What we eat for breakfast is influenced by our culture, diet trends, cravings, health concerns, marketing, and convenience. In Western cultures, cereals –both hot and cold- are among the most popular choices for breakfast. If you follow a low FODMAP diet for gut issues, the decision on which cereal to purchase becomes more difficult.
Here we discuss whether cereal is a healthy choice for breakfast, how to find low FODMAP cereals, tips for low FODMAP label reading, and a bit about FODMAP stacking.
Is Cereal Healthy?
Here is a debate that could go on for hours! Most breakfast cereals are high in carbohydrates – which is not necessarily a bad thing. However, a highly processed cereal that is high in sugar (more on this below) is not the healthiest choices.
After fasting through the night our body’s stores of carbohydrates are pretty well used up and eating cereal can be a good way to refuel. However, if you subscribe to the low carb or keto lifestyle, cereal likely will not be your first choice.
Back to the pro side of the argument, eating cereal for breakfast can be an easy way to get in a healthy dose of fiber. However, most cereals that are low FODMAP are also low in fiber. There are some exceptions (think oats!) so always check the label.
Look for cereals made with whole grains. On the Nutrition Facts label, look for at least 3 grams of fiber per serving. You can also increase fiber by topping your cereal with low FODMAP fruit and nuts.
Many cereals are also enriched with vitamins and minerals. While some may argue that processed foods are not the best way to get vitamins and minerals, it remains true that a large group of people would be deficient in certain nutrients were it not for cereal and other processed grain foods. Eating cereal can be a big help for those who struggle to get in enough fruits, vegetables, nuts, and legumes.
A Note on Sugar
Many cereals, especially (and unfortunately) those marketed toward children are loaded with sugar. According to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, breakfast cereals and cereal bars are among the top sources of added sugars in the United States. Check the Nutrition Facts label on your cereal box for “added sugars”. The lower the better but try not to exceed 10 grams per serving.
The Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends no more than 10% of calories from added sugars (200 calories or 48 grams per day for those on a 2000 calorie diet). Other organizations have more strict recommendations. The American Heart Association recommends no more than 24 grams (6 teaspoons) of added sugars per day for women, and 36 grams (9 teaspoons per day for men).
Unfortunately, many low FODMAP cereals tend to be heavily processed, low in fiber, and high in sugar. However, this is not always the case, so cereal doesn’t have to be off limits. Once again it is worth checking the label.
How to Find Low FODMAP Cereals
Below are several tips to help you choose cereals that might fit into your low or reduced FODMAP diet. If you are lactose intolerant you will also want to choose lactose free milk or a dairy alternative. Fortunately, there are a lot of milk alternatives available these days and many are low FODMAP. These include almond milk, rice milk, quinoa milk, macadamia milk, and hemp milk.
Certified Low FODMAP
If you really want to play it safe, simply look for the Monash University Low FODMAP Certification symbol. Foods boasting this symbol have been tested in a lab by the experts at Monash University.
Also check out the helpful Monash University FODMAP Diet app.
*I do NOT receive compensation from Monash University for these recommendations. I simply use and trust their resources.
Cold Low FODMAP Cereal
Certified Low FODMAP Cereal
Kellogg’s Frosted Flakes & Chocolate Frosted Flakes
Kellogg’s Rice Krispies, Strawberry Rice Krispies, Cocoa Krispies & Frosted Krispies
Kellogg’s Crispix Original
Kellogg’s Special K
GoodMix Superfoods Blend 11
Not Tested, But Contain Low FODMAP Ingredients
General Mills Original Cheerios
General Mills Corn Chex
Puffins Peanut Butter Cereal
Barbara’s Organic Brown Rice Crisps
Barbara’s Organic Corn Flakes
Envirokidz Gorilla Munch Cereal
Envirokidz Peanut Butter Panda Puffs
Envorokidz Frosted Amazon Flakes
Nature’s Path Rice Puffs
Arrowhead Mills Puffed Corn
Arrowhead Mills Puffed Rice
Full Circle Market Frosted Flakes
Full Circle Market PB Blasts
Hot Low FODMAP Cereal
Many gluten-free grains are also low in FODMAPs and can be used to make hot cereal. Be cautious of products with added ingredients which may be higher in FODMAPs, like flavored instant oatmeal. The following are low FODMAP grains that can be used to make a delicious breakfast porridge.
½ cup (dry) quick oats
Old fashioned rolled oats
Steel cut oats
Quinoa or quinoa flakes
Corn grits or polenta
White or brown rice
The above lists are certainly not all inclusive but may give you a good place to start.
Label Reading for Low FODMAP Cereal
Still not sure if your favorite cereal is low FODMAP? Start by looking for a product made with low FODMAP grains like oats, quinoa, rice, corn, or buckwheat. Look at the ingredients list for other possible high FODMAP ingredients.
If you are still in the elimination phase of your diet, it might be helpful to stay away from cereal products with any high FODMAP ingredients, unless you have cleared it with your dietitian. If you have already gone through the re-introduction stage, feel free to make exceptions according to the types of FODMAPs you tolerate.
Note that ingredients are listed in the order of quantity. Therefore, if you see a high FODMAP food as one of the first 3 ingredients in a product, you might want to shy away from that one or consume it in a limited portion. If the high FODMAP ingredient comes toward the end of the list it might not cause as much discomfort because it is likely used in small amounts.
There are many cereals on the market that have mostly low FODMAP ingredients, but contain a high FODMAP sweetener like honey, agave nectar, golden syrup, coconut sugar, or molasses.
While it can be hard to know how much of these sweeteners are in a product, if they are listed toward the end of the ingredient list they might be acceptable on a low FODMAP diet. This may especially be true if the product contains 5 grams or less per serving of added sugar. In this case it is likely ok to include these cereals if the ingredients are otherwise low in FODMAPs.
Common High FODMAP Ingredients in Cereal Products
- High fructose corn syrup
- Fruit juice concentrate or puree
- Agave nectar*
- Golden syrup*
- Coconut sugar*
- Sugar alcohols including sorbitol, mannitol, lactitol, maltitol, xylitol, erythritol, and isomalt
*Items with an asterisk are considered low FODMAP when present in amounts less than 1 teaspoon
- Chicory root
- Fructo-oligosaccharides (FOS)
- Galacto-oligosaccharides (GOS)
- Bean based flours
- Dried Fruit
A Note About “Natural Flavor”
Natural flavor is something commonly seen on the ingredient list of processed foods. According to FDA regulations, natural flavors are:
“derived from a spice, fruit or fruit juice, vegetable or vegetable juice, edible yeast, herb, bark, bud, root, leaf or similar plant material, meat, seafood, poultry, eggs, dairy products, or fermentation products thereof, whose significant function in food is flavoring rather than nutritional.”
This non-specific term may include high FODMAP foods like onion powder, garlic powder, or fruit juice concentrate. Usually, natural flavor comes toward the end of the ingredient list, meaning it is present in smaller amounts.
For those on the elimination phase of the low FODMAP diet it may be wise to avoid foods with natural flavor in the ingredients. If you have gone through re-introduction and are following your own modified version of a low FODMAP diet, it may be ok to give these foods a try.
Not all foods have been tested for FODMAP content. Also keep in mind that low FODMAP doesn’t necessarily mean no FODMAP. Therefore, when several low- or medium- FODMAP ingredients are used in the same product it can add up to a higher FODMAP product in the end (also see FODMAP Stacking below).
Furthermore, food manufactures can (and often do) change their recipes. That means that your go-to cereal could become high in FODMAPs at some point. It is good practice to scan those ingredient labels frequently to look for changes.
If your symptoms are well controlled, don’t be afraid to try a food you are not sure about. Low FODMAP diets are meant to be challenged! FODMAPs and other fibers re GOOD for your gut microbiome (read Importance of Food Diversity in Gut Health).
If you want to try something new, simply start with a small portion and monitor your symptoms – a registered dietitian can help you through this process.
FODMAP stacking refers to the additive effect of small portions of moderate or high FODMAP foods. For example, if you have a breakfast cereal that contains wheat you might not experience symptoms from that meal alone.
But let’s say later in the day you grab just one slice of pizza with wheat crust and a sauce that contains a little onion and garlic. Or maybe you grab a gluten free granola bar, but you didn’t look at the ingredients close enough and it contains inulin.
While eating one of these items alone might not be a problem, the effect of these FODMAP ingredients combined throughout the day can lead to discomfort. And often with FODMAP stacking it can be tricky to determine which foods caused your symptoms.
The Bottom Line
Cold and hot cereals are among the most popular breakfast choices. However, there are some extra considerations to take when eating cereal as part of a low FODMAP diet.
Products with the Monash University Low FODMAP symbol are certified low FODMAP. For products without this symbol, it is important to check the ingredient list for ingredients that might cause you trouble.
Unfortunately, many low FODMAP cereals are also high in sugar and low in fiber. For the healthiest options, look for products with less than 10 grams of added sugar and at least 3 grams of fiber. Also consider adding low FODMAP fresh fruit and nuts to your cereal for a boost of fiber and other nutrients.
For low FODMAP breakfast options beyond cereal, check out my article 7 Quick and Easy Low FODMAP Breakfast Ideas.