There are few things more nostalgic than a bowl of cereal. For many people, the dish conjures up thoughts of cartoon mascots, 90s commercials and rushing to school in the morning (Ah, the memories!) And while plenty of cereal from your childhood probably still exist , you may be looking for something higher in protein to eat regularly, especially if you have muscle building goals.
Enter: high-protein cereals. Traditional cereals are generally low in nutrients, so by making the switch, you’ll be able to better reap the benefits of protein for breakfast. Here, dietitians explain why you might choose a high-protein cereal and share their favorite options.
The best high-protein cereal options:
The Benefits of Choosing a High-Protein Cereal
Starting your day with high-protein cereals — and high-protein foods in general — has myriad benefits. For starters, protein is a vital macronutrient, which means your body needs it in large amounts to support basic functions (think building tissue and repairing cells), according to the book, Biochemistry, Nutrients. Adding high-protein cereals to your rotation can help jump-start your protein intake first thing in the morning, points out dietitian Victoria Whittington, RDN
Consuming protein in the morning can help you achieve certain health goals or needs. For example, if you’re doing tough workouts, recovering from illness or surgery, or following a vegan or vegetarian diet and struggling to get enough protein, a high-protein cereal can help, says Maddie Pasquariello, MS, RDN. Additionally, if you have diabetes, eating a high-protein cereal may help prevent blood sugar spikes caused by the combination of protein and carbs, says Whittington.
“Chemically, adding protein, fiber and/or a source of fat to your meal can improve glycemic control – essentially helping your system digest sugar more slowly and preventing blood sugar from skyrocket after the meal,” says Pasquariello. “For most traditional grains, there’s more sugar and less protein, fat, and fiber — so the chemical effect would be to raise your blood sugar a bit more.” That said, eating the occasional traditional grain won’t be a problem unless you have prediabetes, diabetes, or another chronic condition that requires managing your blood sugar, she points out.
Protein also keeps you full longer than carbs alone because protein is gradually digested by the body. So, starting your morning with a high-protein cereal can help keep the hangers down, making food a lifesaver on busy days. On the other hand, traditional cereals are generally low in protein, so they probably won’t keep you feeling full for long, says registered dietitian Roxana Ehsani, MS, RD, CSSD, LDN (although you can also pair regular cereal with a protein-rich food, like yogurt or eggs, for a more balanced meal, if that’s your jam.) With that in mind, if you’re looking for a quick meal that will fill you up between breakfast and lunch, a high-protein cereal meal might be just what you need.
How to Choose a High Protein Cereal
As with most foods, not all high-protein grains are created equal. They also typically cost more than their traditional counterparts, so several factors are worth considering before choosing a box.
First thing is first: “Just because a cereal says it’s high in protein doesn’t mean it has a health halo,” Ehsani notes. It may still contain unhealthy fats (think saturated and/or trans) or added sugars, which you may want or need to avoid. With that in mind, it’s important to check the label to make sure it matches your nutritional preferences.
The source of protein can also vary. For example, a high-protein cereal might get its protein from whey protein isolate, soy protein, or pea protein, according to Ehsani. If you follow a vegan or dairy-free diet, you’ll want to choose a plant-based option, notes Whittington. Some cereals may also contain high-protein ingredients such as nuts, seeds, lentils or legumes, according to Ehsani.
The amount of protein per serving can also vary greatly. In general, high-protein cereals can offer between eight and 20 grams per serving, according to Whittington. (For context, protein in cereal is typically two to four grams of protein per cup, according to Pasquariello.) When shopping for high-protein cereal, Pasquariello typically looks for options with around 10 grams of protein and five grams of sugar (or less) per serving, but those numbers will vary depending on your goals and taste preferences, she notes. For more personalized recommendations, talk with a doctor or dietitian.
Finally, like standard versions, high-protein cereals can be sweetened with sugar or artificial sweeteners or contain no sweeteners at all, says Pasquariello. Generally speaking, options sweetened with added sugar usually contain cane sugar, just like traditional cereals, she notes. “You may also see stevia extract and/or monk fruit extract added to unsweetened high-protein cereals to make them more palatable,” Pasquarielo adds. Options containing milk protein may also taste sweeter, as the ingredient is naturally sweet.
That said, if flavor is an important factor for you, “keep in mind that an entirely unsweetened option may require dressing to make [it] a taste closer to the original cereals you are used to,” says Pasquariello. This might call for flavored nut milk, fresh fruit or a drizzle of honey, she notes. Again, check the label to get an idea of the ingredients and flavors you can expect from the product.
For more tips on choosing cereals with protein, read the dietitians’ favorite options below.
Best Overall: Catalina Crunch
“Catalina Crunch is [a] Protein-rich cereal that comes in a ton of different flavors, including Cinnamon Toast, Dark Chocolate, Fruity, Maple Waffles, and more,” says Pasquariello. “This one is super filling and flavorful. , with a rich, graham cracker-like texture and major crunch factor.” A half-cup serving packs 11 grams of protein thanks to the brand’s “Catalina Flour” blend, which contains pea protein, explains Pasquariello.
Best cereal with minimal ingredients: three wishes, unsweetened
“[This] Three Wishes cereal is unique because it only has four ingredients,” notes Ehsani. This includes chickpea as well as pea protein, tapioca and salt. (The flavored versions have a few additional ingredients, like monk fruit.) The product, which is vegan and gluten-free, contains eight grams of protein per 3/4 cup serving. It’s also “super crispy, with a not-too-sweet oatmeal flavor that reminds me of a nostalgic childhood cereal,” Pasquariello shares.
Best Flavor Selection: Magic Spoon
For a high-protein adult version of your favorite childhood cereal, Magic Spoon might be just what you need. The brand offers nostalgic flavors like fruity, frosty, cocoa and peanut butter, points out Pasquariello, who is a fan of the product. Each flavor contains 13-14 grams of protein, zero grams of added sugar, and natural ingredients like turmeric and spirulina for color. But beware: All Magic Spoon cereals contain a milk protein blend, so you’ll have to skip it if you’re on a dairy-free diet.
Best Crunch: Nature Valley Protein Granola, Oats & Dark Chocolate
If you prefer milk granola to cereal, this is the one for you. “This product is packed with protein, [with] 13 grams per 2/3 cup serving from soy protein,” says Ehsani. “It also contains heart-healthy oats, four grams of dietary fiber, and heart-healthy fats,” she adds. Not to mention that it contains dark chocolate, which is always a plus.
Best Value: Special K Protein Cereal
Comparable in price to traditional cereals, Special K Protein Cereals are one of the more affordable options on the list. It also packs an impressive 15 grams of protein per 1 1/3 serving, from soy protein isolate. It’s also one of the best tasting, notes Whittington, who calls this product her favorite protein cereal.
Best Protein: Premier Protein Cereal
At 20 grams of protein per one-cup serving, “this option is high in protein and very crispy,” according to Whittington. The protein comes from a blend of soy protein isolate and wheat protein isolate. It’s also plant-based, available in Almond Chocolate and Almond Berry Mix, and works well as a breakfast or snack, adds Whittington.
Best for Earthy Flavor: Kashi Go Protein Cereal
“Not only is this cereal high in protein, but it’s also high in fiber, which makes it super filling,” Whittington shares. Depending on the flavor, each 3/4 cup serving offers nine to 14 grams of protein from soy protein isolate and six to nine grams of fiber. Plus, this cereal isn’t super sweet, which makes it ideal if you prefer an earthy granola taste, notes Whittington.
Best Cereals with Organic Ingredients: Ezekiel 4:9 Organic Sprouted Whole Grain Cereal
Like Ezekiel Bread, this product contains sprouted grains and legumes, including wheat, millet, lentils, soy and spelt. “It does not contain any type of protein powder, but thanks to sprouted grains and legumes, it [is] a high-protein cereal,” says Ehsani. A half-cup serving offers eight grams of protein. However, at $14 a box, it’s also one of the more expensive options on the market.
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