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There are few things more evocative than a bowl of cereal. For numerous individuals, the meal inspires reflections of cartoon mascots, ’90s commercials, and hurrying to school in the morning. (Ah, the reminiscences!) And while a large portion of the cereals from your childhood probably still exist, you might be searching for something higher in protein to consume regularly, particularly if you have muscle-building aspirations.
Enter: high-protein cereals. Conventional cereals are usually deficient in protein, so by making the substitution, you’ll be able to make better use of the advantages of protein at breakfast. As authorized dietitian Maddie Pasquariello, M.S., R.D.N., elucidates, “Incorporating protein into your first meal of the day will keep you more satisfied and [energized] throughout the morning.” (This can be particularly beneficial if you plan to exercise after breakfast or frequently feel famished by lunchtime.) “Certain high-protein cereals [might also be] richer in fiber, lower in sugar, and/or produced with more natural flavors and colors in comparison to their conventional cereal counterparts,” Pasquariello supplements.
However, with numerous alternatives accessible in the market, you might be uncertain as to which products to attempt. With the assistance of proficient dietitians, we conducted the investigation to uncover the finest high-protein cereals on grocery store shelves according to diverse objectives and preferences.
Why We Appreciate It: This cereal is obtainable in various flavors, ensuring suitability for everyone.
It’s Important to Note: You don’t receive a substantial quantity of cereal for the cost.
Catalina Crunch is a high-protein breakfast food that comes in a plethora of different flavors, including Cinnamon Toast, Dark Chocolate, Fruity, Maple Waffles, and more,” expresses Pasquariello. “This particular option is extremely filling and full of flavor, with a rich, graham-cracker-like texture and a significant amount of crunch.” One serving size of half a cup contains an astonishing 11 grams of protein thanks to the brand’s unique “Catalina flour” blend, which consists of pea protein, reveals Pasquariello.
Price at Time of Publish: Beginning at $7
Flavors: 6 | Protein per serving: 11 grams | Dietary Needs: Vegan, gluten-free
Why We Like It: It’s cost-effective and contains additional vitamins and minerals.
It’s Worth Noting: This cereal is only available in one flavor.
With a price tag that is comparable to traditional breakfast cereals, Special K’s Protein Cereal is one of the most economical choices on the list. It also boasts an impressive 15 grams of protein per 1 1/3 serving, derived from soy protein isolate. According to Victoria Whittington, R.D.N., a registered dietitian at Atlas Optimization, who states that this product is her preferred protein cereal, it is also one of the most delicious protein cereals available.
Price at Time of Publish: Beginning at $5
Flavors: 1 | Protein per serving: 15 grams | Dietary needs: Kosher
Why We Appreciate It: The assortment of flavors is delightfully reminiscent.
It’s Important to Mention: If you steer clear of dairy, this cereal may not be the best choice due to its milk protein content.
For an adult, high-protein iteration of your beloved childhood cereals, Magic Spoon might be precisely what you require. The brand offers nostalgic flavors such as Fruity, Frosted, Cocoa, and Peanut Butter, notes Pasquariello, who is an admirer of the product. Each flavor encompasses 13 to 14 grams of protein, zero grams of additional sugar, and natural components like turmeric and spirulina for coloring. However, keep in mind: All of Magic Spoon’s cereals incorporate a milk protein blend, so if you adhere to a dairy-free diet, you’ll have to decline.
Price at the Time of Publication: Starting at $10
Varieties: 4 | Protein per serving: 13 to 14 grams | Dietary requirements: Gluten-free
Why We Enjoy It: Amidst the rich chocolate and crisp texture, this product is exceedingly gratifying.
It’s Worth Noting: It is solely accessible in one flavor.
If you favor granola with milk over cereal, this one is for you. “This product is filled with protein, [with] 13 grams per 2/3 cup serving thanks to soy protein,” declares registered dietitian Roxana Ehsani, M.S., R.D., C.S.S.D., L.D.N. “It also comprises heart-healthy oats, four grams of dietary fiber, and heart-healthy fats,” she adds. Not to mention, it incorporates dark chocolate, which is always a positive attribute.
Price at the Time of Publication: Starting at $4
Varieties: 1 | Protein per serving: 13 grams | Dietary requirements: N/A
Reasons for Our Appreciation: The cereal is filled with an impressive assortment of grains and legumes.
It’s Noteworthy: When compared to other cereals featured on this list, this product is more costly.
Similar to Ezekiel bread, this item includes sprouted grains and legumes, such as wheat, millet, lentils, soybeans, and spelt. “It does not contain any form of protein powder, but thanks to the sprouted grains and legumes, it [is] a high-protein cereal,” states Ehsani. A half-cup serving provides eight grams of protein. However, at $14 per box, it is also one of the more expensive choices available.
Current Price: Starting at $9
Flavors: 4 | Protein per serving: 8 grams | Dietary requirements: Vegan, organic, kosher
Reasons for Our Preference: We appreciate this product because it contains fewer ingredients compared to other protein cereals available in the market.
Note: The price may not be suitable for most individuals’ budgets.
“This Three Wishes cereal stands out due to its inclusion of only four ingredients,” remarks Ehsani. These ingredients consist of chickpeas, pea protein, tapioca, and salt. (The flavored variations may contain additional ingredients like monk fruit.) This product is both vegan and gluten-free and offers eight grams of protein per 3/4-cup serving. It possesses a super crunchy texture and a mildly sweet, oat-like flavor that evokes nostalgic memories of childhood cereals, as shared by Pasquariello.
Price at Time of Publication: Starting at $8
Flavors: 7 | Protein per serving: 8 grams | Dietary needs: Vegan, gluten-free, kosher
Reasons for Our Preference: It boasts a substantial protein content per serving, providing excellent value for your money.
Note: Limited flavor options are available, offering little variety.
With 20 grams of protein per one cup serving, “this choice is rich in protein and delivers a satisfying crunch,” according to Whittington. The protein content is derived from a combination of soy protein isolate and wheat protein isolate. It is also plant-based and comes in flavors such as Chocolate Almond and Mixed Berry Almond. Furthermore, it serves as a suitable option for breakfast or as a high-protein snack, as recommended by Whittington.
Price at Time of Publication: Starting at $7
Flavors: 2 | Protein per serving: 20 grams | Dietary needs: N/A
Why We Enjoy It: The product is perfect for those who prefer cereals that are not as sweet.
It’s Important to Note: Only certain flavors are suitable for vegans. The protein content also varies depending on the flavor.
“Not only is this cereal rich in protein, but it also has a high fiber content, which makes it extremely satisfying,” shares Whittington. Depending on the flavor, each serving of 3/4 cup provides nine to 14 grams of protein from soy protein isolate and six to nine grams of fiber. Additionally, this cereal is not overly sweet, making it a great choice if you prefer a more natural granola flavor, notes Whittington.
Price at the Time of Publishing: Starting at $6
Flavors: 7 | Protein per Serving: 9 to 14 grams | Dietary Needs: Vegan (specific flavors)
How We Chose
To discover the best high-protein cereals, we consulted three registered dietitians — Victoria Whittington, R.D.N., Maddie Pasquariello, M.S., R.D.N., and Roxana Ehsani, M.S., R.D., C.S.S.D., L.D.N. — for their personal recommendations. For each product, we asked the experts to highlight their favorite characteristics, such as notable ingredients, protein content, or flavor options. With this information, we thoroughly examined the product listings and ingredient labels of the cereals, comparing them with other traditional cereals available on the market. This enabled us to select category winners based on different dietary needs, taste preferences, and price points.
What You Need to Know About High Protein Cereal
Starting your day with a high-protein cereal — and high-protein foods in general — has numerous advantages.
For initiators, protein is an essential macronutrient, implying that your body requires it in substantial quantities to sustain fundamental activities (consider constructing tissue and mending cells), as indicated by the book, Biochemistry, Nutrients. Incorporating protein-rich cereal into your routine can assist you in commencing your protein consumption at the outset of the day, highlights Whittington.
Why Consuming Protein in the Morning is Beneficial
Consuming protein in the morning may assist you in achieving specific health objectives or requirements. For instance, if you engage in strenuous workouts, are recovering from an illness or surgery, or are following a vegan or vegetarian diet and struggling to obtain sufficient protein, a high-protein cereal can aid in increasing your protein intake, states Pasquariello. Furthermore, if you have diabetes, having a high-protein cereal can help prevent spikes in blood sugar levels due to the combination of protein and carbohydrates, according to Whittington.
“On a chemical level, incorporating protein, fiber, and/or a source of fat into your meal can enhance glycemic control – essentially assisting your system in digesting sugar at a slower pace and preventing a rapid increase in blood sugar levels after the meal,” explains Pasquariello. “For most conventional cereals, there is a higher amount of sugar and a lower amount of protein, fat, and fiber – thus, the chemical effect would be an elevation in your blood sugar levels.” However, occasionally consuming traditional cereals won’t pose a problem unless you have prediabetes, diabetes, or another chronic condition that necessitates the management of blood sugar levels, she emphasizes.
Protein also provides a longer-lasting feeling of fullness compared to carbohydrates alone, as protein is gradually metabolized by the body. Hence, starting your morning with a high-protein cereal can help fend off hunger and prove to be a lifesaver on busy days. Conversely, traditional cereals usually have low protein content, so they are unlikely to keep you satiated for a substantial amount of time, says Ehsani. (However, you can also combine a healthy regular cereal with a protein-rich food, such as yogurt or eggs, for a more well-rounded meal, if that is your preference.) With that in mind, if you are seeking a quick meal that will sustain you between breakfast and lunch, a protein-packed cereal might be precisely what you require.
Understanding the Nutrition of High-Protein Cereals
Just like most foods, not all high-protein cereals are created equal. Additionally, they typically come with a higher price tag compared to traditional cereals, so there are various factors worth considering before you make a purchase.
First and foremost: “Merely claiming to be high in protein does not make a cereal automatically healthy,” points out Ehsani. It could still contain unhealthy fats (such as saturated and/or trans fats) or added sugars, which you may want or need to avoid. Therefore, it is important to review the label to ensure that it aligns with your nutritional preferences.
The sources of protein can also vary. For instance, a high-protein cereal might derive its protein from whey protein isolate, soy protein, or pea protein, as stated by Ehsani.
If you adhere to a dairy-free or vegan eating regimen, you’ll need to select a choice that is derived from plants, as mentioned by Whittington. Ehsani adds that certain breakfast cereals may also consist of protein-rich components like nuts, seeds, lentils, or legumes.
Sugar and Flavors
Lastly, similar to regular versions, high-protein cereals can be sweetened with sugar or artificial sweeteners or have no sweeteners at all, as stated by Pasquariello. In general, cereals sweetened with added sugar usually contain cane sugar, just like traditional cereals. Unsweetened high-protein cereals may also incorporate stevia extract and/or monk fruit extract to enhance their taste, as mentioned by Pasquariello. Cereals containing milk protein may also possess a sweeter flavor, as the ingredient itself is naturally sweet.
That being said, if taste is significant to you, “keep in mind that a fully unsweetened option may require some enhancements to resemble the taste of the original cereals you are accustomed to,” remarks Pasquariello. This might entail incorporating flavored nut milk, fresh fruit, or a drizzle of honey, as mentioned by her. Once again, refer to the label for insights into the ingredients and flavors that can be expected from the product.
Frequently Asked Questions
Can protein powder be added to cereal?
As per Pasquariello, sprinkling protein powder onto cereal and milk is not the most advisable action. The powder may not properly dissolve in the milk, leading to a clumpy mess. Instead, it is recommended to substitute the milk with a DIY protein shake, suggests Pasquariello. Simply blend protein powder and milk in a blender (or shake the ingredients vigorously in a mason jar). Subsequently, pour the protein-enriched milk over your cereal as you typically would. “Using a flavored protein powder may even introduce some additional flavor to your final bowl,” Pasquariello adds. However, this approach may not work for all protein powders, particularly vegan versions that tend to form clumps. “Another potential drawback is the texture,” Pasquariello mentions, noting that some protein powders can thicken the milk, which may not pair well with cereal.
What does fortified cereal mean?
When a food is fortified, it signifies that nutrients not naturally present in the food were added during processing, explains Pasquariello. In the case of cereals, such products are frequently fortified to augment their nutritional content, though this does not necessarily make them the healthiest choice by default, she asserts.
“Whilst fortification can be advantageous from a micronutrient point of view — as it can assist in enhancing an individual’s daily consumption of folate, along with vitamins A, B, and C — these breakfast cereals can still contain excessive amounts of added sugar, heavily processed carbohydrates, and a scarcity of dietary fiber,” includes Pasquariello. It is worthwhile taking into account these aspects when selecting fortified food options (such as high-potency cereals or others) to guarantee that they align with your individual objectives and requirements.
Are high-protein grains beneficial for you?
Although high-protein grains can be part of a well-rounded diet, it is not advisable to solely rely on them as your exclusive protein source for the day, according to Pasquariello. She also cautions against incorporating one of these products into your diet solely for the purpose of increasing your protein intake, especially if you are not already a fan of grains. Conversely, “if you already consume a significant amount of grain-based products in the morning and/or as snacks throughout the day, substituting one or more of those products with a high-protein grain could be a convenient method to enhance your overall micronutrient intake,” Pasquariello explains. Nevertheless, it is crucial to consider the specific type of grain. “As mentioned, just because a product has added protein, fiber, or micronutrients does not automatically make it a healthier choice,” Pasquariello advises.
Why Place Confidence in Shape
Kirsten Nunez is a contributor at Shape who has extensively covered aspects of well-being, nourishment, and food for nearly a decade. Her academic background includes an M.S. in Nutrition and B.S. in Dietetics. For this article, she sought guidance from registered dietitians to obtain their expert recommendations for high-protein grains and the advantages of increasing protein consumption. Kirsten also dedicated extensive time to researching the top choices of specialists to focus on the advantages, disadvantages, and key features of each high-protein grain.
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