cereal aisle

What I learned analyzing 3023 Cereals

May 19, 2015

On the decline as America’s go-to breakfast food since the 1990s, cereal isn’t necessarily the healthiest option anyways


Cereal averages 19.2 ingredients!

With an entire aisle often devoted to it, cereal provides us lots of options.  So many in fact that today an average cereal for sale in the grocery store contains from 1-61 ingredients!


Number of Products by Ingredient Count


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Source: Shopwell, Walmart, manufacturer websites

Sugar isn’t as Bad as You’d Guess

While sugar ranged from 0-46g (in a granola with organic ingredients-Eaturna Cherry Vanilla), the average sugar in cereal is 9g or just 2.25 teaspoons.  Relative with 86% of flavored yogurt having 3 tsp or more of sugar, this isn’t too shabby.  So what else is going on?


Artificial Colors more Popular Ingredient than HFCS

Once you get to products with 7+ ingredients, most contain extra sugar, artificial colors and flavors, and fortification.  Interestingly, artificial colors appear in more products than high fructose corn syrup:


Artificial Colors

  • Yellow 5 & 6: 17%
  • Blue 1 & 2: 18%
  • Caramel Coloring: 12%
  • Red 40: 10%


HFCS: 12%



BHT is used in Product and Packaging

Unfortunately just optimizing for ingredient list length or sugar grams doesn’t necessarily provide a healthy outcome.  Like other packaged goods, cereals contain preservatives, however, 34% contain BHT and 1% contain BHA, two preservatives The Center for Science in the Public Interest caution we limit or avoid.

34% of cereals contain BHT or list BHT as an additive to packaging to preserve freshness. Even cereals that have 1 ingredient and 0 sugar like shredded wheat products contain BHT.


shredded wheat


Foodwise Bottom Line

This is one category where it really pays to read the nutrition panel and ingredient list.  Who would guess that Raisin Bran has more sugar than Trix and Coco Puffs, Special K Blueberry would have 52 ingredients or that 34% of products would have BHT as a preservative.  Not to mention all the confusing claims on the front claiming good source of vitamin abc or fiber or fill in the blank.


Based on optimizing sugar, ingredient length and real ingredients, our top brands are: Arrowhead Mills, Barbara’s, Bob’s Red Mill and Erewhon Cereal.


Let us know yours in the comments.


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