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Gluten-Free Cereal: What the Labels Aren’t Telling You

Gluten-free cereal

Looking for a gluten-free cereal? Many of the same brands you grew up with — before many of us even knew what gluten was — don’t contain a trace of gluten. 

Which is great news (or bad, depending on where you stand) for all you Fruity Pebbles lovers out there. Recovering Lucky Charms addicts, your cereal made the list too. But before you go pouring a bowl of your favorite color-filled breakfast from childhood, let’s take a step back for a second. 

We know it’s hard to slow down once that sugar rush hits, but try to reel it in for a second. Because while your favorite box of cereal might deliver on being gluten-free, sometimes there are even worse things hidden in the ingredients.

What Makes Cereal Gluten-Free?

We know, we know. You just want to eat your Cheerios in peace and not be told — yet again — why they’re bad for you. But if you could just entertain us for a moment, we’ll try to make this quick.

Gluten Is a Protein Found in Wheat, Barley, and Rye 

Period. If you’re avoiding those three ingredients, you’re eating a gluten-free product. We credit gluten for giving dough its elastic shape. (Think of rolling out a pizza or pie crust — can you picture how stretchy it is? Thank you, gluten.)

Many people are surprised to find that many grains — namely rice, quinoa, oats, corn, and sorghum — are naturally gluten-free. Therefore, if you’re enjoying a cereal made from any of these products, it could be gluten-free. But not necessarily. Read on.

Why Do People Make Such a Big Deal Over Gluten-Free Products?

The problem with gluten is that it’s extremely prone to cross-contamination. If you have celiac disease or an intolerance to gluten, whatever you eat shouldn’t come into physical contact with a gluten-containing product.

“But how often does that really happen?” you might wonder. The answer: Quite a bit, often before that bowl you’re impatiently waiting for is even manufactured.

Grains are a field crop, and many farms harvesting these crops grow more than one. And while this might be an extreme example, cross-contamination can start in the field. Farmers who grow wheat (which contains gluten) and oats (which is supposed to be gluten-free) might use the same machinery for both crops. Sometimes, this can cause one product to sift into the other, either during harvest, transport, or while being milled into flour. Suddenly, those gluten-free oats are no longer gluten-free.

The solution? If you’re extremely sensitive to gluten, search for products that were manufactured in a gluten-free facility. This is what General Mills did with Honey Nut Cheerios and Lucky Charms: The products have always been made with oat flour, a naturally gluten-free flour. However, to combat cross-contamination, they began sifting out stray products from wheat, rye, and barley.

What’s Worse Than Gluten In Your Morning Bowl: Sugar

Listen, we’re not big fans of gluten — it’s why we left it out of our product line. But if we were to battle it out with one ingredient, and one ingredient only, we wouldn’t be inviting gluten into the ring. Rather, we’d love to duke it out with sugar.

Roughly 1% of the United States population, or about three million people, have celiac disease. Not exactly a fun statistic. But you know what’s even more staggering? Almost 10%, or 30 million Americans, are now living with diabetes. When we bring in those who are prediabetic, the numbers skyrocket to 100 million. So before you tear open a box of sugary apple cinnamon gluten-free granola, allow us to direct your attention to another aspect of its nutrition label.

In many gluten-free cereals, sugar is one of the most prevalent ingredients. In Honey Nut Cheerios sugar is listed as the second ingredient. Three-fourths of a cup contains 22 grams of carbohydrates, nine of which come from sugar.

The American Heart Association recommends women consume 25 grams and men 36 grams of sugar per day. In other words, that small bowl of cereal you’re pouring accounts for roughly one third of your allotted sugar for the day. A half cup of low-fat milk brings its up to over half.

Gluten-Free Cereal: 4 Brands That Might Surprise You

Gluten-free cereals for breakfast

Alright, alright — we’ll stop trying to wean you off your morning breakfast cereal and give you the information you asked for. Below are four popular cereal varieties that are gluten-free.

1. Honey Nut Cheerios

Plain Cheerios and Honey Nut Cheerios are gluten-free products, as they’re made from oats, oat bran, and cornstarch. That said, they also contain sugar, honey, and brown sugar syrup, bringing in the total amount of sugar to 9 grams. 

2. Chex

Chex cereal is made from whole grain rice, making the product free of gluten. It’s also sweetened with sugar and molasses, bringing the carb count up to 25 grams per serving. Blueberry Chex, Chocolate Chex, Vanilla Chex, Cinnamon Chex, and all other varieties (except Wheat Chex) are also gluten-free.

3. Puffins

Barbara’s Puffins products, including their Honey Rice Puffins, Corn Flakes Cereal, Honest O’s Multigrain Cereal, Berry Burst Protein Puffins Cereal, and Brown Rice Crisps Cereal are gluten-free (their Cinnamon Puffins and Peanut Butter Puffins are not). But watch out — these products contain around 25 grams of carbs and up to 9 grams of sugar.

4. Chocolate Honey Bunches of Oats

The chocolate version of the classic Honey Bunches of Oats is surprisingly gluten-free (the classic version is not). However, with brown sugar, cocoa, corn syrup, and other ingredients running the show, this cereal packs a whopping 27 grams of total carbohydrates and 8 grams of sugar per serving.

Two Cereal Brands That You Think Are Gluten-Free, But Aren’t

When researching for this post, we were surprised by a few boxes we (wrongly) assumed are gluten-free. If you’re looking for gluten-free cereal, wipe away those tears and say good-bye to these childhood favorites.

Rice Krispies

Rice Krispies, the most famous rice cereal of all rice cereals, does not comply with a gluten-free diet. Although the main ingredient is rice, the malt flavoring is not gluten-free. We’re not sure you would want it anyway: Rice Krispies brings in 16 grams of carbs and 2 grams of sugar per serving. Kellogg’s sister product, Cocoa Krispies, brings in 15 grams of sugar and 35 grams of total carbs.

Frosted Flakes

Like Rice Krispies, Kellogg’s Frosted Flakes contain malt. Since malt contains barley, it’s not gluten-free. But again, it contains 10 grams of sugar, so it’s best avoided anyway.

We Don’t Like Sugar or Gluten, So We Skipped Them Altogether

If you're at the grocery store looking for a gluten-free cereal that isn’t loaded with sugar, good luck. But don't worry, we'll do you one better — we'll bring you that coveted, gluten-free, sugar-free (yet perfectly sweet) cereal straight to your front door.

Like you, we wanted a healthy, gluten-free breakfast so we decided to make a cereal with zero sugar and just 1 gram of carbohydrates. And then we packed it with 16 grams of protein because we wanted something that tasted good but would actually carry us over to lunchtime. 

There's no need to worry about cross-contamination with Cereal School, because we don't include rice flour or oat flour in our products. Instead, we use a combination of protein and tapioca fiber, then sweeten it with monk fruit and cinnamon, for the sweetest (yet low glycemic) morning bowl.

If you're craving that breakfast bowl from your childhood, we promise our Cinnamon Bun and Fruity varieties taste just as good as you remember. Only now you can enjoy it without the junk. But don't take our word for it — try them now and see for yourself.

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