The Smartest Cereal Choices You Can Make

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Is your favorite cereal dangerously unhealthy? Is your favorite cereal dangerously unhealthy? Pouring yourself a bowl of yummy, crunchy cereal is a fast way to fuel up in the a.m.--and research shows that people who do so also consume more produce and whole grains during the day.

The catch: You have to pick the right cereal. A sugar-packed bowlful can lull your metabolism back to sleep, and a cup of seemingly healthy granola can cost you about 600 calories and 30 grams of fat! Here's how to make a wise morning-meal decision.

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Beware Label Lingo Cereal boxes are crammed with attention-grabbing health claims: Smart choice! A good source of calcium! Now made with whole grains! Well, guess what? Cookie Crisp--yes, the cereal that looks like little chocolate-chip cookies--is made with whole grains and boasts 10 percent of your calcium needs. That doesn't mean it's your best option.

So skip the front of the box and head for the nutritional facts on the side, says Sari Greaves, R.D., a dietitian at Step Ahead Weight Loss Center in New Jersey and an American Dietetic Association spokesperson. Choose cereals that have at least three grams of fiber (it's good for weight loss and health, and it will keep you fuller longer), fewer than 200 calories per serving, and no more than eight grams of sugar. You'll regret making a low-cal, high-sugar, low-fiber selection. When the sugar high crashes, you'll be hungry because there's no slow-digesting rough stuff in your system.

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Prevent Overpouring
Serving sizes vary (for example, a serving of plain Cheerios is one cup, while Honey Nut Cheerios is three-quarters of a cup), so resist filling your bowl to the brim.

Better yet, eat cereal out of a coffee mug, says Greaves, and you'll trick your mind into thinking you're eating more. Put the box away right after pouring so you're less likely to go back for seconds. And never eat cereal straight from the box--what seems like just a few handfuls is probably a serving or more. Finally, break that fast with a teaspoon instead of a tablespoon. "Eating with a smaller spoon can slow the eating process and cut your calorie intake," says Joan Salge Blake, R.D., a clinical associate professor of nutrition at Boston University.

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Use the Right White Stuff Whole milk will send your calorie and fat counts soaring, so use skim, which has just 80 calories per cup. If skim has your tummy grumbling an hour later, stir in flaxseed or nuts next time. (While both nuts and whole milk will help satiety, nuts also contain healthy monounsaturated fats.) Stick to a tablespoon or two and you won't blow your calorie quota.

TELL US: What are some of your favorite breakfast cereals?

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