"First, I want to say that whole grain cereal can be a fantastic start to your day. You can get fiber, plus vitamins and minerals in your bowl. So not all cereal is bad!" says Frances Largeman-Roth, RDN, nutrition expert and author of Smoothies & Juices: Prevention Healing Kitchen. "But yes, some of them are very high in added sugars, giving you 12 to 17 grams of added sugar or more per serving."
The added sugar issue is one (big) thing, but Largeman-Roth says that the main drawback of having sweet cereal for breakfast—especially if you're eating it daily—is that you're missing out on an important opportunity to pack more nutrient-dense foods into your diet. "Breakfast is a prime time to get a ton of fiber, protein, and antioxidants, as well as calcium and other vitamins and minerals," she explains. A simple healthy breakfast swap you can make to capitalize on that opportunity is to choose a fresh smoothie instead.
Heart, gut, and longevity benefits of swapping sugary breakfast cereal for smoothies
"Swapping your sugary cereal and replacing it with a plant-based smoothie provides you with an excellent way to both leave the added sugars behind and pack in several servings of disease-fighting fruits and veggies, as well as protein, healthy fats, and a ton of fiber," Largeman-Roth says. "The fiber is beneficial for gut health and heart health, while the fruits and veggies provide nutrients like magnesium, potassium, folic acid, niacin, and calcium, which all support heart health." And seeing as most Americans are far from meeting their recommended fiber intake, this opportunity to consume more of it (in the form of fresh fruits, nuts, seeds, or even avocado) can quite literally add years to your life.
Your bones with thank you, too: Largeman-Roth says that using cow's milk in your smoothie will get you 30 percent of your daily recommended calcium, but you can also get calcium if you use a fortified plant milk, such as sesame milk or flax milk. Almonds, chia seeds, yogurt, and leafy greens are other excellent sources of calcium that taste delicious in smoothies.
The fresh fruits and veggies in your breakfast smoothie also pack plenty of polyphenols, aka potent antioxidants that you can't get from sugary cereal, says LA-based cardiologist Dr. Alejandro Junger, MD, founder and Medical Director of the Clean Program. "These are the compounds that plants manufacture for different reasons, such as color, scent, defense...when in our bloodstream and available to cells, they have powerful benefits," he explains. "For example, blue fruits and vegetables have polyphenols that are brain protective. The full beneficial effects of these compounds cannot be reproduced by isolating each polyphenol and taking it as a supplement."
Antioxidants have been shown to fight inflammation and free radicals, both of which destabilize the cells in your body. “Over time, this can result in oxidative stress, which is the process that accelerates aging and damages cell DNA,” Samantha Cassetty, MS, RD previously told Well+Good. “Ultimately, this can promote cancer and other health conditions. I like to think of cell damage like a chair with four legs—when one of the legs is broken, the chair is unstable. Antioxidant-rich foods help repair this damage, so your cells stay stable. This maintains your cellular health and helps protect you from cancer and other diseases.”
All fruits contain antioxidants, so choose whatever ones fit the flavor profile of your smoothie. We're particularly partial to this protein-rich recipe that packs blueberries and leafy greens:
How often does the dietitian recommend making this healthy breakfast swap?
Largeman-Roth says that this healthy breakfast swap can be super beneficial for your health even just two-to-three times a week. And that's not to say you can never eat Lucky Charms again; it just means you should consider sipping a protein-rich smoothie alongside them. "It’s perfectly fine to enjoy a bowl of sweetened cereal on occasion, but try to look at breakfast as a huge opportunity each day to improve your wellness," she says. "That’s what helps keep me on track!" You can also go for one of these protein-packed breakfast cereals that won over the heart of a registered dietitian.
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