Are Grape-Nuts Actually Healthy?

Since their invention in 1897, Grape-Nuts have been marketed as a healthy breakfast. But do the nutrition facts tell a different story?

Starting your day off with a nutritious breakfast sets you up for greatness. You'll feel more energized, alert and engaged as you make your way through the day.

One breakfast choice that's long been considered a smart start? Grape-Nuts. The cereal has been around since 1897 and has had a reputation as a healthy food for over a century. But the same company that makes Grape-Nuts—Post Consumer Brands—also produces cereals like Fruity Pebbles and Oreo O's. So are Grape-Nuts legitimately nutritious, or are they just another supposed health food with a falsely earned reputation? STACK has your answer.

First things first—Grape-Nuts contain neither grapes nor nuts. There are several proposed explanations for the name, one being that Post employees believed the cereal closely resembled grape seeds or "nuts" upon its invention.

Grape-Nuts have had a reputation as a health food for over a century. The food became a staple of expedition groups and military units thanks to its compact nature and resistance to spoilage. During World War II, Grape-Nuts were included in the Jungle Ration used by many U.S. soldiers. Edmund Hillary ate Grape-Nuts for energy during his historic trek to the top of Mount Everest in 1953.

During the 1940s, comic books ran advertisements featuring Volto from Mars, an alien superhero who charged up his magnetic powers by eating Grape-Nuts. Subsequent ad campaigns featured slogans touting Grape-Nuts as the "Back to Nature Cereal" that will "fill you up, not out."

But enough about its history and marketing—let's dig into Grape-Nuts' actual nutrition. One serving of Grape-Nuts (1/2 cup) serves up:

210 calories, 1 gram fat, 0 grams saturated fat, 0mg cholesterol, 270mg sodium, 230mg potassium, 47 grams carbohydrate, 7 grams of fiber, 5 grams of sugar, 6 grams of protein

In terms of vitamins and minerals, a serving also contains a significant amount of Iron (90% RDV), thiamin (25% RDV), niacin (25% RDV), vitamin B6 (25% RDV), folic acid (50% RDV), phosphorus (20% RDV), magnesium (20% RDV), zinc (8% RDV) and copper (10% RDV).

Those are pretty impressive numbers, especially for a breakfast cereal. Let's break down the positives.

The fact that Grape-Nuts are positively packed with whole grains might be their greatest strength. According to the Whole Grains Council, the average American eats less than one serving of whole grains a day. That's a shame, because whole grains are one of the healthiest foods humans can eat.

"Whole grains are regularly on the plates of some of the longest-lived, healthiest populations on the planet. These same populations have extremely low rates of obesity, heart disease, cancer and dementia. Whole grains are consistently linked to lower rates of chronic diseases, and they're some of the densest sources of nutrients you can get," says Ryan Andrews, RD and a coach at Precision Nutrition.

The Whole Grain Council recommends eating at least three to five servings of whole grains a day (one serving being equal to 16 grams of whole grain ingredients), and Grape-Nuts serve up a whopping 52 grams of whole grain per serving.

The 7 grams of fiber (28% RDV) are also great. According to the Mayo Clinic, a diet high in fiber can help normalize bowel movements, lower cholesterol levels, control blood sugar and aid in achieving a healthy weight. A study published in the Archives of Internal Medicine found that consuming more dietary fiber was linked to a lowered risk of death from any cause over a nine-year period. Participants who consumed the most fiber (roughly 25-30 grams per day) were 22% less likely to die than those who consumed the least fiber (10-13 grams per day).

No saturated fat is a big plus. The American Heart Association recommends limiting daily intake of saturated fat, as "decades of sound science has proven it can raise your 'bad' cholesterol and put you at a higher risk for heart disease."

Six grams of protein is another positive. Protein is one of the most important nutrients for athletes. High-quality protein provides the amino acids that muscles need to repair and rebuild, allowing you to recover from exercise and get stronger over time. The body can also use protein as a source of energy.

But what about those 5 grams of sugar? Well, that's actually quite a low number for a breakfast cereal. Even better, none of it is added sugar. The American Heart Association recommends that women consume less than 100 calories of added sugar per day (about 24 grams) and men less than 150 calories per day (about 36 grams). The average American overshoots those targets by a mile, consuming about 88 grams (equivalent to 22 teaspoons) per day. Diets high in added sugar have been linked to obesity, Type 2 diabetes, heart disease, tooth decay and even cancer. For comparison's sake, Kellogg's Honey Smacks cereal contains more than four times as much sugar per gram (and much of it is of the added variety).

The abundance of vitamins and minerals in Grape-Nuts is obviously beneficial. They're particularly high in iron and folic acid. Iron is a key component of hemoglobin and is critical for transporting oxygen-rich blood through the body. Iron deficiency, quite common in the U.S., can severely affect athletic performance—just ask New York Giants cornerback Eli Apple, who was diagnosed with an iron deficiency at Ohio State. Folic acid is a B vitamin that's crucial for proper brain function and plays an important role mental and emotional health. It also aids in the production of DNA and RNA, the body's genetic material.

Grape-Nuts contain just four ingredients—whole grain wheat flour, malted barley flour, salt and dried yeast. Compared to many other popular cereals, this ingredient list is a breath of fresh air. Everything is recognizable. A cereal like Oreo O's, on the other hand, includes over 20 ingredients in the recipe (many of which are unrecognizable, such as titanium dioxide).

The only real problem with Grape-Nuts is the potential to overeat them. A 1/2-cup serving isn't very much at all, and Americans are notorious for overeating breakfast cereal. A 2014 study from the Environmental Working Ground showed that the average American eats 30 percent more cereal than the standard serving size, and 10 percent of Americans eat more than 2-1/2 times the standard serving size.

If you were to eat 2 cups of Grape-Nuts for breakfast, you'd be starting your day off with 840 calories. Sure, there'd be plenty of beneficial stuff (fiber, protein, whole grains, etc.) coming along for the ride, but such a high-calorie breakfast leaves you very little calories for the rest of the day if you're looking to lose weight or simply maintain a healthy weight.

However, if you can keep it to 1 cup or less, Grape-Nuts certainly qualifies as a healthy food. It's packed with whole grains, fiber, protein and useful vitamins and minerals. The recipe is simple and straightforward, which is a big plus considering Americans get nearly 60% of their calories from ultra-processed foods. You can even toss some sliced fruit in your bowl to boost the nutritional value even higher.

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Topics: PROTEIN | NUTRITION | FIBER | PERFORMANCE NUTRITION | CALORIES | HEALTHY EATING | BREAKFAST | CEREAL | EATING HEALTHY | WHOLE GRAINS