What are the unhealthiest breakfast cereals in America?
American breakfast foods are some of the unhealthiest food items a person can eat, with sugary cereals topping the list. While cereal is one of the more affordable breakfast items, you get what you pay for — great flavors, lots of sugar, and little nutritional value.
As you see your favorite cereals on this list, you may become concerned about the sugar content, saturated fat, and lack of protein that most of these items offer. Unfortunately, eating cereal every day is not conducive to a balanced diet, and we encourage you to find healthier options that taste better and fuel your body.
In this article, we’ll be breaking down the top 15 unhealthiest cereals in America. We believe that knowledge is power, and it’s important to know what you are putting in your body, especially if you’ve been eating it since you were a child.
The 15 Unhealthiest Breakfast Cereals in America
Cereal is a convenient way to start the day; it’s easy to prepare, clean up and requires zero prep or cooking. It’s easy to make, but that certainly doesn’t make it the healthiest option.
We researched the unhealthiest breakfast cereals in America and created this list with the hope of empowering you to make better decisions in the cereal aisle.
Here’s our list of the 15 unhealthiest breakfast cereals in America:
15. Post Chocolate Honeycombs
Sugar per serving: 9 grams
Honeycombs come in various flavors these days, with Chocolate Honeycombs building a cult following over the years. First released in 1965, Honeycombs are a well-loved cereal across the country.
Chocolate Honeycombs look like tiny, bite-sized honeycombs and are made of a blend of flour, sugar, and cocoa. They taste like savory, rich chocolate mixed with honey.
Chocolate Honeycombs contain 120 calories per serving and 8 grams of whole grains per serving. It’s an excellent source of Vitamin D, is low in fat and cholesterol, and offers ten essential vitamins and minerals per serving.
This cereal is low in sodium but also in fiber, is highly processed, and contains artificial flavors. Honeycombs also contain the controversial additive BHT (Butylated hydroxytoluene), which is a known carcinogenic and should be avoided as much as possible.
14. Post Alpha-Bits
Sugar per serving: 10 grams
Alpha-Bits are frosted alphabet-shaped multi-grain cereal bits. They taste slightly like honey; similar to a combination of Cheerios and Honeycombs. Alpha-Bits may teach the ABCs in a fun, delicious way, but the nutritional value of this cereal is not anything to write home about.
One serving contains 140 calories and 3 teaspoons of sugar. It’s low in fiber, highly processed, and contains the controversial additive BHT. Alpha-Bits are free of artificial colors, and its serving of sugar could be worse.
Alpha-Bits does have 9 essential vitamins and minerals and is made from 100% whole grains. So you may get a touch of fiber and protein for your daily serving, but that’s about it.
This kid-targeted cereal has been feeding families for decades, but they could definitely benefit from an updated ingredients list.
13. Kellogg’s Rice Krispies
Sugar per serving: 9 grams
Rice Krispies Treats are loved by Americans, both adults and children alike. They’re made of crisped rice, sugar, and marshmallows. The cereal is a spin-off of the original Kellogg’s product, the Rice Krispies Treat bar.
With 156 calories per serving, Kellogg’s Rice Krispies Treats cereal isn’t the worst cereal on this list, but it’s not that nutritious. It has some vitamins and minerals, but most people are likely to get those from other foods they’re eating throughout the day.
This cereal contains saturated fat from the butter that is used during production and a large amount of sugar per serving. Rice Krispies are technically considered vegan. This cereal is low in fat and free of artificial flavorings and color.
Rice Krispies are made from rice, which is not a nutrient-dense carb. So realistically, eating Rice Krispies Treats is eating empty carbs. Not the worst food choice to make, but you can definitely do better.
This cereal sells nearly 43 million boxes per year, so they must be doing something right!
12. Post Cocoa/Fruity Pebbles
Sugar per serving: 11 grams
Cocoa Pebbles and Fruity Pebbles are well-loved breakfast cereals by American families. Cocoa Pebbles are little flakes of rice cereal that have chocolate flavoring. Fruity Pebbles are the same kind of rice cereal but taste like orange, cherry, and lemon.
Introduced in 1973, their mascots are the famous Flintstones characters, with Fred and Barney and their families often gracing the front of the cereal boxes. Both of these cereals are notorious for quickly becoming soggy once milk is added to the bowl, so if you’re eating them, you have to be quick!
Coca and Fruity Pebbles are the two most popular versions of the Pebbles brand, but there have been several spinoffs in the last 40 years, all branded in line with the Flintstones franchise. Fruity Pebbles sells over 54 million boxes per year, so the Flintstones must be on to something!
Fruity and Cocoa Pebble cereals are both gluten-free, but that doesn’t necessarily make them healthy. Both cereals have between 9 and 11 grams of sugar per serving and about 2 grams of protein… not enough to make them the worst cereals, but they are high up on the list.
There are about 120 calories per serving of both these kinds of cereal. They both contain some essential vitamins and minerals, including iron and Vitamin A.
11. Kellogg’s Raisin Bran
Sugar per serving: 18 grams
Raisin Bran has been around since the 1920s, making it one of the longest-lasting American brands, and inaccurately touted as a healthy alternative.
Raisin Bran is marketed as a healthier cereal option, thanks to the bran that makes up the majority of the cereal, along with raisins sprinkled in for proper digestion.
Don’t be fooled by the presence of bran, however; this sugary cereal made the list because its nutritional value is still sub-par, even with the presence of bran.
While it is higher in fiber, protein, and micronutrients than other cereal brands on this list, Raisin Bran still contains a very large amount of grams of sugar per serving. However, eating a diet rich in fiber and micronutrients has been proven to reduce the risk of diseases relating to deficiencies in these particular nutrients.
Raisin Bran is likely to keep you fuller for longer, thanks to its larger serving size (when compared to others on this list) and the heavy mixture of bran.
Often compared to its Special K competitor, Raisin Bran was invented during World War II and is definitely a more popular choice than Special K, with nearly 49 million boxes sold per year.
The Raisin bran blend is notorious for becoming a chewy, sticky mess when it gets soggy, so this cereal has to be eaten quickly or enjoyed as a porridge-like mush. Not the most appetizing picture, is it?
What we do know is this — Raisin Bran in small amounts may be beneficial to your body’s need for vitamins, but eating it on a daily basis is far too much sugar consumption to be considered necessary as part of a healthy diet.
10. Kellogg’s Froot Loops
Sugar per serving: 12 grams
Froot Loops have been a relic for many Americans who grew up with the cereal in their pantry and the commercials on their TV.
Toucan Sam, a colorful bird from the Amazon rainforest, did a fantastic job of marketing the cereal to kids and parents all over the country. Ask any 90s kid if they remember a breakfast cereal mascot, and we can guarantee they’ll remember Toucan Sam.
Froot Loops is arguably the most popular cereal in America, with over 90 million boxes sold each year. Kids and adults alike can bond over their love for the fruity, sugary cereal.
Froot Loops are multi-colored, circular O’s that taste like a mixture of lime, lemon, and cherry.
When measured by weight, nearly 42% of Froot Loops’ weight is sugar. That’s more sugar than most popular brands of cookies contain in several servings.
While it may seem to be healthy based on the word fruit (spelled incorrectly, no less) used in its name, Froot Loops are about the farthest thing from healthy that you can get.
While Froot Loops may contain some essential minerals and vitamins, like fiber and Vitamins A and Vitamin C; 12 grams of sugar per serving is not the ideal way to start your day, or to consume during any meal, for that matter.
Froot Loops also contain hydrogenated oils, a source of unhealthy trans fats. Unfortunately, this “fruity” cereal contains no fruit and is one of the least healthy options you can put in your body. Sorry, Toucan Sam!
9. Cap’n Crunch’s Crunch Berries
Sugar per serving: 11 grams
There’s nothing like a big spoonful of Cap’n Crunch’s Crunch Berries — the texture scrapes the roof of your mouth, turns your tongue blue, and dissolves into one big, sloppy mess if you don’t eat it fast enough. One of the many joys of eating cereal as a kid, right?
Cap’n Crunch’s Crunch Berries is a spin-off of the original Cap’n Crunch, which was a yellow corn and oat cereal variation. This version contains a collection of flavorful fruits and berries, including red, green, purple, and blue. This sugary cereal sells nearly 39 million boxes per year.
Cap’n Crunch’s Crunch Berries contains 100% whole grains, has saturated fats, and is highly processed. It has 2 grams of protein in each serving.
There are 150 calories per serving of Crunch Berries, but it has artificial colors and flavors, and is low in fiber, making it one of the worst cereals you can eat. A one-cup serving of Crunch Berries contains 4 teaspoons of sugar. Yikes!
Cap’n Crunch’s Crunch Berries defined many Americans’ childhood, but sadly, it’s one of the most sugary cereals on this list. For an occasional treat? Sure, it’s fine. Every morning before school or work? We don’t recommend it.
8. Kellogg’s Apple Jacks
Sugar per serving: 14 grams
We know what you’re thinking; it has fruit in its name, so it must be healthy! Think again.
Apple Jacks are a flavorful cereal with orange and green circular O’s and offer tasty cinnamon and apple flavorings that mix harmoniously with milk. They have a slight spice from the cinnamon flavor and taste like a crisp red and green hybrid apple.
Apple Jacks have 70 calories per serving and will leave a grown adult feeling full for about 20 minutes before searching for a real meal. Low in fiber and highly processed, Apple Jacks contain 8 vitamins and minerals and offer 110 calories per serving.
Apple Jacks are high in Vitamin A and C, made with whole grains, and contain some iron. They’re more nutrient-dense than Froot Loops, but not by much. The brand has added a tasty sugar-filled variation, Cinnamon Jacks, in the last decade.
Apple Jacks sell nearly 41 million boxes per year. They’re also one of the more affordable options, making them a popular choice for families.
You’re (obviously) better off eating an actual apple than Apple Jacks, but these have been a family favorite since the 1960s.
Like anything in life, it’s all about balance and moderation, so if you can’t live without Apple Jacks, try to eat them on occasion versus every morning. But make sure you’re getting some real apples in your diet, too.
7. Quaker Oats’ Oh!s
Sugar per serving: 16 grams
What’s in the middle of Quaker Oats’ Oh!s?
We’ll tell you — It’s a tasty combination of graham cracker bits, crispy rice, and honey.
Don’t let the name fool you — just because it’s called Oats does not mean you are eating the healthiest grain on earth. Quaker Oats Oh!s various cereals have been superseded by Honey Grahams, as all the other versions of this cereal have been discontinued in recent years.
The percentage of sugar per serving is just around 44% in Oh!s, making it a highly sugary cereal that will easily raise your blood sugar if you enjoy a bowl on a consistent basis.
Oh!s contains 16 grams of sugar per serving, is made from partially hydrogenated oils, and is one of the most sugar-rich cereals on this list. This doesn’t make them all bad, but it’s worth knowing and dialing back your consumption if you eat them regularly.
So, if you’re going to have a bow of Oh!s, we recommend making it a once-in-a-while treat, not a daily routine. Your blood sugar will thank you.
6. Cap’n Crunch Original
Sugar per serving: 12 grams
Cap’n Crunch Original is an iconic cereal that’s been around since the 1960s. It’s a corn and oat breakfast cereal that was developed by a woman who was trying to recall a recipe her grandmother made involving brown sugar and butter served over rice.
Cap’n Crunch Original has a mascot; an 18th-century naval captain with a bold white mustache and white eyebrows who uses the slogan, “It’s got corn for crunch, oats for punch, and it stays crunchy, even in milk!”
Since its original release in 1963, Cap’n Crunch has seen many variations released over the years, with the most popular being Cap’n Crunch’s Crunch Berries.
While Cap’n Crunch may be a delicious and crunchy way to start the day, each serving contains the equivalent of nearly 4 sugar packets. One serving contains 170 calories, 1 gram of saturated fats, and 1 gram of protein. If you’re looking for a protein-rich breakfast, focus instead on eggs, lean meat, and beans.
It’s one of the worst cereals in terms of nutritional value and on our definitive list of cereals to avoid.
It’s also low in fat, cholesterol-free, and contains 8 essential vitamins and minerals.
5. Kellogg’s Smorz
Sugar per serving: 17 grams
Kellogg’s Smorz is one of the newest cereals on this list; it was released in 2003 and has gone through several modifications in its 20 years of existence. Smorz’s first three ingredients are yellow corn flour, sugar, and marshmallows. What a trifecta of added sugar!
The delicious chocolate cereal tastes like everyone’s favorite snack around a campfire; crunchy graham cracker, sweet chocolate, and a tasty melted marshmallow melted in between — just in cereal form.
As far as unhealthy cereals go, Smorz is up there, thanks to its 17 grams of sugar and half a gram of saturated fat per serving.
Smorz does contain iron, essential vitamins and minerals, and 2 grams of protein per serving. The cereal was discontinued in 2013 and reintroduced 2 years later, with partially hydrogenated soybean and cottonseed oils removed from the recipe.
Kellogg’s has taken the necessary steps to try and make Smorz a healthier option for families, but the bad news is the nutritional value and sugar count of this cereal are sub-par at best, making it one of the worst cereals you can eat.
If you are craving chocolate but want to eat healthily, there are tons of great chocolate protein bars that won’t spike your blood sugar.
4. Cap’n Crunch OOPS! All Berries
Sugar per serving: 15 grams
One of the more memorable Cap’n Crunch spin-offs, OOPS! All Berries feature zero yellow Cap’n Crunch original corn and oats, and all the fruity berries in your bowl.
Grabbing this box of cereal for breakfast gets you 150 calories per serving, 15 grams of sugar, and 22 grams of carbs.
There’s no trans fat, cholesterol, or partially hydrogenated oils. OOPS! All Berries remains one of the most unhealthy cereals because of its added sugar, and the cereal has very little nutritional value.
OOPS! All Berries offer various fruit flavors, including strawberry, cherry, and blue raspberry. This cereal is low in fiber, contains artificial flavors and colors, and is made from 100% whole grains.
It may be a delicious cereal variation, but 17 grams of sugar in one bowl of cereal makes OOPS! All Berries one of the unhealthiest cereals you can put in your body.
3. Kellogg’s Froot Loops Marshmallows
Sugar per serving: 15 grams
Toucan Sam is back again for another cereal variation loaded with saturated fat, tons of added sugar, and hydrogenated oils.
Once again, don’t be fooled by any cereal box with the word ‘fruit’ in its name — it’s likely the farthest thing from fruit and probably contains artificial flavor and color to entice consumers to buy it.
Froot Loops Marshmallows have 110 calories in one serving with zero cholesterol, 26 grams of carbs, and 3 grams of protein.
This sugary cereal contains the original fruit flavors of Froot Loops, with a heavy dose of colorful marshmallows mixed in. Many fans of this cereal explain that Froot Loops Marshmallows taste like a combination of Froot Loops and Lucky Charms, two of the most unhealthy cereals money can buy.
The Froot Loop marshmallow shapes include pink and green cherries, purple blueberries, yellow and green lemon-limes, oranges, and what looked like teal and pink pineapples.
Low in saturated fat but high in added sugars, Froot Loop Marshmallows don’t offer much nutritional value and will likely remain on any list of unhealthy cereals as long as the ingredients list stays the same. The first few ingredients are sugar, corn flour blend, wheat flour, whole grain oat flour, and modified food starch.
Froot Loops Marshmallows are made with artificial flavors and colors, corn syrup, and hydrogenated oils. Unfortunately, it’s another one of the worst cereals Americans eat on a daily basis.
2. Post Golden Crisp
Sugar per serving: 18 grams
Many fans of Golden Crisp recognize the mascot Sugar Bear as a pillar of their childhood; the mascot of Post’s Golden Crisp sugary cereal was iconic in every way. It’s advertised as a “sweetened, puffed wheat cereal” and tastes like buttery brown sugar goodness.
Golden Crisp is one of the sweetest and most unhealthy cereals we’ve found, with 18 grams of sugar per serving.
The added sugar in Golden Crisp means it’s got more sugar than a traditional donut, so don’t be fooled by the “wholesome” goodness the cereal box describes. Why eat cereal when you can eat a donut with the same nutritional value?
Golden Crisp, originally called Sugar Crisp, contains 150 calories per serving, has a good serving of iron, is low in fiber, and contains industrial caramel coloring, which is a dangerous manufacturing process that involves many chemicals that no human should be consuming.
Golden Crisp also has 26 grams of carbs and 2 grams of protein.
While you may feel nostalgic about Sugar Bear and the original Sugar Crisp cereal, you’re better off avoiding the cereal altogether; it’s tied with Raisin Bran for the most sugar per serving in a cereal.
1. Kellogg’s Honey Smacks
Sugar per serving: 18 grams
Talk about a throwback! Honey Smacks, originally known as Sugar Smacks, has been on shelves since the late 1950s. It’s a sweetened, puffed wheat breakfast cereal that tastes very similar to Golden Crisp with a touch more honey in the recipe.
When it was introduced in the 1950s, Honey Smacks had the most sugar content than any other cereal at that time. To this day, Honey Smacks and Golden Crisp both contain more sugar than two glazed donuts from Krispy Kreme.
Honey Smacks have 130 calories per serving, 15 grams of sugar, 2 grams of fiber, and 30 grams of carbs. Smacks is incredibly sweet but denser and more savory than its competitor, Golden Crisp.
The Honey Smacks’ mascot, Dig’Em Frog, is another memorable cereal character for Americans who grew up eating this cereal. The cool green amphibian rocks a blue sideways hat and is always looking for his next adventure.
In 2018, Honey Smacks released a new version of the classic cereal, this time with less sugar and “a simpler, updated recipe” to appease health-concerned parents and families everywhere.
As you can see, the worst cereals are acceptable for an occasional treat, but should not be consumed on a daily basis. The sugar content is way too high to be eaten consistently, particularly as your first meal of the day.
The amount of saturated fat and sugar in many of these cereals is astounding. Many contain nearly all the grams of sugar you should consume on a daily basis, let alone in one small bowl of cereal.
And the kicker is that they won’t even leave you feeling full, give you a boost of energy (besides a sugar high), or provide your body with adequate nutrients that it needs to function properly.
Here’s a quick recap of the 15 unhealthiest breakfast cereals in America:
- Kellogg’s Honey Smacks
- Post Golden Crisp
- Kellogg’s Froot Loop Marshmallows
- Cap’n Crunch OOPS! All Berries
- Kellogg’s Smorz
- Cap’n Crunch Original
- Quaker Oats Oh!s
- Kellogg’s Apple Jacks
- Cap’n Crunch’s Crunch Berries
- Kellogg’s Froot Loops
- Kellogg’s Raisin Bran
- Post Cocoa/ Fruity Pebbles
- Kellogg’s Rice Krispy Treats
- Post Alpha-Bits
- Post Chocolate Honeycombs