The American Heart Association (AHA) updated their dietary guidance last November for the first time in 15 years. Among the many consistencies with the Med approach is Choose foods made mostly with whole grains rather than refined grains. Studies consistently find favorable associations with daily, rather than infrequent, intake of whole grain foods on heart health.

The Med approach’s foundational foods include whole grains.  This guidance: Base every meal on these foods. ( 

Last month’s Flourish with Food feature covered the difference between whole grain and refined grain as related to the milling process.  Whole grains provide important nutrients and generally twice the fiber. Fiber promotes feelings of fullness and provides food for healthy gut bacteria.

As a plant-based food, cereal fits in the Mediterranean diet pyramid’s base to eat often…and not necessarily just for breakfast! When the main meal is at noon, cereal for dinner works.  When needing a snack, cereal’s perfect with or without milk.  Cereals alone, such as Cheerios and Wheat Chex, work as a crunchy on-the-go snack, especially appealing with added dried fruit and nuts

December’s Nutrition Action Healthletter ( took a deep look into the dry cereal shelves. Their four tips to finding the healthiest dry cereals:

  1. Look for whole grainsWhole grain or bran as one of the first two grain ingredients; and brown rice, oats, sprouted grains, quinoa. “Made with whole grain” may not mean much.
  2. Know your serving size:  Less dense cereals are often 1-1/2 cups; dense cereals often ½ cup.  Calorie watching?
  3. Minimize added sugar: “Added Sugars” refers to any added sweetener; “Total Sugar” includes added sugar plus naturally occurring sugar, generally from dried fruit. They encouraged no more than 5g Added Sugar for lighter cereals and 7g for heavier cereals like granola.
  4. Focus on unprocessed fiber to keep the GI tract moving best: Intact fiber comes with whole grains or bran; processed, added-fiber ingredients include inulin and chicory root.

Interestingly, a cereal may have a dried fruit powder or fruit puree ingredient that creatively sweetens the cereal without contributing to the amount of “Added Sugar.”  However, it contributes to the cereal’s calorie density.    

The old standbys are always a safe bet, such as Wheaties, shredded wheat, basic “O” s, bran flakes, Grape-Nuts, Total and muesli. Top with fresh or dried fruit for nutrients and sweetness.

Fun cereal trivia:

  • Granola was created in 1881 by John Harvey Kellogg in Battle Creek, MI.
  • Shredded Wheat was invented by Henry Perky in 1890. It became popular after its national debut at the Chicago’s World Fair in 1893.
  • Post Grape-Nuts was first made in 1897. Being a hearty shelf-stable food, it was part of the rations sent to Allied Forces during World War II in tropical parts of the world.  
  • Kellogg’s Corn Flakes originated in 1898 by William and John Kellogg. After disagreements, William bought the Corn Flakes recipe from his brother and formed “Battle Creek Toasted Corn Flake Company” now known as the Kellogg Company.


About Mary Lynne Hixson, MA, RD:

Mary Lynne, a registered dietitian, helps others enhance their health through the advocacy of nutrient-rich food choices and safe food-handling practices. Her expertise also includes counseling patients who have Type 2 diabetes and advising those who are in medically-managed weight loss programs. After her 35+ year career, she retired and became involved with the launch of Harvest of Hope Pantry in 2012 as a Board of Directors member. Mary Lynne is a weekly volunteer with Cultivate’s Carry-Out Caravan program, shopping and delivering groceries to seniors in the Boulder area, and also a frequent volunteer with Harvest of Hope.