In addition to their health concerns, some people with a recent diabetes diagnosis worry that they will no longer be able to eat the foods they enjoy, including 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.
Cereals are high in carbohydrates, which can cause blood glucose levels to rise. For this reason, eating cereal may mean finding other ways to cut carbs from the diet.
Choosing the right cereal, such as one that does not contain lots of added sugar, can allow people with diabetes to enjoy cereal 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.
People with diabetes do not have to eliminate specific foods from their diet. Instead, the goal should be to eat a balanced, nutritious diet that includes both comfort foods and more healthful options.
Most cereals are high in carbs and sugar, both of which can raise blood glucose.
Some people follow a low-carb diet because research suggests that reducing carb intake may lower the risk of experiencing diabetes-related complications, aid weight loss, and help maintain healthy blood glucose levels.
People with diabetes who want to continue eating cereal should try the following strategies:
- Limit portion sizes. Recommended serving sizes tend to be smaller than that which the average person may eat, so try measuring a serving.
- Reduce intake of other sugary and carb-rich foods. A person who wants to enjoy cereal for breakfast should avoid eating sugary snacks and other carb-heavy foods that day.
- Choose whole-grain or bran cereal. These fiber-rich ingredients may help control blood sugar. A 2013 analysis of research published in 1965–2010 found a correlation between bran and whole grains in the diet and a lower risk of developing type 2 diabetes and heart disease.
- Monitor blood glucose. Some people with diabetes might find that their bodies cannot process even relatively low-carb cereals, while others will be able to manage an occasional sugary treat.
- Eat a balanced diet. No single food can make or break a person's diet. Instead, focus on eating lots of fruits and vegetables and lean proteins.
- Stay physically active. Exercising regularly can help a person lower and manage their blood glucose.
- Be 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.
People with diabetes who want to enjoy cereal should consider the following options:
- Lower-sugar cereals. Steer clear of cereals that manufacturers market to children, which tend to contain a lot of sugar. Frosted cereals offer little nutritional value. Try a shredded whole-wheat cereal instead.
- Oatmeal. Oatmeal is an excellent high-fiber alternative to cold cereal. Try sprinkling cinnamon or adding a bit of honey or maple syrup for more flavor. Avoid the highly processed instant oatmeal with lots of added sugar, or choose a low-sugar variety.
- Cereals containing fruit and nuts. It is possible to increase the nutritional value of cereal by sprinkling berries or dried fruit on top.
- Cereals rich in bran or whole grains. These options have fewer carbs, more fiber, and less sugar than many other brands.
Although many cereals contain lots of sugar, which people with diabetes should treat as an occasional indulgence, some are rich in fiber and other nutrients. Choosing these foods can help control appetite.
Beneficial ingredients to look for include:
- proteins such as nuts and seeds
- whole grains
- fortified vitamins such as B-12
The authors of a 2012 meta-analysis found that adopting a fiber-rich diet may lower fasting blood sugar and HbA1c levels. HbA1c levels are a person's average blood sugar levels over several months.
Some ingredients to avoid in cereals include:
- added sugar
- hydrogenated oils
- refined flour instead of whole grains
- high-fructose corn syrup and other artificial sweeteners
Cereals, especially those for children, can be very high in sugar. An analysis by the Environmental Working Group found that the average serving of cereal contains 9 grams of sugar.
When choosing a breakfast cereal, remember to check the carb content on the label, as some seemingly healthful 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 daily overall carb limits.
Eating smaller portions can help people with diabetes better control their blood glucose levels, especially when they eat high-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, look at the portion size listed on the food's label and measure this amount or less.
The following are some other strategies for creating healthful portion sizes:
- Split a portion of cereal in half, and eat half in the morning and half in the evening. Dividing the portion means that the body has to process less sugar at once, potentially lowering the risk of blood sugar spikes.
- Eat low-sugar, low-carb foods along with cereal. For example, do not choose jam-covered toast and cereal for breakfast.
- Eat cereal as a snack, rather than as a main meal such as breakfast.
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 the foods they love.
For help with choosing the right diet and finding the best cereal for their health, a person can talk to a doctor or dietitian.
The types of cereal in this article are available in grocery stores and online.