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Cereal: Not the breakfast of champions

Cereal is a killer—of your waistline. We're not talking Lucky Charms, but many of the healthy-looking ones, which is why nutritionists are saying to avoid them.

Bowl of cereal and breakfast smoothie

Cereal is a killer—of your waistline. We’re not talking Lucky Charms, but many of the healthy-looking brands, like Fiber One, Kashi Go Lean Crunch, and Cascadian Farms French Vanilla Almond Granola.

That’s why many nutritionists, including Kasia Michalski, founder of EatFit and an ACE certified lifestyle and weight management coach, say to avoid cereal if you’re trying to be healthy or lose some weight.

“Cereals are typically loaded with sugar, low-quality carbs, and unnecessary hydrogenated oils,” says Michalski. And, of course, they’re highly processed.

New York City nutritionist Kasia of EatFit
Kasia Michalski of EatFit says to skip cereal

If pressed to name some good choices, Michalski likes Food for Life Ezekiel Organic Sprouted Whole Grain Cereal (Almond, Golden Flax, or Original), Cascadian Farm Organic Multi Grain Squares Cereal, and good old-fashioned steel cut oatmeal—”the safest way to go,” she says.

But try to keep your serving size small—perhaps demote cereal to garnish status by sprinkling two tablespoons over fruit or yogurt.

How to tell if your favorite breakfast cereal is actually not all that healthy? Here are five things to look for:

1. Beware of oils. Not just hydrogenated oils (or trans fats), but also olive oil, which can super-size the calories. Granola, we’re talking to you.

2. Look for a high fiber content (5 grams or more), and high protein content (from whey, organic soy, nuts, and seeds). These cereals will digest more slowly and keep you satiated longer.

3. Look for low sugar content (less than 5 grams is good, less than 2 is ideal). Kashi Go Lean Crunch has 13 grams. And skip those with dried fruit, since they can amp up the sugar calories. Add real fruit to your cereal instead.

4. “Organic” doesn’t mean “healthy” or “not fattening.” Organic canola oil is still canola oil and can still be hydrogenated. Organic sugar is still sugar.

5. Consider the quality of the ingredients, not just the calories. If there is more fiber, low sugar, little to no oil, then there will naturally be fewer calories. —Melisse Gelula