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Cheerios, Honey Nut, Frosted Flakes; Which one to choose?

The nutritional value of your favourite cereals might make you say “Cheerio”.

Breakfast of champions. This phrase might make you think of a hearty, greasy bacon platter. Or even a martini if you’ve read the Kurt Vonnegut book with the same title. But it was first coined by General Mills to describe “Wheaties” in the 1930s while sponsoring baseball games; the slogan is used to this day. The popularity of Wheaties has waned and new champions, namely Cheerios, Honey Nut Cheerios, and Frosted Flakes have emerged.

If you’re a cereal eater, like nine out of ten Canadians, you may be wondering which is really the best cereal? Leaving taste aside, let’s focus on nutritional value.

For starters, we need to differentiate between the classic Cheerios and its spin-off, Honey Nut Cheerios. It’s no secret the Honey Nut flavour is sweeter, but this comes at a cost – 1 cup of regular Cheerios contains 1 gram of sugar, 1 cup of Honey Nut has approximately 12 g (Honey Nut Cheerios uses ¾ a cup as 1 serving). Some additional ingredients that appear in Honey Nut Cheerios are golden syrup, canola, sunflower oil, almond flavour, and of course, honey. Kellogg’s Frosted Flakes has 12 g of sugar per cup, which is comparable to Honey Nut.

Fruits and vegetables contain complex carbohydrates that on digestion also release sugar (glucose), but this happens slowly allowing for more consistent blood sugar levels. The large amount of sugar in Frosted Flakes or Honey Nut Cheerios spikes blood sugar, making you feel energized at breakfast time. But in a few hours in, you will crash. In the long run, too much sugar can lead to type 2 diabetes and weight gain. The American Heart Association recommends women should have no more than 24 g of added sugar per day (that’s two servings of Frosted Flakes), and men shouldn’t have more than 36 g.

Amounts of protein and fiber should also be considered. Among their many benefits, they will help keep you feeling fuller for longer, which is ideal for the first meal of the day. Soluble fiber slows digestion. When digested, fiber also releases acetate which regulates appetite. Meanwhile, protein supresses ghrelin – the hunger hormone. Both versions of the Cheerios outdistance Frosted Flakes with protein at 4 g a cup, versus 2 g. There’s a similar story with dietary fibre, Cheerios has 3 g, Honey Nut contains approximately 2.7 g (2 g per ¾ cup), and Frosted Flakes trails with 1 g. But none of these cereals are great sources of these nutrients considering that daily protein intake should be in the neighbourhood of 50-70 g, and fiber 25-30 g.

Clearly, nutrition-wise, the best option of these three popular cereals is plain Cheerios. But let’s face it, these products aren’t popular because of their health benefits, they are popular for their taste. If you really cared about nutritional value, you’d be eating porridge with berries instead.

Cereal

Sugar per 1 cup

Protein per 1 cup

Fiber per 1 cup

Cheerios

1

4

3

Honey Nut Cheerios

12 (9 per ¾ cup)

4 (3 per ¾ cup)

2.7 (2 per ¾ cup)

Frosted Flakes

12

2

1


@HalehCohn

Haleh Cohn just finished her first year at McGill University and is interested in the health sciences.

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