As with most foods, when it comes to cereal, finding one that satisfies the palate and boosts your body is a challenge. Some taste good but aren't that good for you. Others are nutritious but taste like crap. So which bowls made our staff snap, crackle and pop? We tried all the major healthy brands, then asked Elizabeth Ward, a registerd dietitian and Men's Fitness nutrition adviser, to assess their true nutritional value. We picked the tastiest; Ward selected the healthiest. But which earned a spot on both lists?
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Post Grape Nuts Flakes
110 calories, 3 g protein, 24 g carbs, 1 g fat, 3 g fiber
Despite being super tiny, these flakes had a delicious wheat flavor -- nutty enough to seem healthy without being so overwhelming they screamed "health food." Be forewarned, though: The flakes dissolve quickly, leaving a sort of whole-wheat mush on your tongue.
OUR EXPERT: "The cereal claims to contain whole-grain wheat with barley, but there's nothing on the packaging or food label to show that it's actually much better for you than regular cereals. On the plus side, each serving does provide a decent dose of iron, B vitamins and vitamin D."
TASTIEST: Honey Bunches of Oats With Real Strawberries
120 calories, 2 g protein, 26 g carbs, 1.5 g fat, 2 g fiber
Delicious. Staffers loved the variety of differently sized and flavored flakes, plus the ample freeze-dried strawberry slices and large chunks of granola. There were definite seconds. And thirds.
OUR EXPERT: "Like your cereal sweet and highly processed? Pick this one. You'll get the equivalent of two teaspoons of sugar in every three-quarters cup of cereal and very little fiber or protein."
Health Valley Granola Raisin Cinnamon
190 calories, 5 g protein, 42 g carbs,2 g fat, 5 g fiber
HV packs its raisins separately from the cereal, which we found weird. Even weirder? The speck-size pieces of granola, which looked like sand. Surprisingly, appearances to the contrary, the cereal itself was good, like an oatmeal cookie or perhaps the topping on a fruit cobbler, thanks to ample amounts of spices, including nutmeg and cinnamon.
OUR EXPERT: "Granola is usually surrounded with an aura of healthfulness, so it pays to read labels. On the plus side, this cereal is low-sodium, and serves up 5 grams each of protein and
fiber per serving. Problem is, the serving size is a mere two thirds cup. Eat twice as much, and you're in for 380 calories and a whopping 5 teaspoons of sugar."
BEST OVERALL: Special K Plus Protein
100 calories, 10 g protein, 14 g carbs, 3 g fat, 5 g fiber
Our big winner. We liked the nice big flakes, especially their thick, rich molasses taste. Less appealing, but easy enough to overlook: a somewhat potent smell, and overly processed aftertaste.
OUR EXPERT: "Outstanding for its 10 grams of protein, 5 grams of fiber and only trace levels of sugar. Plus, one serving provides hefty doses of all major B vitamins, plus vitamins E and C, as well."
Kashi 7 Whole Grain Honey Puffs
120 calories, 3 g protein, 25 g carbs, 1 g fat, 2 g fiber
Kashi's puffs looked disappointing at first, sort of like rabbit food or the stuff you'd use to line a gerbil cage. The flavor was better: lightly sweet, with an airy, popcornlike texture and a pleasant, lingering honey flavor.
OUR EXPERT: "Whole grain isn't synonymous with high fiber, so even though this cereal supplies just two grams of dietary fiber, it delivers nearly half the whole grain you need in a day, with zero sodium to boot. It's a good choice."
110 calories, 2 g protein, 23 g carbs, 1 g fat, 3 g fiber
The familiar Cheerios shape reminded staffers of little doughnuts. And thanks to a light glaze, it didn't have the dr,y chalky taste many high-fiber cereals possess. Instead, it's more like a decent quality multigrain bread. Decent, but not outstanding.
OUR EXPERT: "'Multigrain' doesn't always mean a cereal's entirely whole grain, although this one guarantees at least 16 of the 48 grams of whole grain you need each day. And it saves you the multivitamin, since a serving contains 100 percent of your daily quota for B vitamins, iron, vitamin E and zinc."
HEALTHIEST: Ezekiel 4:9 Sprouted Whole Grain Cereal, Golden Flax
180 calories, 8 g protein, 37 g carbs, 2.5 g fat, 6 g fiber
Not the most impressive cereal ever: Flakes are small and crumbly, and the cereal's smell is a tad musty, like a library or week-old cut grass. But tasters who loved wheat germ or more savory breakfast options were pleased ... some surprisingly so.
OUR EXPERT: "This cereal is a standout. Get past the name and you'll find a cereal that's made from whole grains, organic, completely lacking in added sugar, with 6 grams of fiber, 8 grams of protein, and a nice balance of added vitamins and minerals that's not over the top. Unbeatable!"
100 calories, 3 g protein, 22 g carbs, 0.5 g fat, 3 g fiber
Tasters booed. Seriously. The box may draw top athletes, but these flakes are no winners -- dry, gritty and fibrous, like raisin bran without the raisins. Or maybe a big ol' bowl of brittle leaves.
OUR EXPERT: "If you enjoy Wheaties, go ahead and eat them, but don't expect too much in the way of nutrition, with the exception of about half your daily B vitamins, iron, and zinc needs, and a marginal shot of vitamin D."
Originally published in Men's Fitness magazine, April 2009. For more nutrition articles from Men's Fitness, visit http://www.mensfitness.com/nutrition.