Looking for grain-free or gluten-free cereals and granolas, or simply trying to eat fewer carbs? We polled nutritionists to find out which low-carb cereals they recommend.
So you're trying to cut back on carbs, but you can't start the day without your bowl of cereal. We get it. Luckily, there are more cereal options than ever on supermarket shelves, and many of them contain lower-carb ingredients that will help you get your morning fix without loading up on heavy carbohydrates.
Health's contributing nutrition editor Cynthia Sass, RD, MPH, suggests looking for cereals that are made with nuts, seeds, coconut, a little bit of fruit, natural sweetener (think honey or agave syrup) instead of added sugar, and spices for flavor. Although many of these cereals may be gluten- or grain-free, you can also look for flaked whole grain varieties.
"They pack fewer carbs per bite compared to dense squares or clusters," Sass explains, while still delivering a serving of whole grains (which offer many health benefits of their own—from keeping you feeling full thanks to fiber, to helping regulate blood sugar).
But not all low-carb cereals are created equal.
"I would avoid cereals made with processed protein, like soy protein isolate or whey protein," says Sass. "You’re better off mixing your cereal with grass-fed Greek yogurt, or having protein on the side, like pasture-raised eggs."
Also on Sass's "avoid" list? Any packaged cereals that contain artificial sweeteners or sugar alcohols. These ingredients "can wreak havoc with your gut, as well as throw off natural appetite regulation," she tells us.
It's also important to note that fewer carbs don't necessarily mean "healthy" when it comes to cereal. "Keep in mind that low-carb or grain-free doesn't mean it’s OK to eat as much as you want," says Sass. "Look at the portion sizes stated on labels, and strive for balance."
Below, the low-carb cereal and granola loved by Sass and other nutritionists we polled.
Purely Elizabeth Grain-Free & Gluten-Free Granola
Organic, gluten-free, and vegan, this Purely Elizabeth cereal checks lots of boxes for health-conscious breakfast eaters (and the product counts Sass as a fan). The banana nut flavor includes other good-for-you ingredients like organic hemp, chia, and coconut flakes, while coconut sugar delivers natural sweetness.
Nutritional information: 9 grams total carbohydrates, 4 grams of sugar, 5 grams of protein, 2 grams of fiber, 150 calories per serving
ELAN Premium Paleo Nut Granola
Sass also recommends these little "shot" bags of cereal from ELAN, which are portable enough to stash in your desk drawer or take with you when traveling. They're paleo-friendly and packed with healthy fats from nuts like cashews, macadamia nuts, and Brazil nuts.
Nutritional information: 7 grams total carbohydrates, 2 grams of sugar, 5 grams of protein, 3 grams of fiber, 180 calories
Thrive Market Organic Coconut Flakes Cereal
In addition to flaked cereals, Sass also recommends looking for "puffed" varieties, which deliver fewer carbs per serving. Our pick? This paleo, vegan, and gluten-free cereal from Thrive Market. It has just three ingredients: coconut meat, coconut water, and palm starch.
Nutritional information: 14 grams total carbohydrates, 5 grams sugar, 0 grams protein, 5 grams fiber, 160 calories
Wildway Grain-Free Hot Cereal
If you prefer your cereal hot, try this grain-free version from Wildway, a favorite of Aimee Aristotelous, RD, a certified nutritionist and author of The Whole Pregnancy. "It contains real food ingredients, [is] certified gluten-free, paleo-friendly, soy-free, and sweetener-free," she tells us. Not a fan of hot cereals? She also recommends the brand's grain-free granola.
Nutritional information: 17 grams total carbohydrates, 5 grams sugar, 7 grams protein, 8 grams fiber, 270 calories
Nature's Path Organic Gluten-Free Granola Cereal
This gluten- and grain-free granola also gets Aristotelous's vote. "This selection has a small amount of added sugar, so it may be a good transition for those who are going from highly processed, high-sugar commercial cereals to one that is based on whole foods," she says.
Nutritional information: 21 grams total carbohydrates, 7 grams sugar, 3 grams protein, 2 grams fiber, 140 calories
Cascadian Farms Organic Granola Cereal French Vanilla Almond
Kathy Siegel, MS, a nutrition consultant at Triad to Wellness, is a fan of Cascadian Farms. "Carb-conscious cereal lovers should look for brands that contain fiber-rich grains including oats, whole grain wheat, and ancient grains, such as sorghum and puffed quinoa," she says. This variety, made with puffed whole grains, fits the bill.
Nutritional information: 22 grams total carbohydrates, 7 grams sugar, 2 grams protein, 1 gram fiber, 100 calories
Thrive Market Organic Vanilla Cinna-Yum Granola
"Avoid inflammatory oils like safflower, sunflower, corn, or soybean oils and opt for whole food cereal or granolas with limited ingredients, which tend to be made from nuts, seeds and occasionally whole oats or puffed rice," says Kelly LeVeque, RD, a celebrity nutritionist who works with Jennifer Garner and Jessica Alba, and author of Body Love. One of her faves: This grain-free granola from Thrive Market, which has a blissfully short ingredient list but tons of flavor.
Nutritional information: 8 grams total carbohydrates, 4 grams sugar, 5 grams protein, 2 grams fiber, 150 calories