives and flavor enhancers. Unlike the natural phosphorus found in animal proteins and plant-based foods that your body absorbs only a portion of, research suggests that your body may absorb this type of phosphorus at almost 100%, and what’s worse, we have no way of measuring how much chemical phosphorus is in these processed foods. Even if you don’t have kidney problems– avoiding artificial phosphorus is beneficial for everyone- as having an excess of phosphorus can be dangerous for anyone’s bone health.

So what can you do to avoid these? Make your cereals at home! Healthy and homemade breakfast cereals can be quick, easy, healthful and inexpensive.

Making a Healthy Breakfast Cereal:

When identifying a healthful grain to use as a breakfast cereal, it’s important to look for a few key ingredients: fiber and protein. Both fiber and protein in your breakfast cereal grain will help to slow digestion, keeping you feeling fuller for longer. Try to aim for 3-4 grams of fiber per serving and 4+ grams of protein per serving.

Below are a few favorite healthful grains that can be used to make a healthful breakfast cereal. Most of them listed below are naturally gluten free- just by chance, but gluten-containing, healthful grains can be used to make a delicious and all-natural breakfast cereal too.

1. Teff:
(per 1/4 cup uncooked)
175 calories
4 gm fiber
6 gm protein
200 mg potassium
90 mg calcium

Teff is often referred to as an ancient grain, like quinoa and contains a similar nutrient profile as it provides a complete source of protein (many plant based sources of protein do not contain all 9 essential amino acids).

How to use teff: It’s delicious when paired with berries, nuts like cashews or almonds, and shredded coconut. Try this Teff Oatmeal with Almonds & Blueberries.

2. Kaniwa
(per 1/4 cup uncooked)
160 calories
3 gm fiber
7 gm protein

Kaniwa is a small brown grain with a texture similar to quinoa, and it is also a complete source of plant-based protein (contains all 9 essential amino acids), similar to quinoa and teff.

How to use Kaniwa: Swap kaniwa in for teff or quinoa in breakfast cereal recipes

3. Quinoa:
(per 1/4 cup uncooked)
~150 calories
6 gm protein
3 gm fiber
~240 mg potassium

Quinoa is another powerful plant-based source of protein and makes for a great breakfast cereal.

How to use quinoa: Add your favorite fruit and nut toppings for a quick and healthy breakfast. Try it in this Berry Breakfast Quinoa recipe..

4. Steel Cut Oats:
(per 1/4 cup uncooked)
150 calories
4 gm fiber
5 gm protein

Steel cut oats are an old fashioned favorite. They’re heart-healthy with a source of soluble fiber (the kind of fiber that dissolves in water) and have long been touted as a great way to start the day.

How to use steel cut oats: Steel cut oats can be tedious to prepare because they may often take a long time to make. To cut down on preparation time, the night before add 1 portion of steel cut oats to a pot with appropriate water as per directions and bring pot to a boil. Once boiling, turn pot off and let sit until the morning. At prep time the following morning more water may need to be added heat over medium heat until warm and add favorite toppings such as nuts, chia seeds, berries or other fruit.

5. Rolled oats:
(per 1/2 cup uncooked)
190 calories
5 gm fiber
7 gm protein
168 mg potassium

Another classic favorite, rolled oats take less time to prepare than steel cut oats and can also be used in making other items such as healthy smart sweets.

How to use: They cook more quickly than steel cut oats and are typically easier to prepare, so they can make for a quicker fix when it comes to breakfast. Add your favorite fruit and nuts for a balanced and nutritious breakfast.

6. Millet:
(per 1/4 cup uncooked)
190 calories
5 gm protein
4 gm fiber

How to useMillet can be used similar to quinoa or kaniwa and can make for a nice change to frequently used oats or quinoa. Add a selection of nuts and fruit for natural flavorings.

7. Buckwheat groats:
(per 1/4 cup uncooked)
140 calories
5 gm protein
4 gm fiber

How to use: Buckwheat groats are similar to oats and have a slightly nuttier flavor. Use them as you would when preparing rolled oats- cook them using the overnight oats recipe or make them on the stovetop in the morning.

For any cereal you decide to make, consider cutting the sugar and artificial additives in commercial breakfast cereals and add your own healthful toppings:

– berries/fruit
– goji berries
– nuts: almonds, cashews, or any other favorites
– unsweetened coconut
cacao nibs
– honey for a touch of sweetness
– favorite fruit- bananas, berries, peaches- fresh or frozen can be used
– your own favorite toppings- such as home-made granola or a simple berry compote

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Isabel Smith, MS, RD, CDN

Isabel is a Registered Dietitian, wellness expert and fitness coach. Isabel has her own nutrition and wellness practice based in New York City, Isabel Smith Nutrition, but she works with clients and corporations both nationwide and worldwide in a variety of areas including skin health, weight loss, gastrointestinal issues and allergies, sports nutrition, general wellness and more. As a Guided Reboot coach, Isabel has helped hundreds juice their way to better health. When she isn’t helping clients achieve optimal nutrition and wellness, she can be found trying and creating new juices and making other healthy recipes, running, cooking, spinning, practicing yoga, and enjoying time with her two Yorkshire terriers. Isabel is also one of the nutritionists who runs our Guided Reboot programs.

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