Are Cheerios Good for Diabetes?

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Key Takeaways

  • Cheerios are made from 100% whole grain oats, low in fat, contain soluble fiber, and have only 1g of added sugar. 
  • Pairing Cheerios with protein and fiber will lessen the impact on blood sugar levels. 
  • Consider experimenting with alternative hot or cold breakfast cereal options. 

Cheerios are made from finely ground 100% whole grain oats and toasted into the classic ‘O’ shape. This cereal is low fat, has only 1g of added sugar, and contains soluble fiber, which is associated with a reduced risk for heart disease. However, all cereals contain carbohydrates, including Cheerios. 

The digestive system breaks carbohydrates into glucose or sugar and then releases sugar into the blood. In response to increased blood sugar levels, insulin from the pancreas is released to use this sugar as energy or convert it to storage. This causes the blood sugar level to decrease appropriately. 

Carbohydrate breakdown is altered in individuals with type 2 diabetes. Typically a person cannot make enough insulin, or their body does not use the insulin correctly. This leads to elevated blood sugar levels and potential health complications. 

People with diabetes must monitor how many carbohydrates they eat daily, distribute them throughout the day, and pair them with protein, fat, and fiber to prevent blood glucose spikes.

In this article, you’ll learn if Cheerios are good for diabetes, how they impact blood sugar, tips for eating Cheerios, along with some alternative cereals to try. 

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Are Cheerios Good for Diabetes? 

Most health organizations recommend that carbohydrate intake should make up around 50 to 60% of total calories to maintain stable and healthy blood sugar levels. The American Diabetes Association (ADA) shares that most people with diabetes report a slightly lower intake of carbohydrates at 44 to 46% of total calories. The ADA does not recommend specific carbohydrate amounts but focuses on designing an individualized approach to increase the likelihood of long-term compliance. 

For example, we will calculate how many carbohydrates a person consuming 1800 calories daily would eat. If 50% of the calories come from carbohydrates, that equates to 900 calories or about 225 g of carbohydrates per day. Divided among three meals and one to two snacks, that would come out to 45-55 g of carbohydrates per meal and about 25-30 g per snack. 

Nourish offers personalized nutrition counseling and can help you determine the appropriate amounts of carbohydrates, fat, fiber, and protein. If you’re ready to take the next step in your health, consider booking a virtual appointment with a registered dietitian.

Nutritional Value of Cheerios

A 1.5-cup serving of Cheerios contains 140 calories, 2.5 g of fat, 29 g of carbohydrate, and 4 g of fiber, half coming from soluble fiber and 5 g of protein. 

Typically someone adds a half cup of milk to this serving size of Cheerios. A half-cup of 2% milk provides 65 calories, 2.5 g of fat, 6 g of carbohydrate, and 4 g of protein. 

Glycemic Index of Cheerios

The glycemic index is a 100-point scale that measures your blood glucose response after eating a 50-gram serving (minus the fiber content) of a specific food. High glycemic index foods raise blood sugar levels rapidly, whereas low glycemic index foods are digested slower, leading to a slower rise in blood sugar. 

Low-glycemic foods are rated at 55 or less, medium-level glycemic index foods are 56-69, and high-glycemic foods at 70-100. A systematic review including 54 trials of low glycemic index diets found that they were effective at lowering hemoglobin A1c, fasting blood sugar, BMI, and total and LDL cholesterol. 

On average, breakfast cereal has a glycemic index of 61. Cheerios is a high glycemic index food at 75 after adjustment with a serving of milk.

The glycemic index is another tool to help manage blood glucose levels, but the ADA recommends carbohydrate counting as a more effective and accurate tool for maintaining target glucose levels. 

Possible Effects of Cheerios on Blood Sugar

Foods high in refined carbohydrates and sugar often have a high glycemic index, while foods high in protein, fat, and fiber have a lower glycemic index. However, not all high or low-glycemic index foods fall into that category; therefore, it’s critical to look at a food’s complete nutritional picture and consider pairing of foods.

Cheerios will likely raise blood sugar levels quickly due to the higher carbohydrate content per serving and high glycemic index. Alone, Cheerios and milk are not a balanced meal or snack, but you can take steps to improve their nutritional composition. 

Many high glycemic index foods can be paired with high-fiber or high-protein options for optimal blood sugar management and the inclusion of all types of foods. Protein and fiber-rich foods will slow down how quickly sugar is absorbed into the bloodstream, which can be helpful for diabetes management.

It is important to note carbohydrate counting is the primary strategy in blood glucose management. However, the glycemic index can be a useful tool when used in combination with carbohydrate counting. For those individuals interested in putting in additional effort, the glycemic index may provide an additional benefit

Tips for Eating Cheerios with Diabetes

You can still eat Cheerios with diabetes, but modifications are necessary for good blood sugar control. 

  • Avoid adding any table sugar to your cereal. Table sugar adds up carbohydrates quickly. 
  • Try adding a protein-rich option like scrambled eggs and saute some spinach and mushrooms with the eggs to boost the fiber with minimal addition of carbohydrates. 
  • Add fiber-rich fruit like blueberries or blackberries. Remember, fiber and protein slow the blood sugar rise after meals.
  • Monitor your post-prandial blood sugar after eating Cheerios for your response to this food. 

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Hot and Cold Breakfast Options

Oatmeal

Choose rolled or steel-cut oats. These options are less processed and have a lower glycemic index. Rolled and steel-cut oats have a glycemic index of around 50. Add ground flaxseed and nuts or nut butter for a plant-based protein, fiber, and healthy fat balance. 

Whole oats have been studied extensively, and research compiled from almost 200,000 individuals shows that consuming certain whole grains, including oatmeal, is significantly associated with a lower risk of type 2 diabetes. 

Quinoa

Try cooked quinoa to mix up your hot morning cereal. Cook the quinoa with water or milk and mix it with berries and cinnamon. Quinoa porridge (hot cereal) is a low-glycemic food at 45 due to its high fiber content. 

Chia Pudding

Often, you need a quick option to grab in the morning. Chia pudding can be made overnight in the fridge. Simply mix 2 tbsp of chia seeds with one-half cup of your milk of choice, 1 tsp of sweetener if desired, and let sit overnight. Top with your preferred berries in the morning. 

Two tablespoons of quinoa are low-carbohydrate (9 g), high fiber (9 g), and protein (5 g), along with a good dose of heart-healthy fats (8 g). 

Cold Cereal

Sometimes, you just want cold cereal. Aim to serve your cereal with milk, fruit, and a source of protein. 

Cereal toppings can also be used to add extra nutrients, a bit more flavor, or fiber. Try adding a spoonful of nut butter or a couple of tablespoons of chopped nuts or seeds. Or skip the milk altogether and add your cereal to Greek yogurt or cottage cheese topped with cinnamon or fresh berries. The combinations are endless.

The higher fiber and protein will keep you feeling full and help to stabilize blood sugars.

Here are some cold cereal food label guidelines that will help prevent elevated after-meal blood sugar levels. 

  • Check the carbohydrate count. Aim for about 15 g of carbohydrates per serving when pairing cereal with other carbohydrate-containing foods to help you stay within the 45 to 55 g of carbohydrate target per meal. Portioning your cereal will allow you to add milk and fruit without exceeding carbohydrate recommendations.
  • Next, check the fiber content. The higher the fiber content, the less the overall carbohydrate content will raise your blood sugar levels. Some brands have 8g of fiber or higher.
  • Look for at least 10 g of protein before adding your milk of choice. Protein helps stabilize blood sugar levels and keep you full. 

Takeaways

Cheerios are a breakfast cereal favorite. For people with diabetes, Cheerios by themselves are a high glycemic index food when eaten in the recommended portion size. Pairing Cheerios with a protein option and fiber-rich foods will help keep glucose levels stable, leading to better glucose management. 

Consider reducing the portion size by half. Add protein and fiber-rich foods to your Cheerios and milk for a balanced meal to help stabilize blood sugar levels. Consider adding an egg, Greek yogurt, or nuts, and fresh berries to your morning Cheerios. Eliminate any added table sugar to your Cheerios. 

Experiment with some new hot or cold breakfast cereal options. You might surprise yourself with a new favorite with additional health benefits.

How a Dietitian Can Help

Collaborate with an expert on managing diabetes. Diabetes dietitians have a wealth of tools and knowledge to help you customize your specific lifestyle and eating habits to manage your diabetes. 

Nourish has a team of compassionate dietitians available for online appointments. Every dietitian is covered by insurance, and many are specialized in diabetes. Book your first appointment today.

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