Cream of Wheat has a long history. It was first produced back in 1893 and continues to be a popular breakfast choice even these days. Part of the appeal is the simplicity, as you just need to pour powder from the box and then mix either boiling water or milk into it. It may be simple, but is cream of wheat good for you?
You end up with a hot cereal that can be easily customized. Adding nuts, fruit, or maple syrup helps to make it much more interesting. You can even find flavored versions, with flavors like Cinnamon Swirl and Maple Brown Sugar.
As a hot cereal, Cream of Wheat ends up being similar to oatmeal. However, the fact that it uses wheat rather than oats gives it a different nutritional profile. What about health then? Is Cream of Wheat good for you?
Is Cream Of Wheat Good For You?
- What Is Cream Of Wheat?
- Cream Of Wheat Nutrition
- Benefits Of Cream Of Wheat
- How Cream Of Wheat Could Be Harmful
- Oatmeal Versus Cream Of Wheat
- Should Your Breakfast Be High In Protein?
- Final Thoughts
What Is Cream Of Wheat?
Before we talk about Cream of Wheat and your health, we need to talk about what the product even is.
You’ll sometimes see the term farina cereal used, as farina is a type of milled wheat, one that uses the germ and endosperm of the grain. Including the germ leads to a slightly coarser product than white flour, but one that’s still relatively fine.
Indeed, Cream of Wheat lives up to its name, as once the farina is mixed with hot milk or hot water, you end up with a creamy wheat-based cereal. If you’ve never had Cream of Wheat before, think of it much like grits, just with a smoother consistency.
Cream Of Wheat Products
The original Cream of Wheat product was unflavored, containing farina and little else. These days, there is a variety of products available, including stovetop, instant, and to-go cups. In the United States, the main stovetop versions are Original 2 ½ Minute, Original 1 Minute, Whole Grain 2 ½ Minute, and Maple Brown Sugar 2 ½ Minute.
There is an original and whole grain version of the instant product as well, plus plenty of different flavors.
Cream Of Wheat Nutrition
Before we get into how Cream of Wheat can influence your health, let’s talk a little about the nutrients. For a packet of the original cereal (dry, before milk is added), this is the nutritional profile:
- 100 calories
- Fat: 0 grams
- Carbs: 21 grams
- Fiber: 1 gram
- Sugars: 0 grams
- Protein: 3 grams
You also get 45% of the recommended daily value (DV) for iron, 30% for vitamin D, thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, vitamin B6, and folate, along with 20% of the DV for calcium.
So far, that’s all pretty impressive, right? A hot breakfast that’s low in calories, fat, and sugar, but still provides some protein and a decent selection of nutrients.
Benefits Of Cream Of Wheat
Low Calorie And Low Fat
A serving of original Cream of Wheat contains no fat and is pretty low in calories. This is an impressive set of features for anyone trying to lose weight.
The fat and calorie content will depend on how you make Cream of Wheat, of course. Focusing on low fat milk, water, or a plant-based product like almond milk will help to keep the calorie content low.
If you are trying to lose weight, adding a protein-based topping may help as well. Doing so slows down the blood sugar impact of the wheat and means that you’ll stay full for longer.
Provides Important Nutrients
The nutrients in Cream of Wheat are important too. They all play essential roles in your body, helping to build your muscles and bones, keeping your blood flowing, ensuring you’re getting enough oxygen, and having countless other benefits.
The B vitamins, for example, are famous for their role in energy metabolism. Then there’s the iron. Not only is iron critical for the transport of oxygen, but many of us aren’t getting enough of it either.
Easy To Make And Customize
Cream of Wheat is a great reminder that breakfast doesn’t need to be complicated. You can make it up quickly with either water or milk in the microwave or prepare it on the stovetop.
Sweet toppings are common, but you can also use savory ones, including butter or cheese. Honestly, the flavor of Cream of Wheat is so mild that almost any combination of toppings should work well.
This also means that you can make a version of Cream of Wheat that is perfect for any set of flavor preferences.
How Cream Of Wheat Could Be Harmful
It Contains Gluten
People with celiac disease or gluten sensitivity struggle with the gluten protein found in wheat and some other grains. They can’t digest gluten properly, so they experience a variety of symptoms, including fatigue, diarrhea, and bloating.
Cream of Wheat is literally made from wheat, so it’s high in gluten, making it a no-go for many people.
If you have a mild gluten sensitivity, you might be able to decrease your gluten intake, rather than cut it out entirely Still… there are plenty of delicious and healthy gluten free breakfast options that would be a much better choice.
Low In Fiber
Cream of Wheat isn’t a good source of fiber at all, giving you just 1 gram of fiber per serving. This is frustrating, as fiber is incredibly important. It’s most famous for helping to keep you regular, but fiber is also important for your blood sugar and blood cholesterol levels.
Breakfast cereals can be a fantastic way to boost your fiber intake, so it’s always a shame to find products that contain barely any fiber at all.
It’s High In Carbs
Cream of Wheat doesn’t contain much fat or protein, so most of the energy comes from carbs. The original version, for example, gives you 25 mg of carbs per serving, along with no fat and just 3 grams of protein.
Our bodies use carbs for energy. That effect is generally a good thing, but some types of carbs are digested quickly, which leads to a spike in your blood sugar, along with a fall later on. Sudden increases and decreases in your blood sugar levels aren’t good for your health at all. This pattern could even increase your risk of some diseases, including type 2 diabetes.
Instead Cream of Wheat has a GI of 74, which means it’s quickly digested. The stovetop version has a lower GI, at 66. This is enough to put it into the moderate GI category, but it’s still higher than is ideal.
You can moderate the blood sugar impact of Cream of Wheat by topping it with ingredients that contain fat and protein. Sticking to the non-flavored versions of Cream of Wheat should help too.
Even so, there’s no getting around the carb content of Cream of Wheat. Anyone following a low carb or keto diet will need to pass on the cereal, as the carb content is simply fat too high.
The Sodium Content
Cream of Wheat contains a surprising amount of sodium, with the original version clocking in at 170 mg of sodium per serving, or roughly 7% of your daily intake. 7% mightn’t sound too bad, but it’s still enough to think twice about.
After all, high sodium intake can increase your blood pressure, which then raises the risk of heart disease and stroke. Sodium can also lead to loss of calcium and may cause problems with your fluid balance.
Sodium is prevalent in processed foods, so many of us are already consuming much more sodium than we need. Getting a decent amount of sodium in our breakfast cereal just makes matters worse.
Remember too that savory toppings are often used on Cream of Wheat. Some of these may contain sodium too, increasing your intake still further.
There’s also variation in sodium between different Cream of Wheat products. For example, the Cinnabon® Cinnamon Sugar To-Go version contains 450 mg of sodium, which is around 20% of your daily recommended intake.
The original Cream of Wheat skips sugar, but all the flavored versions contain much more than you might expect. The following list shows a selection of sugar values per serving across the company’s products.
- Instant Bananas & Cream: 12 grams of sugar
- Instant Cinnamon: 14 grams of sugar
- To-Go Cinnabon® Cinnamon Sugar: 24 grams of sugar
- To-Go Cinna-Apple Walnut: 22 grams of sugar
- Stove Top Maple Brown Sugar: 13 grams of sugar
- Stove Top Whole Grain: 0 grams of sugar
There’s a pretty clear pattern here. Unless you’re buying original or whole grain Cream of Wheat, you can expect a decent amount of sugar.
That sugar makes the cereal taste good, sure, but what does it do for your health? Seriously, our diets already contain far too much sugar.
It’s A Processed Food
Like many breakfast cereals, Cream of Wheat has been heavily processed. This is always a problem, as when food is processed, many of the natural nutrients and antioxidants are lost.
In fact, processed food is never as good as its non-processed counterparts. Research even shows that highly processed foods may lead to an increased risk of heart disease and some other health conditions.
Processed foods also tend to be packed with additives. This is true for Cream of Wheat too. You’ll find ingredients like xanthan gum, caramel color, calcium carbonate, natural flavors, acetylated monoglycerides, partially hydrogenated soybean oil, and sodium caseinate in some of their products.
Don’t get me wrong. These additives are all technically safe. They’ve been tested and are officially allowed to be included in food.
The problem is that additives may still have subtle effects on our health, ones that are difficult to spot, but could lead to health problems down the road. This is particularly true if processed foods are a common part of your diet.
Remember too that these additives don’t help with your health at all. They’re simply there for flavor, texture, and to help the manufacturer. Healthwise, the best you can hope for is that they don’t make things worse. That’s it.
So, why not consume whole food instead and skip anything that’s laden with additives?
Oatmeal Versus Cream Of Wheat
Oatmeal and Cream of Wheat are both easy hot breakfasts that you can enjoy with minimal fuss. The biggest difference is their main ingredient. Not surprisingly, oatmeal relies on oats, while Cream of Wheat uses wheat instead.
Oatmeal is the least processed option of the two, as you’re typically eating whole oats, while Cream of Wheat uses refined farina. In fact, oats are considered a whole grain, so they give you all the health benefits that come with whole grains, including decreased heart disease risk.
Farnia is a refined grain instead. Some Cream of Wheat products do add wheat germ and nutrients back in, so you get some of the properties of a whole grain. But, doing so isn’t the same as consuming whole grains to begin with.
While oatmeal does contain more calories than Cream of Wheat, it’s also higher in protein and fiber, making it a more complete breakfast.
Cream of Wheat just has one main advantage, that it contains more of some nutrients than oatmeal. However, these nutrients often come from fortification, rather than from the wheat itself. This isn’t ideal, as it’s always best to get nutrients naturally, rather than through fortification.
Should Your Breakfast Be High In Protein?
To truly answer the question of whether Cream of Wheat is good for you, we need to talk about what an ideal breakfast even looks like. Should it be high in protein or high in carbs? Or, should you skip it altogether, as some people do when they’re intermittent fasting?
There are some merits for each perspective, as carbs provide fast energy, protein helps to keep you full, while skipping breakfast could possibly help with your metabolism.
In part, the best solution is whatever one works for you. Try paying close attention to your breakfasts for a while and see how you feel. When do you start getting hungry again? Is it a few hours after breakfast or closer to lunchtime?
What about energy? Do you get an energy spike soon after breakfast, then a crash? This type of spike and crash is a common side effect of a high carb breakfast and isn’t great for your concentration or health.
Personally, I think high protein breakfasts are the way to go. They help you feel satisfied, give you sustained energy, and don’t come with the blood sugar spike that you get from carbs.
If you are interested in the high protein approach, then you’ll need to skip Cream of Wheat or add high protein ingredients like nuts and seeds to make it more filling.
Cream of Wheat is an easy to prepare breakfast that lends itself to many different toppings. It can be delicious and also provides you with a variety of nutrients. Even so, there are distinct downsides, including the high carb content, the amount of processing, and the sugar content of the flavored varieties.
Whether Cream of Wheat is healthy or not really depends on the type you choose and how it fits in the rest of your diet. For most people, the best option would be to focus on the original or whole grain version of Cream of Wheat, then add your own toppings for flavor. Doing so would help you avoid all the added sugar.
Plus, if you use some protein rich toppings, you can create a more satisfying breakfast than Cream of Wheat on its own.