Remember that old slogan “Mikey Likes It!” from the Life cereal commercial? Of course, he did. Life cereal is made with flour, oil, and sugar—the same ingredients as you’d find in a cookie!
You can do better—and should. A high-protein breakfast can lead to guaranteed long-term weight loss. Science proved it, according to the book Zero Belly Breakfasts. Of people who’ve lost 30 pounds or more, 78 percent kept the weight off by eating breakfast every day, according to a study done by The National Weight Control Registry. And while some brands have scrambled to maintain customers by cutting down on sugar and phasing out artificial colors, there are still a few Cookie Crooks out there.
That’s why Eat This, Not That! scoured the cereal aisle to unbox the diet disasters wrecking your waistline. Watch out for these unhealthiest cereals on the planet, and for our complete lists of foods to avoid, don’t miss our essential list of the unhealthiest foods on the planet.
How we graded them
This list includes cereals with 11 or more grams of sugar per serving, and/or anything containing harmful ingredients—carcinogen-contaminated preservatives, artificial colors and flavor additives, and vegetable oils high in saturated fats.
Eat This! Tip:
We recommend looking for a cereal with at least 3 grams of fiber and no more than 10 grams of sugar per 1 cup serving. The fiber will help slow your body’s digestion of the sugars, which can limit energy-draining spikes (along with subsequent crashes) in blood sugar that cause you to always feel hungry. Make sure you always skim the ingredient list, too: a whole grain should be listed as the first ingredient—not sugar—and ensure there are no artificial colors or flavors, preservatives, or partially hydrogenated oils. Or you can make your own fat-melting breakfast using one of the recipes in Zero Belly Breakfasts.
Kellogg’s Smart Start Original Antioxidants
Sorry, Kellogg’s, but there’s nothing smart about a high-sugar, low-fiber cereal. This Smart Start cereal hijacks the healthy-sounding claim “antioxidants”—compounds that mop up inflammatory, cancer-causing free radicals—making the cereal sound better for you than it is. In reality, their box contains an inexcusable 18 grams of sugar per serving
Kellogg’s Cracklin’ Oat Bran
Yes, it has “oats” and “bran,” but Cracklin’ Oat Bran also comes with nearly 20 grams of sugar if you eat a full cup, as well as a massive glut of palm and soybean oil that loads this box with inflammatory Omega-6s and saturated fats.
Mom’s Best Crispy Cocoa Rice Cereal
Although it’s marketed as “Mom’s Best,” we’re not sure if any mom would be happy to serve her child a bowl of cereal with 19 grams of sugar per cup. The brand does list a three-quarters cup serving to make it look like you’ll be eating less sugar, but if you serve yourself a standard-size full cup (and it’ll likely even be more), you’re looking at eating the sugar equivalent of 17 gummy bears for breakfast.
Malt-O-Meal’s Chocolate Marshmallow Mateys
Generic brands are cheaper, but that’s because you’re paying for sugar and chemicals—not healthy whole grains.
Cap’n Crunch Original
Did you know that Cornell University researchers found that cereal mascots, like Cap’n Crunch, who make eye contact with purchasers were the drivers of 28 percent more brand loyalty among cereal boxes? You may be loyal, but you’re going to have to walk the plank if you think this cereal is good for you. It’s high in sugar, low in fiber, and has no redeeming qualities.
Cheerios Protein Oats & Honey
Don’t be fooled by the front of this box. If you read the fine print, you’ll only consume 11 grams of protein if you pair this cereal with dairy milk. (Emphasis on dairy because milk alternatives only have a gram of the muscle-building stuff.) These Cheerios only have 6 grams of protein per cup (it lists 7 on the box, thanks to a larger-than-standard serving size), and it’s mostly from soy protein, which is most likely extracted from genetically modified, pesticide-laden soybeans. Luckily, it sounds like General Mills will have to change the label soon, as consumer watchdog The Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) successfully litigated and reached a settlement that GM will no longer add the four grams of protein from milk to the front of the box.
If your cereal lists sugar as its first ingredient, that should be a sign to put down the box. Besides sugar, fructose, brown sugar syrup, corn syrup, and dextrose (all types of sugar), this Smorz cereal is made with bad-for-you ingredient caramel color—a chemically-derived additive that commonly contains an artificial form of phosphorous that’s been shown to leach calcium from our bones. Beyond that, the s’mores-inspired cereal is also a sugary mess of oils and chemicals, including BHT, a potentially carcinogen-containing preservative. According to Lisa Moskovitz, RD, CDN, “BHT is still highly controversial and limited research exists on whether it is harmful to the body or carcinogenic,” but she added, “it is still recommended to avoid consuming large quantities.”
Special K Fruit & Yogurt
You’ve likely heard of the benefits of yogurt, but don’t let that convince you to pick up this cereal. Kellogg’s uses nonfat yogurt powder that’s heat-treated (and, thus, contains no probiotics), and throws in a medley of inflammatory sugars, artificial flavors, and artificial colors that will knock your gut health off track.
Marshmallow Fruity Pebbles
It’s not just the 17 grams of sugar per cup that did Marshmallow Fruity Pebbles in. It was also their addition of artificial colors—Yellow 5, Yellow 6, Red 40, and Blue 1. Red 40 and the two Yellows have both been banned from food products in the UK based on research that has connected the colorants with allergies, migraines, headaches, behavioral problems, and hyperactivity among children.
Post Sour Patch Kids Cereal
We’ve said it once and we’ll say it again: any breakfast cereal that lists sugar as its first ingredient is a no-go. Unfortunately, that means you shouldn’t be buying this box of Sour Patch Kids, despite how curious you are to see how they would taste.
Nature’s Path Chocolate Koala Crisp
It claims to have 14 grams of whole grains, but that’s not actually from a fully-intact whole grain. Rather, it’s pulverized brown rice flour. What really cemented this cereal a spot on our worst cereals list was the 11 grams of cane sugar and molasses they add per serving.
RELATED: 100+ healthy breakfast ideas that help you lose weight and stay slim.
Kellogg’s Raisin Bran Crunch
Here’s a tip you should always follow when picking up a box of cereal: steer clear of the three C’s. What are the three C’s? They’re crunch, crisps, and clusters. This trio is code for clumps of rice, oats, or corn held together by sugar and fat. That even goes for bran cereals like this one from Kellogg’s. It’s time to end Raisin Bran cereals’ long-held reputation for being healthy. Dried fruits (like raisins) should be eaten in moderation because they don’t fill you up as much as water-filled fresh fruit and are higher in sugar. Each of these boxes contains 13 grams of added sugars and 15 or more grams of sugar compared to fiber per serving, which is higher than what is expert-recommended.
Honey Maid S’mores
Besides the fact that sugar is listed as the second ingredient in this cereal, this box of marshmallows and refined flour also earns a place on our list because the ingredients still list partially hydrogenated soybean oil on the label. That’s concerning because partially hydrogenated oils are artery-clogging trans fats that the FDA banned from our food supply in June 2018.
It’s really no surprise that a cereal named after candy (and with the same ingredients used in that candy) is packed with sugar and empty calories. And although this cereal is a slight improvement over the actual peanut butter cup, it still contains way more carbs and sugar than digestion-slowing fiber.
Nature Valley Baked Oat Bites
Those 7 grams of protein are not solely from whole grain oats. Nature Valley bulks up your bite by adding cheap soy protein isolate to your cereal. That’s not the worst of it. This cereal is also loaded with sugar and full of saturated fats from canola, palm kernel, and palm oil—and those aren’t the good kind.
Wondering what the worst way to start your day is? It’s with a bowl of this cereal, which contains 28 percent of your total recommended intake of added sugars for an entire day.
Quaker Real Medleys Cherry Almond Pecan Multigrain Cereal
The description of this cereal on Quaker’s website? “Feed your sweet tooth and your, well, wholesome tooth.” So at least Quaker realizes the amount of sugar (which totals more than five Chips Ahoy cookies worth) they put in this box.
Honey Graham Oh’s
Oh no! Behind pulverized corn flour, this cereal is mostly sugar and molasses, and it has no redeeming nutritional qualities.
Kellogg’s isn’t even hiding the fact that they’re trying to serve you a dessert craving for breakfast with these cereals called “Krave.” They’re mostly chocolate-flavored filling (yes, there’s more sugar and soybean oil than there is whole grain in this cereal), and they also contain artificial colors and flavors.
Cap’n Crunch OOPS! All Berries
OOPS! Cap’n Crunch opted to fill this box with sugary corn flour and artificial flavors and colors.
Did you know this box was initially advertised as a versatile cereal that could be eaten anytime from breakfast to dessert—and even in the place of candy? The mascot’s name is even Sugar Bear, and the first ingredient listed in the cereal is sugar (and the third is corn syrup)! So it should come at no surprise that there are more than 21 grams of the sweet stuff in a cup. Count this as one of the foods that have more sugar than a donut.
Snap, crackle, pop? We commend Kellogg’s for FINALLY removing artificial flavors and partially hydrogenated oils (trans fat) from this cereal, but there’s still too much sugar (16 grams) if you pour yourself an average one-cup serving.