Cereal is a food that can help you lose weight if you know what to choose. Not all cereals are created equal however and knowing the healthiest options to eat can make a big difference in your overall health and your ability to shed pounds.
What is the cereal diet?
The cereal diet gained mainstream popularity from the “Special K Challenge.”
Special K cereal has long been marketed as a healthy food that can help you lose weight, and some boxes of the cereal even had the instructions for the two-week challenge printed on them.
However, Kellogg’s — Special K’s parent company — no longer promotes this challenge or the cereal diet.
On this diet, you replace your breakfast and lunch with a serving of whole-grain cereal and skim or low-fat milk.
Your dinner and snacks should be small, low in calories, and contain a lean protein, as well as whole grains, fruits, and vegetables.
Furthermore, some diet challenges involve eating nothing but cereal with milk for an entire week. Yet, it’s best to avoid these challenges, as they can be extremely low in calories and protein and may cause fatigue, decreased focus, and mood alterations
On the cereal diet, you replace two meals per day with a serving of whole-grain cereal and low-fat milk. One popular version was the “Special K Challenge.”
How to follow the cereal diet
The cereal diet is relatively easy to follow.
Simply replace both breakfast and lunch with a serving of cereal and 1/2–2/3 cup (120–180 ml) of skim or low-fat milk. Preferably, the cereal should be low in added sugars and made from whole grains, such as Special K, Total, or plain Corn Flakes.
For dinner, you’re advised to choose a meal that is rich in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, as well as low in fat and calories — ideally 450 or fewer calories.
Examples include a grilled chicken salad with vinaigrette dressing and fresh fruit, or brown rice with salmon and seasoned vegetables.
You’re also allowed two snacks per day, each providing 100 or fewer calories.
If you follow this diet closely, you likely consume about 1,200–1,500 calories per day, which should result in weight loss for most people. Calories will depend on the cereal you choose and how much of it you eat.
It’s recommended to eat one serving of your chosen cereal at breakfast and lunch. The serving size is defined by the nutrition label on the box and is commonly 2/3–1 cup (about 28–42 grams).
Most people follow the cereal diet for five days to two weeks. You should not follow the diet longer than that, as it’s difficult to adhere to, may be low in calories and protein, and could result in food cravings
To follow the cereal diet, replace breakfast and lunch with a serving of whole-grain cereal with low-fat milk. Your supper and snacks should be low in calories and contain lean protein, whole grains, and fruit or vegetables.
Does it aid weight loss?
Many people have lost weight on the cereal diet due to the calorie restriction it involves
One study in 24 adults on the 2-week “Special K Challenge” found that participants slashed their intake by about 600 calories per day and lost weight and fat mass
However, this study was sponsored by Kellogg’s — the makers of Special K — so the results may be biased
Moreover, the weight loss may not be sustainable. Significantly decreasing your calorie intake by following a restrictive diet like the cereal diet has been shown to make it more difficult to lose weight and keep it off in the long run
For instance, levels of leptin, a hormone that tells your body when you have had enough food, decrease when you restrict your calories. Decreased leptin levels can lead to increased hunger and food cravings
Additionally, when you suddenly decrease the number of calories you eat, your body compensates by decreasing your metabolic rate, or the number of calories you burn
The most successful diet plans are sustainable long term, with a gradual decrease in calories over time to lessen these negative effect
You may lose weight on the cereal diet as a result of calorie restriction. Still, you may not be able to keep the weight off long term due to some of the effects that calorie restriction has on your metabolism.
Other possible benefits
If you choose whole-grain cereals, then following the cereal diet is a great way to increase your whole-grain and fiber intake.
Higher whole-grain intake is associated with better health outcomes and a decreased risk of death from all causes
In fact, in one review of studies with over 1 million participants, every 28 grams of whole grains consumed per day were associated with a 9% decrease in risk of death from any cause and a 14% lower risk of death from heart attack
The fiber in whole grains promotes healthy digestion and can help you manage your weight
Yet, it’s important to note that simply increasing your intake of more nutrient-dense, whole foods like vegetables and fruits will offer the same benefit.
The cereal diet can be rich in whole grains and fiber, which are associated with better health outcomes, including a lower risk of death from all causes and increased weight loss.
Pros and Cons of the cereal diet weight loss plan
Like every other diet out there, there are some advantages and disadvantages of choosing to partake in it.
Pros of this diet:
Reduced calorie intake
As mentioned above, a calorie deficit diet is quite effective in helping trim off those unwanted extra pounds. Healthy cereal options that have high amounts of whole grains and fiber while also low in sugar are great for this.
At the heart of it all, this is a pretty simple and straightforward diet. It means that you do not have to constantly think of what meal to have throughout the day or the next morning. The convenience of just having your favourite brand of healthy cereals ensures that you only have to worry about making one meal a day
Increased intake protein, fiber and whole grains
Most people today live a fast-paced life that does not leave much time or space for elaborate meals or a chance of self-care. This means that even when it comes to food, we are most likely to reach out for fast foods which are detrimental to our health and weight loss goals.
While meal prepping is also an option, it can be quite a tedious task. Healthy cereal options fit into our busy schedules and are able to provide us with proteins and fiber that we would not otherwise get if we chose to pop into our favourite fast food eatery.
Cereals also have some positive effects when it comes to the reduction of the amounts of saturated fats and cholesterol consumed throughout the day
Reduced hunger throughout the day
Research published in June 2018, proved that a high-protein, high-fibre drink taken before a meal helped to greatly reduce the desire to eat and hunger when compared with drinks that were low in both protein and fiber . You can find the same satiating nutrients in healthier cereal options.
The higher the amount of protein and fiber in your cereal, the less hungry you will feel throughout the day.
Disadvantages of taking part in the cereal diet plan:
In spite of the above-mentioned advantages, some people believe that the cereal diet is not one that people should partake in. Some reasons include:
Not a sustainable long-term solution
When thinking about short-term goals, replacing some meals with cereals sounds like a fantastic idea. You will quickly shed off the extra kilograms, and you will easily slip into that beautiful dress that’s been collecting dust in your closet. However, when thinking long-term, there is no sustainable way to keep it up.
After a while, you will begin to get bored with the monotony of these breakfast foods, and your body and mind will begin to crave other foods. Since you have deprived yourself of these other foods for so long, you are most likely to cave and eventually overeat thus adding all the lost weight (and possibly more) back.
This diet also may not be nutritionally adequate, making it potentially dangerous over the long-term. We need to eat a variety of healthy foods to make sure we get in all the nutrients our bodies require. Replacing two meals a day with cereal may not include enough variety to provide a nutritionally complete diet.
Fatigue, decreased focus and mood swings
A controlled trial in 2019 proved that a very low calorie intake can affect people negatively. At the beginning of this dietary program, you might feel fine, and even energized at the possibility of looking and feeling slimmer. However, as the days go by, the calorie deficit diet is bound to affect you in some negative ways, especially if you work at a high demanding job or are always on your feet.
Some of the effects you can encounter include impaired mood states of tension, depression, anger, vigour, fatigue, and confusion
Lack of exercise
While this is a simple and frankly economic diet, it does not incorporate or encourage an exercise plan to its users . For great and sustainable results, one should always try and eat healthy meals while also incorporating exercise in their routines. If you’re not consuming enough calories on this diet, finding the energy to exercise might prove difficult.
Slow metabolic rate
Other than food and exercise, our metabolism rate plays a huge role in weight loss, gain and maintenance. A person with a high or fast metabolism burns more calories at rest and during activity, while the opposite happens for someone with a low metabolism rate
While having a fast or slow metabolism rate is generally out of our control, some factors can influence how slow or fast this rate is. A clinical trial in 2012 found that excessively restricting calories can cause lasting metabolic changes that make it challenging to maintain weight loss
The Best Breakfast Cereals for Weight Loss
If the crunch of cereal is what you crave in the morning, reach for one of these high-fiber, high-nutrition choices for optimal health.
When faced with a hectic morning, the easiest path to breakfast often includes a cereal box. Open. Pour. Add milk. Eat. But, when it comes to nutrition, the choices in the cereal aisle don’t stack up evenly. Varieties with chocolate chips and marshmallows likely stand out as the unhealthier of choices, but seemingly healthy options, such as some granolas and sweetened whole-grain varieties, can be packed with added sugars and unhealthy fats, too — not to mention they can be seriously lacking in good-for-you nutrients.
“Never judge a cereal by the front of the box; the manufacturers aren’t there to help you be healthy,” says Gretchen Spetz, RD, a clinical dietitian with University Hospitals Cleveland Medical Center in Ohio. To get the real scoop, you need to scan the ingredients and nutrition facts label for sneaky sugar sources and hidden processed ingredients. What you do want to see are ingredients like whole grains, oats, whole wheat, and brown rice, which tend to be higher in fiber than more processed carbohydrates.
The good news is that the right cereal pick made with the right ingredients can serve up a healthy, nutrient-rich breakfast in a flash — and yes, help you meet your weight loss or weight maintenance goals.
A review published in September 2014 in the journal Advances in Nutrition that analyzed dozens of previous studies that looked at the health benefits of eating cereal for breakfast found there is trustworthy evidence that cereals with a base of oats, barley, or psyllium may help lower cholesterol levels, and that wheat-based cereals that are high in fiber may help improve bowel function, too.
To make the right decision when it comes to your breakfast bowl, Spetz recommends looking for cereals with at least 3 grams (g) of fiber (5 g or more is considered “high-fiber”), less than 10 g of sugar, and less than 200 milligrams (mg) of salt per serving.
Here’s more about all the nutrition benefits these picks provide, and what Spetz and other experts have to say about these cereal picks:
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Classic General Mills Cheerios Are High in Fiber, Low in Sugar
Serving size 1 cup
For a healthy breakfast, stick to classic Cheerios. “They contain a good amount of fiber and are low in sugar, all those things that we look for [in a healthy cereal],” Spetz explains. “Go with the plain Cheerios, not the honey nut or vanilla or any of the other flavors.” There are also many store-brand or generic versions of Cheerios, which are acceptable as well.
Need to add pizzazz to plain cereal? “Try adding some fruit to give it some sweetness,” Spetz suggests.
Kellogg’s All-Bran Complete Wheat Flakes Deliver When It Comes to Fiber
Serving size 3/4 cup
“One of the main things that I look at is the fiber content,” says Gretchen Kauth Morin, RD, coordinator of nutrition services at Sindecuse Health Center at Western Michigan University in Kalamazoo. “The fiber recommendation is 20 to 35 g a day, and if you can get one-fourth of that at breakfast, that’s good.”
All-Bran is a cereal that really delivers on fiber, but Kauth points out that this cereal’s serving size might not seem substantial enough to many people. Add volume to your healthy breakfast and up the nutrition and flavor with cut berries, ¼ cup of dried fruit, or a small serving of nuts.
General Mills Fiber One Original Is a Fiber Powerhouse
Serving size ½ cup
A serving of Fiber One cereal provides just about one-half of the fiber you need for the entire day. That’s fine if you’re used to eating a lot of fiber, but Spetz cautions, “When your gastrointestinal tract is not used to a high amount of fiber, it’s best to do it gradually.” Otherwise you risk feeling uncomfortable because of excess gas, which can undermine your healthy choice.
If eating a very high-fiber cereal is one of your nutrition goals, start with a lower-fiber cereal and gradually work your way up over the course of a few weeks while increasing fiber at other times during the day.
Keep in mind: This cereal has no sugar because it is sweetened with Spenda (sucralose), which is not to everyone’s taste.
Kashi 7 Whole Grain Nuggets Serves Up a Variety of Grains
Serving size ½ cup
Spetz advocates looking carefully at nutrition labels to make sure that the grains in the cereals you eat are whole grains, not processed, and that they are at or near the beginning of the ingredients list.
Kashi 7 Whole Grain Nuggets are whole grain, Spetz says, even though when you read the nutrition label it will include a trademarked ingredient description that reads “Kashi Seven Whole Grains & Sesame.”
This brand, which may be found in the organic and health food sections of grocery stores or in the regular cereal aisle, is a little high in sodium, but you can always balance that out by opting for lower-sodium choices the rest of the day. It’s also a good idea to measure out your portion size to make sure you’re not going overboard.
Kellogg’s Bite Size Unfrosted Mini-Wheats Have No Added Sugars
Serving size 30 pieces
Unfrosted Mini-Wheats may strike you as a bit dull, but think of this cereal as an opportunity to build a healthy breakfast. “It’s really great to pair a food that is high in protein, like milk or yogurt, with your cereal,” Spetz advises, adding that the combination is filling and satisfying.
Rather than opting for a frosted mini-wheat variety, which adds sugar and subtracts some fiber and protein, get sweetness by slicing in half a banana or sprinkling on a tablespoon of raisins or a dash of cinnamon, which adds flavor and may help control blood sugar spikes.
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Kashi GoLean Is Your High-Protein Cereal Solution
Serving size 1 ¼ cup
Kashi GoLean has an unusually high amount of protein for a high-fiber cereal thanks to the addition of soy protein to the mix — a combination that could help you feel full longer.
It also contains a natural food dye, annatto, made from the outer coat of the seed of a tropical shrub. There isn’t a lot of research linking artificial dyes to health problems, Spetz says, “But if you’re of the opinion that you want to eat as whole as possible, skip them.”