People who receive a diabetes diagnosis may have concerns about how it will affect not only their health but also their lifestyle. They may worry that they will no longer be able to eat the foods they enjoy, including those high in carbohydrates, such as cereal.

However, there are many types of cereal that people with diabetes can eat without worrying, as long as they take a few things into consideration.

Many cereals are high in carbohydrates, which can cause blood glucose levels to rise. For this reason, it is advisable that people living with diabetes eat cereal and other high carb foods, such as pasta, less frequently.

Choosing the right cereal, such as one that is high in fiber and does not contain a lot of added sugar, can allow people with diabetes to enjoy this food more often.

In this article, we discuss the best types of cereal for people with diabetes to eat, as well as ingredients to look for or avoid.

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People with diabetes do not have to eliminate specific foods from their diet. Instead, the goal should be to eat a balanced, nutritious diet high in whole foods, while occasionally enjoying treat foods.

Most cereals are high in carbs and sugar, both of which can raise blood glucose. Therefore, although people can enjoy certain cereals as an occasional treat, they may wish to consider low carbohydrate options to help manage diabetes.

A 2015 international scientific consensus article notes that foods with a low glycemic index and load may help prevent and manage diabetes by improving glycemic control. Additionally, a 2019 review concluded that foods and beverages higher in these values might contribute to type 2 diabetes.

People with diabetes who wish to continue eating cereal can consider the following strategies:

  • Limiting portion sizes: Recommended serving sizes tend to be smaller than those that the average person eats, so it can be helpful to weigh out a serving.
  • Considering other carb sources: A person should account for any extra ingredients that they add, such as milk, yogurt, or fruit.
  • Reading dietary labels: Reading the nutritional labels can help people opt for cereals that are low in sugars and have a higher fiber content. These may include whole grain or bran cereals.
  • Eating a balanced diet: A person who wants to enjoy cereal regularly, such as for breakfast, may need to look at reducing their intake of sugary snacks and other carb-heavy foods throughout the rest of the day.
  • Monitoring blood glucose: Some people with diabetes might find that their body cannot process even relatively low carb cereals, while others will be able to manage an occasional sugary treat.
  • Staying physically active: Exercising regularly can help a person lower and maintain their blood glucose levels.
  • Being mindful of calorie content: Even if a cereal is relatively low in carbs, it may be high in calories. This can be problematic for people trying to lose weight.

Learn about alternative breakfast ideas for people with type 2 diabetes.

Although some cereal options may appear healthy, it is advisable for people to check nutritional labels and ingredients lists for added sugars and unhealthy fats. People can also see whether cereals contain added protein and fiber, both of which can help with blood sugar management.

Healthier breakfast cereal options will typically contain whole grains and be lower in sugar, fat, and salt. Examples may include oats, wholewheat cereal biscuits, shredded whole grain pillows, and unsweetened grain-based cereals.

People with diabetes can best manage the condition by:

  • Eating low sugar cereals: It is best to steer clear of cereals that manufacturers market to children, which tend to contain a lot of sugar. Frosted cereals offer little nutritional value compared with a shredded whole wheat cereal.
  • Opting for oatmeal: Oatmeal, or porridge, is an excellent high fiber alternative to cold cereal. A topping of cinnamon or fresh fruit can add more flavor. Mixing in nuts or nut butter can also help people feel fuller for longer. However, it is important to avoid the highly processed instant oatmeal with lots of added sugar and choose a low sugar variety.
  • Adding extra ingredients: It is possible to increase the nutritional value of cereal by adding certain ingredients, such as fruits, nuts, and seeds.
  • Choosing cereals rich in bran or whole grains: These options have fewer carbs, more fiber, and less sugar than many other brands.
  • Considering healthier swaps: It is advisable to replace sweetened cereal products with more nutritious alternatives, such as no-added-sugar muesli.
  • Checking nutritional labels: Some cereals, such as muesli, may appear healthy because they contain whole grains and dried fruit, but certain brands may be high in fat, sugar, and salt. It is best to look for cereals that are low in carbs but high in protein and fiber.

Although many cereals contain lots of sugar, which people with diabetes are best to limit to an occasional indulgence, some are rich in fiber and other nutrients. Choosing these foods can help control appetite.

Beneficial ingredients to look for include:

Studies from 2019 and 2020, which involved individuals living with type 1 and type 2 diabetes, respectively, suggest that adopting a fiber-rich diet may help lower fasting blood sugar and HbA1c levels. HbA1c refers to a person’s average blood sugar levels over 3 months.

Some ingredients to avoid in cereals include:

  • added sugars, such as high fructose corn syrup
  • hydrogenated oils
  • refined flour instead of whole grains

Cereals, especially those for children, can be very high in sugar. An analysis by the Environmental Working Group found that the average serving of cold cereal contains 9 grams of sugar.

When choosing a breakfast cereal, it is important to check the carb content on the label, as some seemingly healthy cereals are still very high in carbs. Having a high carb content is not necessarily bad, but for people with diabetes trying to monitor their carb intake, consuming a single bowl of cereal may take them very close to their daily overall carb limit.

Learn more about diabetes meal plans.

Eating smaller portions can help people with diabetes better control their blood glucose levels, especially when they eat higher carb foods, such as cereal.

People with diabetes should not make portion decisions based on the size of the bowl, as this may mean eating very large portions. Instead, they should look at the portion size listed on the food’s label and measure this amount or less.

People can use other strategies to help create appropriate portion sizes. For example, they can eat a snack-sized amount of cereal between meals rather than having a full serving as a main meal. Alternatively, they can still eat cereal for breakfast but opt for a smaller portion and add other ingredients that are high in protein and fiber.

The glycemic index refers to a scale that ranks foods according to how quickly they may raise a person’s blood sugar. The glycemic load is a different measurement that also accounts for the serving size.

Some nutrition experts suggest that these scores can be helpful for improving glycemic control in individuals living with diabetes. However, other health experts believe that it may add an unnecessary layer of complication and suggest that people instead focus on the total amount of carbohydrates in food.

As such, people living with diabetes may wish to consider following a low glycemic diet, which involves including low glycemic foods, such as nonstarchy vegetables, while avoiding high glycemic foods, such as white bread.

Eating a balanced diet is one of the most important strategies for managing diabetes, but that does not mean that people have to give up all of the foods that they love. People can check the nutritional labels and ingredients of cereals to identify more suitable options.

Typically, cereals such as oatmeal and whole wheat products may be more useful in allowing a person to control their blood sugar levels.

For help choosing the best cereal for their health and putting together a suitable overall diet plan, a person can talk with a doctor or dietitian.