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The Skinny on Cereal: 6 Steps to a Better Breakfast

Lay a Healthy Foundation

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Start out with plain, unsweetened, 100-percent puffed whole grains like wheat, rice, oats, corn, or barley. The fiber and complex carbs will keep you full and energized until lunchtime (60 calories for 1 cup).

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Pour It On

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Ramp up the protein and calcium with skim or soy milk, or a dollop of plain, nonfat yogurt (40 to 70 calories for 1/2 cup). Can't stomach dairy milk? Check out this simple guide to find the best milk for you.

Go Nutty

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To torch belly fat and reduce inflammation—while adding crunch—toss in a handful of heart-healthy almonds or walnuts (65 to 80 calories for 2 tablespoons).

Spice It Up

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For some near-zero-cal zing, sprinkle on a teaspoon of cinnamon (which contains as many antioxidants as half a cup of blueberries), or experiment with ground ginger, nutmeg, or cloves (6 calories for 1 teaspoon).

Add Seeds

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Mix in some flaxseeds for a concentrated dose of omega-3s, antioxidants, and fiber (56 calories for 1 tablespoon).

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Pack in the Produce

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Get the sweetness (and extra satiating fiber) from fresh or dried fruit instead of refined sugar (50 to 130 calories for 1 cup fresh; 25 to 55 calories for 1/8 cup dried).

Bonus: Behind the Box

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Sticking with store-bought cereal? Here's how to tell if your morning fave is really a diet derailer.

1. Unrecognizable ingredients: Words like "maltodextrin," "BHT," or other mystery nouns mean you're filling up on chemicals.

2. Hidden sugars: "Crunch" or "clusters" in the product name is code for extra sucrose. Nix any brand that lists sugar as the number-one ingredient or contains the sweetener in its processed forms, like maltose or high-fructose corn syrup.

3. Wimpy grains: "Bran," "multigrain," "100% wheat," "cracked wheat"—all indicate refined products, which have fewer nutrients. The one word you want to have listed in front of any grain: "whole."