Foods, Prediabetes

Can I Eat Cereal If I Have Prediabetes?

Breakfast cereal is convenient and quick, but is packed with carbohydrates. Does that mean it is off limits if you want to prevent diabetes?
Can I Eat Cereal If I Have Prediabetes?
Natalie Stein

Exercise, Fitness & Nutrition Expert | Lark Health

If you have been diagnosed with prediabetes, it is time to take action. Most people with prediabetes develop type 2 diabetes within years, but the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention say that making lifestyle changes can lower risk for diabetes by “up to 58%.”

Eating healthily and losing a small amount of weight are among the most effective lifestyle changes you can make to reverse insulin resistance. 

Breakfast cereal is convenient, quick, portable, and often a habit, and it is packed with carbohydrates. Does that mean it is off limits if you want to prevent diabetes?

Cereal can indeed fit into a healthy diet to prevent diabetes, and here are some tips for eating cereal with prediabetes!

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The Goodness of Cereal

Grains are the main components of traditional breakfast cereals, so how do they fare health-wise? 

It turns out that eating breakfast cereal regularly tends to be associated with some benefits. For example, research published in PLOS One found that cereal eaters have a lower risk for deficiencies, and a review article published in Advances in Nutrition has found that cereal eaters have better overall intakes of vitamins and minerals, and lower risk for diabetes and heart disease. Furthermore, oat is known to lower cholesterol, and wheat bran has been found to improve bowel function.

Many breakfast cereals are fortified with many essential vitamins and minerals, including some which the Dietary Guidelines state are of concern due to commonly being under-consumed. These include calcium and vitamin D. Whole grain and bran cereals can also be important sources of dietary fiber, which is another nutrient of concern, since over 90% of U.S. adults do not meet recommendations for fiber intake.

Disadvantages of Cereal

There can be some concerns with eating cereal. For example, research in PLOS One found that more frequent breakfast cereal consumption was associated with higher sugar intake. Eating a high amount of added sugars can increase blood sugar and risk for type 2 diabetes, and lead to weight gain. 

According to the Dietary Guidelines from the Departments of Health and Human Services (DHHS) and Agriculture (USDA), Americans get an average of 7% of total added sugars from cereal and cereal bars. That makes sense when considering that added sugars make up 30% of the weight of many common types of cereal, including many types of kids’ breakfast cereal and flavored instant oatmeal.

Added sugars and refined grains, such as in many breakfast cereals, have a high glycemic index. That means their carbohydrates can lead to sudden increases in blood sugar, and to later decreases. In addition, they can have a high glycemic load, according to the Harvard School of Public Health. That means they can have an even greater effect on blood sugar, with bigger serving sizes being more potentially harmful.

Choosing the Best Cereal for Prediabetes

Ready-to-eat breakfast cereal and instant hot cereal can be anything from very good to very bad for managing prediabetes. These are some tips when choosing a cereal.

  • A cereal with at least 3 to 5 grams of fiber per serving can help you reach fiber intake recommendations.
  • The nutrition label can tell you how many grams of sugar are in the cereal. Some cereals have 5 or fewer grams of sugar per serving.
  • The cereal is mostly or completely whole-grain if a whole grain is listed first in the list of ingredients. Oats, whole wheat, brown rice, millet, rye, and buckwheat are all whole grains. Oat bran and wheat bran also count.
  • A fortified cereal helps increase vitamin and mineral intake.

Mayo Clinic has some additional suggestions, such as checking the serving size when you check for calories, fiber, sugar, and other nutrients.

These are some of the best cereals if you have prediabetes.

Higher-Fiber, Lower-Sugar Cereals (Look for These) Lower-Fiber, Refined, and/or Higher-Sugar Cereals (Limit These)
  • Steel cut, quick, or rolled oats, or plain instant oatmeal
  • Plain “ancient grains” cereals
  • Original Cheerios or other plain “O’s”
  • Plain shredded wheat
  • Fiber One
  • Original All-Bran
  • Peanut Butter Puffins
  • Kashi 7 Grain Nuggets or Puffs
  • Brown rice puffs
  • Wheaties or bran flakes
  • Flavored instant oatmeal
  • Flavored Cheerios
  • Raisin bran
  • Granola with honey, other added sugars, or chocolate
  • Most cereal marketed to children
  • Cereal with “crunch” or “clusters”
  • “Frosted” cereals, such as frosted flakes and shredded wheat
  • Cornflakes and white rice crispies

Healthy Meals with Cereal on a Diet for Prediabetes

Since most standard breakfast cereals are predominantly carbohydrates, and serving protein and/or healthy fat with cereal can create a more balanced meal or snack. There is always room for more fiber, too!

The simplest balanced meal with cereal is the standard one: cereal with milk and fruit. These are some other healthy ways to eat cereal for a meal or snack.

  • In (or on) non-fat cottage cheese or plain yogurt, with fresh fruit and/or nuts or seeds.
  • In snack mix with peanuts, pumpkin seeds, popcorn, and blueberries or grapes.
  • Oatmeal with peanut butter or walnuts and berries or sliced fruit.
  • Oatmeal with pureed pumpkin and a cooked egg.
  • Baked into homemade cereal bars with peanut butter, egg white, and diced apple or pear.
  • In egg cups with spinach, diced tomatoes, and parmesan cheese.

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It is possible to get the benefits of cereal with liking breakfast, or really even liking cereal. Crushed cereal and oats make good alternatives to breadcrumbs when making dishes such as baked “fried” chicken, turkey meatloaf, veggie burgers, and parmesan crusted tilapia.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, learning about prediabetes can give you the power to take steps to lower blood sugar and prevent or delay a diagnosis of type 2 diabetes. By taking charge early, most people with prediabetes can design an effective meal plan with carefully chosen cereals. Lark can help guide you in making smart, high-fiber choices throughout your day as you work to lower risk for diabetes.