Kids love O's. Adults love O's. And when those O-shaped bites of breakfast cereal deliver a potent pack of fiber, protein and other nutrients, that's a big win all around.
But that's not always the case. O's are such a popular cereal option that they're turning up in seemingly endless options -- from berry to peanut butter, chocolate, honey nut and maple. Most are made with oats, but newer O's incorporate everything from barley to rice.
Unfortunately, a lot of these toothsome newcomers are about as good for you as a candy bar -- some pack as much as half the recommended daily sugar intake in a single ¾-cup serving. Others are about as tasty as a handful of packing peanuts.
The fine print on a box of O's tells a good part of the story. But the rest is all about flavor. If you're not in a mood to buy a dozen boxes of cereal that might taste good, no worries. We took care of that. For this tasting, we limited O cereal choices to those with minimal fat and no more than 7 grams of sugar. (The nutrition details below refer to a ¾- to 1-cup serving.) Since most flavored cereals tend to be higher in sugar, only a few of those made the cut.
Here's a bowl report on the best -- and worst -- O's on the shelf.
Kashi Heart to Heart Honey Toasted Oat Cereal
Nice crunch and big honey flavor make this a top pick for those who like a touch of sweetness at breakfast. Added plus: It's lower in salt and higher in fiber and protein than most O cereals. A serving has 120 calories, 90 mg sodium, 5 g sugar, 4 g fiber, 4 g protein. $3 for 12 ounces at Whole Foods. (4 stars)
Nature's Path Organic Whole O's
No oats makes for a slightly different flavor profile, but the toasty blend of grains, sweetened with a touch of brown sugar, is a great option for those who don't tolerate oats. A serving has 120 calories, 115 mg sodium, 4 g sugar, 3 g fiber, 2 g protein. $4.49 for 11.5 ounces at Whole Foods. (4 stars)
365 Multigrain Morning O's
With a touch less sugar, these would earn top marks. They're crispy and have a dash of brown sugar, which complements the nutty, fresh flavor of toasted grain. A serving has 100 calories, 135 mg sodium, 6 g sugar, 3 g fiber, 3 g protein. $3.99 for 12.8 ounces at Whole Foods. (3 ½ stars)
Trader Joe's Joe's O's
Those who prefer their cereal without added sugar should check out these bargain-priced O's. They are extra-fresh and crunchy, with a slightly less refined flavor than Cheerios. A serving has 100 calories, 160 mg sodium, 1 g sugar, 3 g fiber, 3 g protein. $1.99 for 15 ounces. (3 ½ stars)
Kudos to the makers of Cheerios. These original O's have been around forever, and they still rule. They're a bit pricey, but they're fresh and nutritious, and they hold up better in milk than many of their competitors. A serving has 103 calories, 186 mg sodium, 1 g sugar, 3 g fiber, 3 g protein. $4.19 for 8.9 ounces at Whole Foods. (3 ½ stars)
Multi Grain Cheerios
Even though these O's are a bit too sweet, they have an addictively tender crunch. A serving has 110 calories, 115 mg sodium, 6 g sugar, 3 g fiber, 2 g protein. $3.14 for 9 ounces at Target. (3 stars)
Freedom Foods TropicO's
Fans of citrusy flavored Froot Loops are likely to enjoy these all-natural, extra-crunchy O's. They're sweet without being too cloying, and they survive a milk bath well. A serving has 130 calories, 30 mg sodium, 6 g sugar, 3 g fiber, 2 g protein. $3.99 for 10 ounces at Whole Foods. (3 stars)
Trader Joe's Triple Berry-O's
Too much sugar in the O's and precious little freeze-dried fruit ruin what could be a great fruity option. A serving has 110 calories, 180 mg sodium, 7 g sugar, 3 g fiber, 2 g protein. $1.99 for 11 ounces. (2 stars)
365 Everyday Value Organic Morning O's
These unsweetened O's are tender and fresh, but the use of rice flour diminishes the flavor of toasted oats, making for a less tasty O. The rice flour also attracts moisture quickly, which means you need to shovel them into your mouth before they turn to mush. A serving has 120 calories, 160 mg sodium, 1 g sugar, 3 g fiber, 4 g protein. $3.99 for 14 ounces at Whole Foods. (2 stars)
Cascadian Farm Organic Purely O's
Made with oats and barley, this cereal has such a big hit of salt and toasted grain that it tastes more like a mouthful of crackers. A serving has 120 calories, 200 mg sodium, 1 g sugar, 3 g fiber, 3 g protein. $4.69 for 8.6 ounces at Whole Foods. (1 star)
One Degree Organic Sprouted Oat Honey O's
These creative O's made with lentils, garbanzos and oats sound terrific. They're organic, sustainable, non-GMO and vegan -- but the combination of ingredients simply does not work. They taste stale and flat. A serving has 120 calories, 25 mg sodium, 6 g sugar, 3 g fiber, 4 g protein. $4.99 for 10 ounces at Whole Foods. (½ star for effort)
Market Pantry Toasted Oats
It's hard to describe the flavor of these. They aren't just bland -- they're taste-free. A serving has 120 calories, 160 mg sodium, 2 g sugar, 3 g fiber, 4 g protein. $2.89 for 18 ounces at Target. (No stars)
Reviews are based on product samples purchased by this newspaper or provided by manufacturers. Contact Jolene Thym at email@example.com. Read more Taste-off columns at www.mercurynews.com/taste-off.