Are Cheerios Healthy? Or Just Another ‘Junk Cereal’?

Our nutrition coach gives us her advice on how to make Cheerios part of a healthy breakfast.

Our diet and nutrition resources are rigorously vetted by our expert team and adhere to our Diet and Nutrition Guidelines.

When I was growing up, we had two options for commercial cereals that my parents were willing to buy: plain Shredded Wheat and plain Cheerios.

Rather than usually having boxed cereal, my mom made us homemade granola, but she was willing to let us have a “treat“ with the occasional bowl of cereal.

In many ways, she was ahead of the times in terms of what we consider a healthy cereal for children, and her attention to nutrition is probably what sparked my interest in nutrition from a young age.

But, while almost everyone can understand that a cereal like Lucky Charms or Cocoa Puffs is really nothing more than a dessert masquerading as a breakfast, are Cheerios healthy?

Cheerios can be part of a healthy breakfast as it does have its proven health benefits. However, how healthy it is will depend on a few different factors we will discuss.

This Cheerios breakfast cereal nutrition guide will discuss Cheerios nutrition facts, the pros and cons of eating Cheerios for breakfast, healthier Cheerios alternatives, and ultimately dive into your question: Are Cheerios Healthy?

Let’s jump in!

A bowl of cheerios.

What Are Cheerios?

Cheerios is a type of cold breakfast cereal made from whole-grain oats.

This boxed cereal has been produced for decades at this point (first hitting the grocery shelves back in 1941), with an increasing number of flavors produced over the years.

Cheerios cereal is produced by a large food manufacturer known as General Mills.

Generally, Cheerios are marketed as nutritious, often appearing in TV commercials suggesting that having a bowl of Cheerios can help reduce cholesterol due to the whole-grain oats used to make the cereals.

Some of the boxes of Cheerios also have various claims about how Cheerios can be part of a heart-healthy breakfast.

But are Cheerios healthy for you as a breakfast food?

The short answer is: it depends.

Whether you consider Cheerios healthy or not depends on numerous factors such as the type of Cheerios you eat, how often you eat Cheerios, your overall diet and caloric needs, and what else you are eating in your breakfast alongside Cheerios.

Let’s try to examine the Cheerios nutrition facts, benefits, and drawbacks.

Cheerios.

Cheerios Nutrition Facts

The following are the nutrition facts for Cheerios (1 1/2 cup (39g) serving):

Calories 140

Total Fat2.5g
Saturated Fat0.5g
Trans Fat0g
Polyunsaturated Fat1g
Monounsaturated Fat1g
Cholesterol0mg
Sodium190 mg
Total Carbohydrate29g
Dietary Fiber4g
Soluble Fiber2g
Total Sugars2g
Incl. Added Sugars1g
Protein5g
Vitamin D4mcg
Calcium130mg
Iron70% DV
Potassium250mg
Vitamin A10% DV
Vitamin C10% DV
Thiamin20% DV
Niacin10% DV
Vitamin B620% DV
Folate20% DV
Folic Acid45mcg
Vitamin B1220% DV
Phosphorus15% DV
Magnesium10% DV
Zinc20% DV
A bowl of cheerios.

You can find the Cheerios nutrition facts for the other types of Cheerios below:

A bowl of cheerios.

Are Cheerios Healthy?

There are several potential health benefits of eating Cheerios:

#1: Cheerios Have Vitamins and Minerals

A benefit of Cheerios for breakfast is that they contain a lot of micronutrients, are relatively low in calories, low fat (although fat isn’t demonized in the way it once was, it is still generally considered ideal to limit saturated fat), and low in sugar if you choose plain Cheerios.

However, it’s important to note that most of the nutrients in Cheerios, such as iron, vitamin D, and vitamin B12, are all added during manufacturing.

Cheerios is a fortified breakfast cereal with synthetic vitamins and minerals to augment the lower percentage of your daily value of these nutrients found naturally in the ingredients in Cheerios.

For example, Cheerios contains 45% of your daily value of iron in 1 cup. Iron is a key micronutrient necessary for carrying oxygen in the blood around your body.

A bowl of cheerios.

Iron deficiency can lead to anemia, a condition marked by fatigue, pallor, shortness of breath, brittle nails, and poor immunity, among other problems.

Particularly for children, vegans, vegetarians, or women who are pregnant, it can be difficult to meet iron needs through iron-rich foods.

Having iron-fortified breakfast cereals like Cheerios is one of the primary ways in which these demographics often can meet their iron health requirements.

To this end, one of the benefits of Cheerios is that it is a kid-friendly cereal, safe for babies as young as eight months old. The small size makes them an easy finger food for toddlers learning to feed themselves.

Cheerios are gluten-free, which makes them a safe choice for those with celiac disease or gluten sensitivity.

#2: Cheerios Can Reduce LDL Cholesterol Levels

One of the leading marketing claims surrounding the benefits of Cheerios is that this cereal may be good for heart health and reduce the risk of heart disease by lowering cholesterol levels

This is thought to be due to the beta-glucan fiber, which may help reduce both LDL (“bad”) cholesterol and total cholesterol levels.1Sima, P., Vannucci, L., & Vetvicka, V. (2018). β-glucans and cholesterol (Review). International Journal of Molecular Medicine41(4). https://doi.org/10.3892/ijmm.2018.3411

‌Beta-glucan may help stimulate the release of bile from the gallbladder. Bile is a cholesterol-based substance, so an increase in the secretion can reduce the circulating levels of cholesterol in your blood.

Cheerios.

#3: Cheerios May Support Weight Loss

Cheerios are low in calories, with just 140 calories in a large 1.5-cup serving.

Because oats are high in fiber, particularly beta-glucans, digesting Cheerios takes longer than ultra-refined cereals like Fruity Pebbles. 

This means that Cheerios can feel more filling because this cereal does not empty your stomach right away, helping control appetite.2Kristensen, M., & Jensen, M. G. (2011). Dietary fibres in the regulation of appetite and food intake. Importance of viscosity. Appetite56(1), 65–70. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.appet.2010.11.147

‌Moreover, beta-glucan fiber may also increase the secretion of peptide YY (PYY). This satiety hormone is produced in the gut after eating and can help you feel full.

Studies have shown that increased levels of PYY can decrease caloric intake and may reduce the risk of obesity.3Svane, M. S., Jørgensen, N. B., Bojsen-Møller, K. N., Dirksen, C., Nielsen, S., Kristiansen, V. B., Toräng, S., Wewer Albrechtsen, N. J., Rehfeld, J. F., Hartmann, B., Madsbad, S., & Holst, J. J. (2016). Peptide YY and glucagon-like peptide-1 contribute to decreased food intake after Roux-en-Y gastric bypass surgery. International Journal of Obesity (2005)40(11), 1699–1706. https://doi.org/10.1038/ijo.2016.121

#4: Cheerios Can Support Healthy Digestion

The fiber in Cheerios may help reduce the risk of constipation and promote healthy bowel movements.

A serving of regular Cheerios has 4 grams of fiber. This is about 16% of the DV.

A bowl of cheerios with fruit.

#5: Cheerios Provide Whole Grains

Studies have found that eating fiber-rich whole grains can potentially help lower cholesterol and reduce your risk of various diseases.4McRae, M. P. (2017). Health Benefits of Dietary Whole Grains: An Umbrella Review of Meta-analyses. Journal of Chiropractic Medicine16(1), 10–18. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jcm.2016.08.008

‌Oats, in particular, have been shown to help reduce cholesterol because they contain a special type of prebiotic fiber called beta-glucan.5Bashir, K. M., & Choi, J.-S. (2017). Clinical and Physiological Perspectives of β-Glucans: The Past, Present, and Future. International Journal of Molecular Sciences18(9), 1906. https://doi.org/10.3390/ijms18091906

‌This type of fiber seems to help carry LDL cholesterol (“bad” cholesterol) from circulation to the liver for processing and removal from the body.

Eating whole grains can also help support a healthy body weight compared to eating refined grains. Whole grains contain more protein and fiber, both of which increase satiety.

This may help you prevent overeating and balance blood sugar so that you don’t get a massive spike in blood sugar and insulin after eating a bowl of sugary cereal.

However, there are also some nutritional downsides to Cheerios that may not contribute to healthy eating.

Sugar and sugar cubes.

#1: Cheerios May Be High In Sugar Content

When looking at Cheerios nutrition and whether or not Cheerios is healthy, you have to consider the type of Cheerios cereal.

The original plain Cheerios only has 1 gram of added sugar, while all of the other flavors, such as Frosted Cheerios, Honey Nut Cheerios, Apple Cinnamon Cheerios, and even Multigrain Cheerios, have a lot of sugar or other sweeteners, including corn syrup.

For example, Honey Nut Cheerios—one of the most popular varieties—has 12 grams of sugar.

Added sugars in the diet should be limited as much as possible.

#2: Low In Protein

Even plain Cheerios have a few nutritional downsides besides being processed.

Plain Cheerios are surprisingly high in sodium and relatively low in protein, with only 5 grams per serving.

Studies suggest that breakfasts high in protein promote satiety, and if you are only having plain Cheerios without another source of protein in your breakfast, you may find that you are hungry relatively soon after finishing your breakfast.

Adding 1 cup of cow’s milk will add an additional 8 g of protein, but it is generally ideal for an adult to strive for about 20 to 25 grams of protein in a healthy breakfast.

Overnight oats.

#3: Cheerios Are Processed Food

No matter what type of Cheerios breakfast cereal you are having, all Cheerios are processed foods.

This inherently makes Cheerios less healthy than something like homemade oatmeal or overnight oats made from whole-rolled oats or steel-cut oats.

While Cheerios may be made from whole-grain oats, the oats are milled and processed to form a fine flour from which the Cheerios cereal is then extruded into molds for the shape.

This processing introduces other ingredients and breaks down some of the fiber-rich hulls on the oats.

The general consensus among nutrition professionals is that processed foods are inherently less filling and not as nutritious as natural, unprocessed, healthy foods as close to the true source as possible.

However, when comparing Cheerios vs Cocoa Puffs, Frosted Flack, Trix, Lucky Charms, or other similar sweetened cereals, Cheerios are certainly healthier because they contain more whole grains.

Cheerios and yogurt.

How to Make Cheerios a Healthy Breakfast

There are a few ways to make a Cheerios breakfast healthier.

For one, limit the serving size of the cereal, even considering paring it down from 1.5 cups to 1 cup, depending on the type of Cheerios and your age group.

Adding 1 cup of milk will add 8 g of protein.

Because Cheerios are primarily only carbohydrates, it is best to add a source of protein and fat to the breakfast.

Having two eggs on the side is a great way to hit both of those nutrients.

Alternatively, you could have Cheerios on top of Greek yogurt or mixed into unsalted cottage cheese and then add a handful of almonds, walnuts, or other nuts.

You could also have peanut butter or another nut butter mixed in.

Steer away from the sugarier Cheerios such as Frosted Cheerios or Chocolate Cheerios and choose plain Cheerios.

Two fried eggs.

However, if having a nutritious and filling breakfast is your priority, you should swap Cheerios for regular oatmeal made from whole oats or steel-cut oats or have homemade muesli made from rolled oats with nuts, seeds, and fresh fruits.

Finally, if you are diabetic or cannot have high-carbohydrate meals, Cheerios breakfast cereal will not be a good option because Cheerios are primarily carbs when looking at the macronutrient ratios.

For most people, having Cheerios in moderation can be part of a healthy diet, even if Cheerios cereals aren’t especially “healthy.”

Consider working with a nutritionist or registered dietitian to find the healthiest breakfast for your needs.

A nutritionist.

References

  • 1
    Sima, P., Vannucci, L., & Vetvicka, V. (2018). β-glucans and cholesterol (Review). International Journal of Molecular Medicine41(4). https://doi.org/10.3892/ijmm.2018.3411
  • 2
    Kristensen, M., & Jensen, M. G. (2011). Dietary fibres in the regulation of appetite and food intake. Importance of viscosity. Appetite56(1), 65–70. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.appet.2010.11.147
  • 3
    Svane, M. S., Jørgensen, N. B., Bojsen-Møller, K. N., Dirksen, C., Nielsen, S., Kristiansen, V. B., Toräng, S., Wewer Albrechtsen, N. J., Rehfeld, J. F., Hartmann, B., Madsbad, S., & Holst, J. J. (2016). Peptide YY and glucagon-like peptide-1 contribute to decreased food intake after Roux-en-Y gastric bypass surgery. International Journal of Obesity (2005)40(11), 1699–1706. https://doi.org/10.1038/ijo.2016.121
  • 4
    McRae, M. P. (2017). Health Benefits of Dietary Whole Grains: An Umbrella Review of Meta-analyses. Journal of Chiropractic Medicine16(1), 10–18. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jcm.2016.08.008
  • 5
    Bashir, K. M., & Choi, J.-S. (2017). Clinical and Physiological Perspectives of β-Glucans: The Past, Present, and Future. International Journal of Molecular Sciences18(9), 1906. https://doi.org/10.3390/ijms18091906
Photo of author
Amber Sayer is a Fitness, Nutrition, and Wellness Writer and Editor, as well as a NASM-Certified Nutrition Coach and UESCA-certified running, endurance nutrition, and triathlon coach. She holds two Masters Degrees—one in Exercise Science and one in Prosthetics and Orthotics. As a Certified Personal Trainer and running coach for 12 years, Amber enjoys staying active and helping others do so as well. In her free time, she likes running, cycling, cooking, and tackling any type of puzzle.

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