Diabetes Self-Management Blog

Raise your hand if you currently eat or have ever eaten cereal. I wouldn’t be surprised if most of you raised your hand. Back in 2005, Good Morning America conducted a poll and found that 60% of Americans eat breakfast, and of those 60%, about 40% eat either hot or cold cereal. I’m a big breakfast cereal eater, mostly because it’s fast and easy, but also because I like it. People eat cereal at any time of day, too — it’s not just for breakfast anymore. And if you’re a Seinfeld fan, you probably remember the episode when Jerry’s girlfriend ate cereal for all three meals.

All sorts of studies have been done looking at how breakfast impacts various factors, including obesity, Type 2 diabetes, blood pressure, and cholesterol, as well as alertness and productivity. And starting off the day by eating cereal is a smart way to help meet your fiber and whole-grain goals (most of us fall short on these). Did you know, too, that eating a whole-grain breakfast cereal can help reduce your risk of heart failure, and is a smart way to prevent accumulating fat around your midsection (also known as the dreaded spare tire)?

Decisions, Decisions
So, eating breakfast is good. Eating cereal is also good with one caveat: you need to choose a cereal that’s healthy. But how? The cereal aisle in the supermarket can be overwhelming. You know you should choose something that’s high in nutrition, but the worry is that the cereal will taste like packing peanuts. Must one sacrifice flavor for health?

Choosing Wisely
Here are some tips that can help:

Read the Nutrition Facts label. Information on the front of the box can be misleading. For example, a cereal claiming to be “low in sugar” might not be so healthful in terms of fat, whole grains, or sodium. The label and the ingredient list will set the record straight.

Go for the grain. I say it a lot, and I’ll continue to do so: Whole grains and foods that contain whole grains provide a lot of health benefits (even for people with diabetes!). According to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2010, at least half of our grain servings in a day should come from whole-grain foods. Why not get a head start at breakfast, then? Check the ingredient list on the cereal box. The first item should be a whole grain. Examples include whole wheat, whole-grain corn, barley, oats, oatmeal, and wheat berries. The words “multigrain,” “wheat,” “wheat germ,” and “bran” are not necessarily indicators of a whole grain. These terms may mean that part of the grain is missing.

Find the fiber. Fiber has its own benefits, apart from whole grains, and adults need roughly 25 to 38 grams of fiber each day. A word of advice: it can be a challenge to get this amount of fiber in your daily diet, so consider eating a cereal that’s high in fiber in the morning. How much fiber should a cereal have? At least 3 grams per serving, but, of course, more is better.

Limit the unhealthy fats. Saturated and trans fats are the bad guys. There’s really no reason for cereals to include much, if any of these baddies. Fortunately, most cereals are low in saturated fat and most have no trans fat, either. But if you’re a granola groupie, look out, as some granolas may contain saturated fat.

Steer clear of high-sugar cereals. Sugar isn’t the enemy, but cereals are notorious for being full of the sweet stuff, and not just children’s cereals, either. You might as well eat a bowl of crumbled up cookies and milk for breakfast, given the sugar content of some cereals. For blood glucose control, remember to look at the total carbohydrate grams (after checking out the serving size, of course), as opposed to the grams of sugar. But as a matter of principle, it pays to check out the grams of sugar on cereal labels.

Most, but not all, cereals contain some sugar because sugar occurs naturally in many grains, and if the cereal contains dried fruit, such as raisins or strawberries, they’ll add to the sugar content. A good rule of thumb is to stick with cereals that have no more than 8–10 grams of sugar per serving. That’s roughly two teaspoons of sugar. Less is even better. Note that some cereals, such as Kellogg’s Special K Protein Plus, contain nonnutritive sweeteners in order keep the calories and carbs down.

Search out the protein. Most of us aren’t lacking protein, but it’s still smart to get some protein in the morning. Protein, as well as fat, has staying power, so it may help you control the mid-morning (or middle of the night) munchies. Look for cereals with 3 or more grams of protein per serving (you’ll also get protein from the milk you add to your cereal).

Shy away from sodium. Cereal is probably not the first food to come to mind when someone says “sodium,” but surprisingly, some cereals are secret sources. For example, one half-cup of Post Grape-Nuts contains 290 milligrams of sodium. General Mills Wheat Chex contains 270 milligrams per 3/4 cup serving. Stick with cereals that contain less than 200 milligrams per serving.

Top Picks
Luckily, there are plenty of healthy cereals to choose from. Some that you might consider include Kashi Heart to Heart Honey Toasted Oat, General Mills Whole-Grain Total, General Mills Fiber One, Post Shredded Wheat, and Quaker Oatmeal Squares. Also, don’t overlook the wholesome goodness of steel-cut oatmeal. Sure, it requires cooking, but it’s the real deal. Cook up a batch and reheat it in the microwave. Jazz it up with nuts, flaxseed, berries, cocoa powder, or peanut butter for more nutrition.

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Comments
  1. If I eat a 1/2 cup of any cereal even oat bran which is one of the better ones my blood sugar will skyrocket out of control for at least 1/2 day. I do not think that it is an appropriate food for diabetics.

    Posted by calgarydiabetic |
  2. I concur.

    High energy grains defeat a diabetic trying to reign in mess especially in morning before body chemistry back up and under control after evening shut down.

    Posted by jim snell |
  3. My experience is exactly the same as Calgary and Jim’s. Any amount of cereal for breakfast sends my readings sky high! This includes hot and cold cereals with no sugar added. Breads, even the most fiber filled-whole grain varieties also produce similar results.

    Amy is one lucky diabetic if she can consume cereal and not have high blood sugar readings.

    Posted by r w pryor |
  4. While some of the above suggestions are valid the current recommendation for diabetics is to eliminate as much sugar (in any form - sucrose, lactose, etc) as possible, increase whole grains and fiber AND aim for a carbohydrate intake of 45 grams/meal.

    It’s important for all diabetics (or pre-diabetics) to do “label reading” and determine serving size, carbs/serving and fiber for the whole meal.

    One serving of Kashi Heart to Heart cereal is 3/4 cup with 26 grams carb and 5 grams of fiber. Another option is Cascadian Farm Organic Multi Grain Squares - 3/4 cup serving size with 25 gram/carb and 2 grams of fiber.

    You’ll add 13 grams/carb/1 cup of skim milk and additional carbs with any fruit.

    Keeping you glucose level under control isn’t easy but it is challenging but well worth the fight.

    Posted by K. A. Mathews, R.N. |
  5. I have been very successful reducing my morning sugar levels by eating 1 cup of Kashi original go lean cereal. The overview is:30 grams carbs, 10 of which are fiber and 6 sugar, 13 grams protein, and 1 gram fat. I add about 1/2 cup of good quality Skim milk and some berries 1/2 cup, and my morning sugar drops like a rock 2 hrs after the meal. Good cereals are out there.

    I am a type 2 diabetic 4 years off all medications.

    I find it to be a very healthy cereal based breakfast.

    Bob

    Posted by Bob |
  6. I do the oatmeal thing by cooking it and then reheating that batch a bit at a time for a few days. Simple! A bit of brown sugar, some raisins or dried fruit (not much!) and I’m good for the whole morning & part of the afternoon. Sometimes I have another serving for dinner. It elevagtes the bs a bit, but it goes back down with all the energy it gives me to move. Cheap, easy, good for me. Another positive it is makes me feel really full so I don’t want to eat and/or snack.

    Jim & Calgarydiabetic, I am sorry it doesn’t work for you. We are all so different in what works for us, aren’t we.

    Posted by Cathy A. |
  7. I recently have started having an old favorite from when I was a child. Post Shredded Wheat Original allows you to have two biscuits for a serving, containing 1g fat, 0 sodium, 37 carbs, O sugars, and 5 protein! I pour my 1 c. skim milk on, microwave for 1 minute. I like my oatmeal, like Cathy A., but for a change, I am going to switch them around.

    Posted by SusanG. |
  8. I love cereal. I wish I could eat it.

    My problem isn’t glucose spikes, it’s digestion. Whenever I eat cereal or whole grain bread with milk I get horrible indigestion and gas. It’s not a gluten thing -I’ve been tested. And it doesn’t seem to be lactose intolerance either. I can drink milk alone no problems. It’s only when I eat whole grain foods and dairy together that I have issues.

    Posted by Joe |
  9. I swear by Bob’s Red Mill Organic Whole Grain High Fiber Hot Cereal. Several of my local supermarkets here in NJ now carry it, and it’s also available online. One serving is 150 calories, 45 from fat, with 27 carbs, none from sugar, 10 grams of fiber (2 soluble, 8 insoluble) and 8 grams of protein. The ingredients are whole grain oats, flaxseed meal, high fiber oat bran, wheat bran and wheat germ. It’s good with or without milk and tastes great plain or with fruit, cinnamon or other flavorings. I recommend it so highly that I’ve bought bags and given them to my friends!

    Posted by JenniferK |
  10. Hi Joe,

    Have you been checked for a wheat allergy? Food allergies can be diagnosed in a number of ways, including skin tests, food challenges, and elimination diets. You might consider asking your doctor to check you for this or refer you to an allergist.

    Posted by acampbell |
  11. Hi everyone,

    Thanks for your feedback and insights about cereal. Not surprisingly, there are a variety of responses and it just goes to show that everyone’s diabetes is different. What “works” for one person may not work for someone else.

    Posted by acampbell |
  12. I guess the difference is if you are using insulin or other meds to lower your sugars or like me, as a Type 2, I prefer to go natural. You can do that if you watch your carb and sugar intake. Every carb/sugar you eat raises blood sugar 5 points. Cereal is fine if you want to continue taking medicines with all the side effects and have your insulin use continue to increase because of the weight gain that insulin produces. I say why not give your pancreas a break and not EAT the foods known to raise blood sugar in the first place. Sugar and carbs are the most dangerous foods for diabetics - simple logic. If what you eat raises your blood sugar too much - don’t eat it. All people have to do is eat carbs or eat sugar and take you BS in an hour - see how that affects you. Then start eating low carb for a few days and see what that does for you. My sugars were in the 400 range when I found out, now they range from 87-128 because of low carb eating - Check out Dr. Richard Bernstein’s books if you want to truly heal yourself.

    Posted by Marge B |
  13. Hi Marge,

    Thanks for your comments. A low-carb eating plan is certainly an option for people with diabetes. However, many people find this way of eating to be very restrictive, and therefore hard to follow long-term. Plus, a low-carb eating plan can sometimes be unbalanced, nutritionally. And I have to disagree with you that carbohydrate foods are “dangerous.” There are carbohydrate foods that have less of a glycemic load that can easily be part of a diabetes eating plan, as evidenced by others who have posted about cereals, for example. But, the good news is that there are options, and the key is working with your health-care team to find out the approach that will work best for you.

    Posted by acampbell |
  14. I didn’t mean LOW carbohydrate foods are bad for you and fiber is also deducted from that amount to bring carbs lower. The good news is it’s easier than ever to eat a lower carb diet today. I use whey protein, flax meal and almond flour to make just about anything that I would normally miss on a low carb diet. Muffins, pancakes, bread, cookies, pie crust, cake, candy are all available if you search low carb websites. I think that’s a lot healthier than some of the recipes I’ve seen for diabetics with all the white sugar and flour. Of course, one must eat plenty of vegetables, some grapefruit and berries for a balanced diet - that goes without saying. Low carb doesn’t mean just eating meat and fat anymore. I’ve had diabetes for 17 years and I don’t have any symptoms. I always think to myself, “Do I want that junk food or do I want my eyes, legs, etc?” Not that I’m perfect…I have those special occasions and my sugar goes up. I find it’s a matter of what you miss eating and finding a healthy low carb version. Eating is still enjoyable but you have to make the effort. Hope this helps. Thanks for letting me voice my opinion.

    Posted by Marge B |
  15. What about Special K or Honey Nut Cherrios? I do occasionally eat the Oatmeal squares. What else makes a good healthy breakfast for a diabetic type 2?

    Posted by lois |
  16. Hi lois,

    Neither cereal is a “bad” choice, but there are better options. Special K isn’t a whole-grain cereal and it only has 1 gram of fiber per serving. Honey Nut Cheerios is a whole-grain cereal, but it has just 2 grams of fiber per serving. A healthy breakfast should have a whole-grain carbohydrate food, whether it’s cereal or whole-grain bread, some fresh fruit, a healthy protein source, like an egg, or peanut or almond butter, or even some nonfat or low-fat milk or yogurt.

    Posted by acampbell |
  17. Who ever can get away with eating cereal (any kind) especially for breakfast either isn’t very diabetic or doesn’t own a glucose meter… or maybe they think a reading over 140 is not doing them harm.

    Perhaps the grain industry just has a strong lobby group.

    There are other foods that supply the fiber you need and you have 2 other meals to get it.

    Posted by John_C |
  18. Hi John_C,

    As evidenced by some of the previous comments, there certainly are people with diabetes who can and do enjoy cereal for breakfast. But, as I mentioned previously, as well, some people with diabetes may not “handle” it as well, which just goes to show how diabetes is different for each person. And while doable, trying to get the majority of your fiber in toward the mid to last part of the day can definitely be a challenge!

    Posted by acampbell |
  19. I ate plain Cheerios and skim milk for years in my pre-diabetic stage. Now i can’t eat cereal or oatmeal at all. They both raise my sugar high. I have been eating 2 eggs and low carb wheat toast and my cholestrol has risen again. Now what. anyone have suggestions?

    Posted by Linda |
  20. Hi Linda,

    How does your blood glucose respond to the breakfast of toast and eggs? It’s good to include some protein and fat at each of your meals, as this can help limit the spike in glucose that typically occurs after a meal. However, there may be a point where you need to either start taking diabetes medicine or increase the dose of your medicine, especially if you notice that your post-meal glucose levels rise too much, despite changing up your breakfast. In terms of your cholesterol, be sure to limit your saturated fat intake (found in whole or 2% milk, cheese, red meat, processed meats, butter, fast foods) and try eating more seafood (not fried), fruits, vegetables and beans for soluble fiber. Also, switch to cooking with vegetable oils and use a trans-fat-free tub margarine, instead of stick margarine.

    Posted by acampbell |
  21. I’ve been taking insulin for most of my 54 years and I cannot eat cereal. The conventional wisdom is dead wrong. I love cereal but I’m not willing to pay the price of spiked blood glucose levels or the amount of bolus insulin required to avoid the spikes. I’ve finally given up all cereal and now save myself the aggravation. It doesn’t matter if it’s Kashi, other very high grain cereals, or even Steal Cut Oats, the glycemic load is far too high for most type 1 diabetics.

    Posted by Laurie W |
  22. I experimented with cereal for my Mom. Her sugar was normal (110) and I gave her a bowl of cheerios with milk. Took her sugar at lunch and it was 330. No more cereal for her. By the way, I ate a bowl and mine was normal at lunch. ????

    Posted by gerri ballard |
  23. Hi gerri,

    Before you stop giving your mother Cheerios (which is a fairly decent cereal to eat, by the way), you need to consider a) how much you actually gave her, along with how much milk; b) if she ate or drank anything else with the cereal, such as fruit or juice; c) if she ate anything after breakfast/before lunch; and d) if she takes medicine to help manage her diabetes. What does she usually eat for breakfast? If she is truly going up that high before her next meal and you feel she ate a reasonable portion of cereal, my next thought is to consider her diabetes medication (is she on medication, and if so, might she need a higher dose). If this is a pattern with her or if it happens when she eats other foods for breakfast (like oatmeal or toast, for example), then you may want to speak with her physician and let him know about her high glucose readings. As far as your “normal” blood glucose reading (I’m assuming that you have diabetes), you need to keep in mind that everyone’s diabetes is different, and that your treatment plan is working for you, at least in the morning, so that’s good news! However, your mother may need a change in her treatment plan.

    Posted by acampbell |
  24. I’m with most of you guys. I’ve been Type II for 5 years now. Loved cereal (healthy ones) all my life. Now, any cereal, even all the ones listed in this blog, raise my BS 100-150 points and that’s not overdoing it. 1/2 -3/4 cup with non-fat milk. Can’t understand whats in cereal that causes that to happen.

    Posted by Lynn |
  25. as 30+ years chasing this disease; I finally got my mess under control in last 5 years and it was the grains - bread, cereal, flours, corn, rice had to be cut right back.

    30 yearss back I had cut sugars , snacks etc and it did not do enough.

    The grains are the high energy food that drives the blood system of the hunter gatherer vertical.

    SInce cutting back that stuff most agressively and watching portion control like a hawk and getting sufficient exercise, things have been under great control.

    Yes , if you are working on the pharoah’s stone projects moving 2 ton stone blocks by hand - yes eat up or you will starve.

    Posted by jim snell |
  26. My fasting blood glucose has always been normal, but last year my A1c tested at 5.9 which is pre-diabetic. By eating low carb I managed to get my A1c down to 5.6. I cut out all pasta, fried foods, cereal, desserts (cheesecake was the hardest)and cut way back on bread. I love spoon size shredded wheat, but it is a high glycemic food so I don’t eat it. Plus, according to cardiologist, Dr. William Davis, author of “Wheat Belly”, whole wheat produced in this country is not the same healthy whole grain food that it used to be years ago. Mass marketing has turned it into a high glycemic, unhealthy food that’s cheaper to produce and adds no nutritional value. In fact, it contributes to heart disease and is addictive. This is according to Dr. Davis, and I believe him. It’s along the same lines as high fructose corn syrup being added to so many foods by manufacturers over the years because it’s cheaper to produce than sugar, but detrimental to health (as well as trans fats). What has always mattered with food manufacturers is the bottom line…which is the almighty dollar…not good health. Fortunately, people are speaking out and complaining, and some food manufacturers are listening as far as removing high fructose corn syrup and trans fats from their products. But the grain industry continues to produce unhealthy so called ‘healthy whole grains’.

    Posted by Ronnie51 |
  27. Milk is the culprit . Oatbran with water and no sugar is a life changer. I lost 10kg and a host of symptoms like arthritis headaches vascular issues energy probs. I seemed to have taken myself back to 30 yrs ago before i had ill health issues

    Posted by selwyn assaf |
  28. Read book Wheat belly and you will realize why people are gaining weight by eating whole graims which is mainly wheat. Its not the wheat from our forefathers its been hybridized to suit growers not for benefit of us users

    Posted by al |
  29. yes, and I am led to believe that the explosion in type 2 and obesity seems to track the amazing science and work in 70’s on to improve yields, food stuffs quality to help reduce world starvation.

    It seems everything has its goods and bads and if you will its price!

    Posted by jim snell |
  30. Marge - you are on to something! Most of what I’ve been reading, in the alternative realm, talk about how unhealthy wheat and grains have become. I was recently diagnosed with Type 2 Diabetes My AC1 reading was 6.9 - I want to significantly reduce this number to a non diabetic reading. I would love to chat with you. Can I give you my email address?

    Posted by Nancy J |
  31. I was diagnosed pre-diabetic in Sept 2013 wiht an AC1 reading of 6.0. I did a major change in food intake (b’bye chocolate) and have since lost 26 pounds. However I just redid my blood work and my AC1 is now 6.3???: But having read this column, I think cereal may well be the cause. I’ve been having 3/4 cup plain Cheerioes every morning, with 1/3 cup 1% milk, and about 1/2 cup bluberries. During the day, I eat raw veggies, apples, oranges & the occasional banana, and a simple dinner of say, salmon sandwich (whole grain bread, no butter) and another apple. Is there such a thing as low-carb yogurt? I could replace cereal with that. Thx

    Posted by jillo |
  32. I’m new to this pre-diabetes. My PCP doesn’t have any idea why I got it? I’m 57 years old, 5′7″ tall, 148 pounds and workout 3 nights a week at a Gym and walk briskly every day. My Glucose in the morning fasting is anywhere from 88 to 120. Sometimes I eat cereal and it bounces up to 140 - 160 but also sometimes after the spike, it keeps falling, and can go at low as 50. I don’t know what to eat? For breakfast, I have 2 eggs, ham, and 1/2 piece of dry toast. My levels seem to do OK with this. But this is what I eat everyday! I love cold cereal but all of them list lots of carbs. Now the Doctor has me on medication for high cholesterol. I too need suggestions for breakfast! Thanks.

    Posted by Scott |
  33. Hi jillo,

    Congratulations on your weight loss! Keep in mind that you need to consider your total carbohydrate intake and how it impacts your blood glucose. The Cheerios certainly give you carbohydrate (15 grams per 3/4 cup) but carbohydrate is also found in the fruit and the bread that you’re eating, as well. It sounds like you’re getting about 25 to 30 grams of carb at breakfast, which is not too high. I’d suggest that you aim for about 30–45 grams of carb at each of your meals, and limit how much carb you eat at snacks (a small piece of fruit contains 15 grams of carb). You can certainly try something like Greek yogurt (6 ounces of plain has only about 7 grams of carb). Don’t forget about physical activity — hopefully you’re getting at least 30 minutes each day. Finally, try not to be discouraged. While lifestyle measures, like weight loss, healthy eating, and physical activity can prevent diabetes, they’re not a guarantee. Don’t give up on your healthy habits, though.

    Posted by acampbell |
  34. Hi Scott,

    Sometimes there is no good reason for why someone gets prediabetes or diabetes. In the meantime, it’s wise to continue including protein at your breakfast. Eggs are certainly fine, but you can branch out and include nuts, nut butters, Canadian bacon, reduced-fat cheese and Greek yogurt. Some people even eat fish (salmon, tuna) and turkey breast for breakfast. As far as cereals go, try some of the Barbara’s, Kashi, or Bear Naked cereals. Look for those that provide at least 5–7 grams of protein and at least 5 grams of fiber per serving. And consider cooking up a batch of steel-cut oats — make enough to last you a few days. This is a low sugar, lower-glycemic index cereal. Add some skim milk and nuts. If you have a slow cooker, this works really well to cook steel-cut oats.

    Posted by acampbell |
  35. This morning, 6/15/14, I had a half cup of Grape Nuts with a splash of 2% milk along with a cup of black coffee. Blood sugar before breakfast was 123 and two hours later it rocketed to 220. This was not the healthy choice I was looking for…….

    Posted by Barry A Clarke |
  36. Hi Barry,

    It’s hard to evaluate the effect of your breakfast based on one day. How does the Grape-Nuts breakfast compare with a usual breakfast in terms of how it affects your blood glucose? Do you take diabetes medicine before breakfast? Did you measure out the cereal? One half-cup of Grape-Nuts contains about 45 grams of carbohydrate. The milk probably added another 6 grams of carbohydrate, so you consumed about 50 grams at breakfast. This isn’t a very high amount, but you need to compare it to what you usually eat and what your post-meal blood sugars look like afterwards. You could repeat this same breakfast and see what happens. Or, you might try adding some fat or protein to your meal, such as some nuts, an egg, or a tablespoon of peanut butter which might help slow the rise in blood glucose after you eat. Consistently high post-meal blood glucose numbers, particularly if pre-lunch numbers are high, may be a sign that you need a change in your treatment plan.

    Posted by acampbell |
  37. Missing the point, a little. A carb is not a carb
    30 grams of one carb may be ok, 30 grams of another might kill ya.
    Always check the glycemic load and glycemic index of the foods you are eating, and you will learn how each will affect you.

    Posted by DAVE S |
  38. Hi DAVE,

    Thanks for your comment. I don’t think I implied that a carb is always a carb. Certainly, some carb foods are better choices than others, both in terms of nutrition and their glycemic impact. Also, as you can see from previous comments, everybody reacts differently to carb foods. The key is learning how these foods affect your own blood sugar. t’s not always possible to know the glycemic index or load of foods as these numbers are not found on most foods. Checking your blood sugar before and then a couple hours after eating provides the most useful information.

    Posted by acampbell |
  39. I really appreciate all the comments. I too have trouble getting a handle on my bs. I’m on metformin and Januvia. I’ve read and applied the book “The 30 Day Diabetes Cure” by Dr. Stefan Ripich and Jim Healthy and if you can stick to it, (if you have type 2 diabetes and you can lower your meds with type 1) you can get off your meds. The problem is, most people can’t sustain that restrictive of a diet. However, the maintenance diet can really help you lower your meds and keep you out of danger. And it gives you a really good understanding of what raises your bs and why.

    Posted by RedDirt Farmer |

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