Cheerios is a brand with a long history. The cereal was first sold back in 1941 and continues to go strong today.
The original version of the cereal is made using pulverized oats, which are then shaped into hollow circles. These days there are many different versions. Some are flavored versions of the original (like Blueberry Cheerios, Honey Nut Cheerios, and Oat Crunch Cinnamon Cheerios), while others vary the ingredients to create a different nutritional profile (like Multi Grain Cheerios).
Cheerios boxes make the cereal sound perfect for decreasing your cholesterol and heart disease risk. Plus, the cereal makes for a fast, easy, and delicious breakfast, one that many of us enjoy regularly.
So, what about the health impacts? Are Cheerios good for you? Or, are they simply yet another highly processed breakfast cereal that isn’t going to help you at all?
Are Cheerios Good For Your Health?
- Cheerios Nutrition
- Benefits Of Cheerios
- How Cheerios Could Be Harmful
- Is The Heart Healthy Effect Of Cheerios Real?
- Can Cheerios Cause Cancer?
- Final Thoughts
The nutrient profile of foods tells us much about their benefits and risks, so let’s start there. For a serving of Original Cheerios, you get this:
- 140 Calories
- Fat: 2.5 grams
- Carbohydrates: 29 grams
- Fiber: 4 grams
- Sugars: 2 grams
- Protein: 2 grams
You also get 70% of the daily value (DV) for iron, 20% for vitamin B6, vitamin B12, folic acid, zinc, and thiamin, 15% for magnesium, and 10% for vitamin D, calcium, vitamin A, vitamin C, niacin, and phosphorous.
So far, this is impressive for a commercial breakfast cereal. The ingredients label is relatively short too, with the main ingredients being oats, corn starch, sugar, salt, tripotassium phosphate, and various vitamins and minerals.
The most obvious issue is the high carb content, which we’ll talk about shortly.
Benefits Of Cheerios
They’re A Source Of Whole Grains
First things first, Cheerios rely on oats as their main ingredient, making them a powerful source of whole grains. Health recommendations often focus heavily on whole grains – and with good reason, as whole grains can be powerful for decreasing the risk of heart disease, cancer, diabetes, and various other health issues.
The health benefits are related to a few different features of the grains, including their high fiber content and the range of nutrients that they offer. That’s not all. Research consistently shows that diets rich in whole grains promote health.
They may even help you to live longer. This could be enough of a reason to have them in your diet regularly.
They Can Help With Heart Health
Cheerios boxes say that the cereal “can help lower cholesterol as part of a heart healthy diet”. This isn’t just a marketing claim. The cereal can have this effect, partly because it relies on oats as a key ingredient.
Oats have a few benefits. First, they’re a type of whole grain. As we’ve already talked about, whole grains provide a variety of health benefits. However, whole grains are most famous for their ability to promote heart health and decrease the risk of heart disease.
Oats are also a source of soluble fiber, including a type called beta glucan, which has been linked to lower levels of LDL cholesterol. High cholesterol is a risk factor for heart disease, so any approaches that decrease blood cholesterol levels are highly relevant.
They Provide Nutrients Too
As we showed earlier, Cheerios are a surprisingly excellent source of nutrients, with a serving offering at least 20% of your DV for many important nutrients. You’re even getting around 70% of your DV for iron.
The iron is particularly important, as iron deficiency remains surprisingly common and iron helps transfer oxygen around your body.
Getting so many nutrients in your breakfast cereal is pretty amazing. This could help to lower the risk of nutrient deficiencies, particularly if your fresh food intake isn’t as high as it could be.
They’re Relatively Inexpensive
While Cheerios aren’t the cheapest breakfast choice, they’re also not terribly expensive and last for quite a while. As such, Cheerios are an easy breakfast choice for many families, even when finances are tight.
Don’t forget that Cheerios also contain many nutrients. Foods that provide plenty of nutrients at a low price are always powerful.
Low In Fat And Calories
The fat and calorie content of Cheerios is pretty low too, with a serving of the original flavor just containing 140 calories and 2.5 grams of fat. The saturated fat content is even lower, at just 0.5 grams.
Having milk with your Cheerios does increase the calorie content, but you’re still looking at fewer calories than many other types of cereal. A low calorie breakfast like this could be perfect in many situations, perhaps even helping you to lose weight.
Kids Will Eat Cheerios
Kids are often resistant to healthy cereal, but this isn’t the case for Cheerios. Indeed, many kids will eat Cheerios without a problem, particularly if you choose a flavored variety.
That said, it’s important to check the ingredients label of Cheerios products carefully before buying them. The original and whole grain versions of the cereal do have many benefits, but the flavored ones aren’t nearly as powerful. They contain much more sugar and tend to use more additives as well.
How Cheerios Could Be Harmful
They’re High In Carbs
While cheerios are often low in sugar, they do end up being high in carbs. The original version of Cheerios, for example, contains 29 grams of total carbs, and only 4 grams of these carbs come from fiber.
What this means for health is highly debatable.
On the one hand, the carbs are mostly coming from a whole grain ingredient (the oats) and whole grains have long been associated with health benefits.
On the other hand, we’re starting to realize that high carb diets mightn’t be a problem even when whole grains feature heavily in them. The carbs can increase blood sugar levels and lead to inflammation. Plus, having a high protein or high fat diet might end up being much more powerful than a high carb one.
The best approach might be to decrease your intake of processed foods and simple carbs, but still get plenty of whole grains in your diet. However, some people choose to decrease all sources of digestible carbs instead. If you fall into this group, then Cheerios aren’t going to be a good choice.
They’re Low In Protein
The fiber content of Cheerios helps to make them somewhat filling – much more than a low fiber cereal. Even so, you’re eating a carb-heavy breakfast, which is never the most satisfying approach.
Many people have more sustained energy and feel full for longer when they focus on a high protein breakfast. Indeed, there are plenty of low carb breakfast foods that will help you avoid the sugar spike and crash that you get with carb rich foods.
They’re Highly Processed
Like most breakfast cereals, Cheerios have been through a decent amount of processing. There are a few problems with this.
First, processing tends to strip away some of the nutrients and antioxidants from the ingredients. So, you’ll get fewer benefits from a bowl of Cheerios than from a bowl of oats, even though Cheerios use oats as the main ingredient.
Second, processing mechanically breaks up fiber, which increases the speed your body digests it. This may mean that Cheerios don’t keep you as satisfied as less processed foods will.
The processing steps might even make the whole grains in Cheerios less powerful. Whether this is the case or not isn’t clear, as most research has grouped all sources of whole grains together, rather than separating them out.
There Are Additives Too
The original version of Cheerios keeps additives to a minimum, relying mostly on tripotassium phosphate, corn starch, and various vitamins and minerals. Even here, there are some causes for concern. In particular, trisodium phosphate is sometimes thought to be harmful, especially if you’re consuming it regularly.
Other varieties of Cheerios have larger ingredients lists, including ingredients like canola oil, color, natural flavors, corn syrup, and corn starch.
These ingredients aren’t incredibly controversial. They’re certainly better than the additives used in many other cereal brands (some of which even rely on artificial flavors and sweeteners).
Even so, additives aren’t exactly good for us. The best outcome is that they don’t cause harm. However, it’s more likely that additives do have small negative impacts on our health. These might not be a big issue if you don’t eat heavily processed food very often. On the other hand, if your processed food intake is high, the potential risks could start adding up quickly.
There Is Added Sugar
If you choose the original flavor of Cheerios, then you’re just getting 2 grams of added sugar per serving. The serving size is 1.5 cups, so that isn’t too bad for sugar at all.
However, other versions contain much more sugar, like Chocolate Strawberry Cheerios, which contain 11 grams of added sugar per cup. Chocolate Peanut Butter Cheerios aren’t much better, with 9 grams of added sugar per cup.
Then there’s the Oat Crunch Cinnamon flavor, with a shocking 15 grams of added sugar per cup. That same serving contains more than 40 grams of carbs, with just 4 grams of fiber and 4 grams of protein.
Once the sugar content starts getting this high, you’re no longer looking at a healthy type of cereal at all. I mean, honestly, should you really be eating this much sugar first thing in the morning? Should your kids?
Not A Complete Meal
Breakfast cereals are often eaten as if they’re a complete meal on their own. We typically add some milk to them and perhaps berries, then use them as the entirety of our breakfast.
Yet, most breakfast cereals can’t be considered a complete meal, as they don’t have enough fat or protein. This is frustrating, as breakfast is meant to be the meal that sets you up for the day.
To get around this problem, you’ll need to have some protein at the same time as your Cheerios. Greek yogurt is one of the easiest options. A handful of nuts works well too.
Is The Heart Healthy Effect Of Cheerios Real?
Earlier on, we talked about how Cheerios can help with your heart health, largely due to the soluble fiber from the oats. General Mills makes a similar claim as part of their marketing. They even go as far to say that they’re the “only leading ready-to-eat cereal clinically proven to help lower “bad” cholesterol”.
That idea is technically true. It’s also misleading.
For one thing, they’re talking about eating Cheerios as part of a diet that’s low in saturated fat and cholesterol. That type of diet alone should improve your heart health, regardless of whether you include Cheerios or not.
And, even if adding Cheerios does provide extra heart benefits, other whole grains are likely to have the same effect. In fact, oats themselves are well-known for helping with your heart.
Can Cheerios Cause Cancer?
There have recently been concerns about a possible link between Cheerios and cancer. The problem comes from the herbicide glyphosate, which is used when spraying grains.
Heated debate surrounds this herbicide, including fears that it might increase cancer risk. Even if glyphosate can cause cancer (which hasn’t been proven), it is only present in extremely tiny quantities in Cheerios – quantities that are far below anything to be worried about.
For the moment then, there’s no evidence that eating Cheerios in normal amounts will cause any harm, even for children. That said, the potential link is one more reason that it’s important to have a varied diet and focus on whole foods as much as you can.
As processed cereals go, Cheerios is surprisingly healthy. The products rely heavily on whole grains and contain plenty of nutrients. Cheerios are also popular among kids and are fairly inexpensive, factors that get them on the table of many households.
We’ve also seen that there are downsides too, including the way that they’re highly processed, are low in protein, and do contain some additives.
Plus, the flavored versions of Cheerios are generally much higher in sugar than the original version, sometimes giving you 15 grams of sugar per cup. That’s not good, especially not for a breakfast cereal that’s already very high in carbs.
So, should you be eating Cheerios or not?
If we’re talking about the flavored versions of Cheerios, then it’s best to use the cereal as an occasional treat, not something to eat regularly.
If we’re talking about the regular version instead, then the answer comes down to your individual needs. Are you looking for something fast, easy, and fairly healthy? If so, Cheerios could work well.
Are you looking for a very healthy cereal that’s free from additives? Cheerios isn’t the answer then. You’d see more benefits from focusing on oatmeal or by making muesli yourself at home.
You might choose to veer away from cereal entirely. High protein breakfasts are often more powerful. If you’re curious about the difference, why not experiment for yourself? Have a high protein breakfast rather than cereal for a week or two and pay attention to how you feel. Then try Cheerios for a while. You’ll soon get a sense of which breakfast type works best for you.