Cereal might be the quintessential breakfast (and has been for decades), but many women worry that it doesn’t offer enough nutritionally to support a growing baby and healthy pregnancy.
On the flip side, there are also worries about the safety of fortified breakfast cereals and if the added nutrients can lead to toxicity when eaten with a prenatal vitamin.
A go-to food both during pregnancy and not, cereal in all forms is a safe and nutritious addition to your diet while pregnant. The ever-expanding variety of cereal makes it easy to buy a box that helps you meet your nutrient needs (hello, fortification) and satisfies your sweet-tooth cravings too.
While the variety of cereals can be helpful and fun, it can also be overwhelming to sift through all of your options and figure out which are the best during pregnancy, if fortification is necessary, and if there are any ingredients to watch out for. In this article, I’ll break down all of these concerns and more.
What’s The Best Kind of Cereal to Eat During Pregnancy?
Many readers wonder what the ‘healthiest’ cereals are to eat during pregnancy. With so many to choose from, it’s no surprise that so many women are wondering which box to buy. Though cereals run the gamut in terms of nutrition, ingredients, and other factors, the best one to eat is the one you like the best!
If you are in search of a cereal that makes a well-balanced meal option when pregnant, opt for ones with less than 10 grams of added sugar and at least 5 grams of fiber per serving to help keep you full for longer. Mixing two types of cereal is another way to incorporate more filling fiber and protein into higher-sugar cereals.
For example, eating a bowl with ½ cup of Cinnamon Toast Crunch + ½ cup of Bran Flakes has 3.5 fewer grams of added sugar and an extra 2.5 grams of fiber compared to 1 cup of Cinnamon Toast Crunch on its own (sources: General Mills, Nature’s Path).
Should I Eat Fortified Cereal During Pregnancy?
Starting in the 1940s, US cereal manufacturers began fortifying breakfast cereals. Prior to this time, many people experienced nutrient deficiencies, so the decision was made to add these commonly missed nutrients into a type of food that most people ate- and fortified breakfast cereals were introduced (source: Nutrition Today)!
Today, nearly all cereals have B-vitamins, magnesium, iron, zinc, and folic acid (source: AAPS). In the US, breakfast cereals are the leading dietary source of folate, an important vitamin during pregnancy that supports a baby’s nervous system development (source: Public Health Nutrition).
If you are currently pregnant or trying to conceive, chances are you are already taking a prenatal vitamin so does fortified cereal really matter?
Eating fortified cereal during pregnancy or when trying to conceive may provide benefits. Women who ate cereal at least 3 times weekly around the time of conception had higher intakes of key micronutrients that support a healthy pregnancy.
There is no evidence to show that eating fortified cereals alongside taking a daily vitamin supplement increases the risk of vitamin and/or mineral excesses (source: Public Health Nutrition). Therefore it’s safe to eat fortified cereal in addition to your regular prenatal.
Iron-Rich or High-Fiber Cereal When Pregnant
Iron and fiber are two frequently talked about nutrients that are important for pregnant mothers. Fiber not only is satiating but is one part of staying regular in the bathroom and avoiding the dreaded pregnancy constipation.
While iron is commonly added to fortified cereals, not all cereals are good sources of fiber. If your daily diet is adequate in both fiber and/or iron, it is not necessary to choose cereals fortified with these nutrients.
Breakfast cereals are a convenient way to ensure you are meeting your iron and fiber needs, however, especially for vegetarian/vegan mothers who may need to be more intentional about finding high-iron foods.
Are Cereal Bars Good for Pregnancy?
Tucking into a bowl of cereal is delicious, though not always a convenient option. Cereal bars offer the same flavor sans milk (and most likely the mess) and are a much more portable way to satisfy cereal cravings.
Cereal bars are becoming almost as abundant as granola or trail-style bars but is there anything to watch out for in this snack?
There are two distinct types of cereal bars. One is crunchy, with whole pieces of breakfast cereal, similar to Rice Krispy Treat style desserts. The other option is a soft-baked bar made with oatmeal cereal. Overall, both styles of cereal bars are safe to eat during pregnancy, however, they do have differences in nutrition.
Crunchy cereal bars are often made with sugary cereals, such as Cinnamon Toast Crunch and Lucky Charms.
Though the cereal in these bars is fortified and therefore provides you with a bit of vitamins and minerals, they are not a good source of protein or fiber and often contain large amounts of added sugars. Lacking in this category, crunchy cereal bars will likely not give your snack much staying power.
Soft-baked cereal bars are a wider variety. Because they are typically oatmeal-based, these bars offer more protein and fiber making for a more filling and balanced snack.
Though many soft-baked cereal bars do still contain some additional sweetener, some bars also include fruit purees to help sweeten while packing in additional vitamins.
Are All Cereals Safe to Eat When Pregnant?
Cereal itself is safe to eat during all stages of pregnancy, but the differences between brands can complicate ensuring the products you buy are safe.
Below, I will walk you through the safety and nutrition considerations for popular types and brands of cereal.
Cinnamon Cereal (many brands)
Cinnamon is one of those tricky spices where it is safe in food amounts but too much can be harmful. The good news for cinnamon cereal lovers is that the amount of cinnamon in cinnamon cereals is considered a “typical food amount” and is safe during pregnancy.
Chocolate cereal (including Milo)
Chocolate cereals include both sugary (ie: Cocoa Pebbles or Cocoa Puffs) and more nutrient-dense options (ie: Milo). Both are safe to eat while pregnant, though the sugary chocolate cereals might not be as filling.
UK readers may be familiar with the controversy over Special K’s banned pregnancy-related ad in 2019. Despite one of its ads being banned, there is nothing unsafe about Special K, which is safe to eat while pregnant.
Rather, the Advertising Standards Authority felt that the company exaggerated the health benefits of Special K cereal when eating during pregnancy.
Other Kellogg’s Cereals
Aside from Special K, Kellogg’s makes a myriad of other breakfast cereals including Raisin Bran, Corn Flakes, Shredded Wheat/Mini-Wheats, and Rice Krispies just to name a few. All of these are safe during pregnancy.
As I mentioned above, opt for cereals made with whole grains and lesser amounts of added sugar the majority of the time.
Magic Spoon cereal is different than many of the other breakfast cereals in this list in that it is high in protein and very low in carbohydrates. While the company markets its cereal as a healthier alternative to childhood favorites, there is nothing inherently better or healthier.
Inulin (an insoluble fiber), used in Magic Spoon to keep the cereals low in carbs, can lead to GI upset and cramping in folks who are more sensitive to fiber. For women with gestational diabetes, craving sugary cereals can be difficult. Magic Spoon’s high protein, low carb content offers an option to satisfy cravings without spiking blood sugar.
Fruit and Fiber-type cereals
Fruit and fiber cereals offer a more balanced approach to health and sweet flavors. These cereals are often fortified, have a moderate amount of fiber, some protein (typically from nuts or oats), and a touch of sweeter.
If you are typically a sugary cereal eater looking for a more balanced choice, give this cereal style a try.
Sugary cereal (e.g. Lucky Charms)
There’s no doubt about it, a bowl of sugary cereal is a bite of childhood nostalgia. Typically high in added sugar and low in essential nutrients, sugary cereals are not the most nutritious choice when pregnant.
But that doesn’t mean they have no place in a balanced diet. When enjoyed in moderation, these cereals can still be a part of a healthy pregnancy diet.
Cereal that contains Honey
It is no secret that honey is unsafe for babies. Pregnant women, on the other hand, can safely enjoy honey, including in breakfast cereals. Since cereals are typically baked or toasted, any potential for bacteria (ie: in unpasteurized honey) will be killed off.
Grape-Nuts and similar
Far from the most glamorous cereal, Grape-Nuts have become a recent staple in many households. With a great crunch plus a hearty serving of fiber, Grape-Nuts makes a great addition to meals or snacks during pregnancy, especially for women craving crunchy foods.
Cereal Cravings During Pregnancy: Are They Normal?
Adding to the long list of commonly craved foods during pregnancy, cereal is often craved for both its sweet taste and big crunch.
Though having cravings for the same food on repeat can cause some women to be suspicious about what their cravings mean, rest assured that cravings for cereal are both totally normal and safe.
Many women even satisfy their cravings by having breakfast for dinner with a big bowl of cereal- more on that below!
Can I Eat Cereal for Dinner When Pregnant?
Between cravings and nausea, sometimes the only thing that sounds appetizing is a bowl of cereal- and it makes sense! Smell is a major contributing factor to feeling nauseous around certain foods, and hot foods produce stronger scents.
A cold bowl of cereal is less likely to set off sensitive stomachs, can be a flavorful or bland as you wish, and has a major crunch factor. But does a bowl of cereal and milk cover your nutritional bases if eaten as a meal?
On its own, many cereals are high in carbohydrates and lower in protein and fat. Eating cereal without milk or milk alternative is more likely to leave you hungry again soon. Enjoying cereal with reduced or full-fat milk or yogurt is a simple way to balance the meal.
Many women also report enjoying a bowl of cereal as a bedtime snack. If you’re heading to bed but feeling a bit hungry, a bowl of cereal on its own makes a great light snack.
I’m Eating a LOT of Cereal During My Pregnancy: Is This OK?
While you know eating cereal can be a balanced and healthy meal, it can feel concerning if cereal is the only thing you are eating or have an appetite for. Regularly eating cereal or eating more than a serving or two is still safe, but cereal isn’t meant to be the only part of your diet.
When it comes to cravings it can feel like eating anything else is a chore. Cereals, especially fortified ones, do provide many of your necessary nutrients but aren’t meant to be the only thing you eat day in and day out. Try topping other foods, like yogurt or smoothies, with cereal to help you include a wider variety of foods in your diet.
Just like when you are ill or not feeling well, a few days of eating the same foods that sit well in your stomach is perfectly okay. If you are having intense nausea and are only able to stomach cereal for more than a couple of days it is best to reach out to your medical provider for personal guidance.
The variety of cereals available is as wide as ever, but that doesn’t mean it has to be confusing or difficult to choose healthy options during pregnancy.
Hopefully, you can now choose your next box of cereal with confidence, knowing the differences between cereal types, how they can benefit your pregnancy diet, and ways to tackle cereal cravings.