Magic Spoon Cereal Review: A Not-So-Bad Option for Folks With … – The New York Times

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Even though I like to consider myself pretty immune to online ads, the appearance of Magic Spoon’s “zero-sugar, high-protein” cereal in my Instagram feed was uncomfortably well targeted to my lifelong love of cereal and eerily well timed to capitalize on my recent health changes. I’m not proud that a social media ad enticed me to spend $40 on four boxes of cereal, but it turned out better than some other pandemic-era online-shopping impulses. Magic Spoon has proven satisfying enough that I’m on my third order.
Last fall, I got some routine blood work that sent up a few red flags. After a sobering conversation, my doctor directed me to a registered dietitian to help me set about making responsible changes to my diet to reverse the early signs of insulin resistance—a somewhat shocking revelation for a vegetarian whose go-to dinner is roast vegetables and tofu.
Since then, I’ve mostly adapted to a diet that avoids sugar, focuses on high protein intake, and keeps a watchful eye on the carbs that can swell a vegetarian’s calorie count. I indulge when it’s important: I baked hundreds of Christmas cookies to keep up a family tradition, and I ate a few more than I’ll disclose to my dietitian. But now that my doctor has seen positive changes in my blood work and weight, I’m trying to feel out the gray area of the occasional indulgence that keeps me somewhere between the two poles of “salad for most lunches” and “a stack of holiday cookies.”
My dietitian specifically told me to avoid keto diets and noted that I wasn’t subject to some of the restrictions that someone with diabetes needs to follow. So I turned to Google. But search for “high-protein vegetarian recipes” or “lower-carb bread,” and you’re bound to end up in some less medically relevant corners of the internet. Even with ad blockers running on my browser most of the time, my ad profile shifted, and I was bombarded with diet, health, and nutrition ads. Oh, brother.
I breezed past all of the ads for keto-this and paleo-that without much thought. But Magic Spoon stopped me mid-scroll.
As someone who has maintained a lifelong love affair with cereal—as meals, snacks, and dessert—I found Magic Spoon’s promise of a high-protein, low-carb, no-sugar cereal tantalizing. The closest I’d had to cereal in months was grain-free granola, which should be criminalized at the federal level. The third time I saw the ad, I clicked and took a cursory look at the nutrition panels. I’m fortunate to have $40 to spend on four boxes of cereal on a whim. (Yes, it’s that expensive.) A week later, the flavors I selected for my four-pack arrived: Cocoa, Frosted, Fruity, and Peanut Butter.
They were all good—surprisingly so. I wanted to be able to consider my Magic Spoon purchase wasted money and laugh at myself for falling prey to an Instagram ad hawking fad-diet food, so I was almost a little mad at how good it was.
Magic Spoon’s promise of a high-protein, low-carb, no-sugar cereal was tantalizing. The closest I’d had to cereal in months was grain-free granola, which should be criminalized at the federal level.
But the fact that it was that good gave me all the more reason to be skeptical of its marketing claims—especially concerning sugar.
Foods like Magic Spoon—sweeter treats, such as cereals, ice creams, and candy, advertised as omitting the sugar or artificial sweeteners—have exploded in recent years. That’s in large part thanks to a type of natural sugar called allulose.
Allulose, the type of sugar used in Magic Spoon, isn’t metabolized like common sugar, and so it’s no longer required to be listed as part of the total or added sugars on a nutritional label. Though it’s been around for a long time, new research prompted the FDA to allow this exclusion in 2019. Since then, companies have rushed to take advantage. And apparently, the notion isn’t complete hogwash.
“Data suggests that allulose is metabolized differently from other sugars,” Debbie Fetter, an assistant professor in the department of nutrition at University of California Davis with a PhD in nutritional biology, told me in an email interview. Regular sugars—disaccharides of glucose and fructose—get broken down, absorbed in the small intestine, and circulated in the bloodstream. “As blood glucose levels rise, insulin is released to shuttle the glucose into body cells to be used for energy and lower blood glucose levels down.”
In someone like me, too many sugars over too long a time period can cause the body to build up insulin resistance. But maybe not with foods sweetened with allulose. As Fetter explained, research has found that allulose isn’t actually converted to energy like more common sugars, so it doesn’t raise blood glucose or insulin levels after you eat it.
I generally find food sweetened with sugar alternatives like erythritol (a sugar alcohol) or stevia (made from the stevia plant) to be vile, so I was shocked to enjoy the taste and sweetness of Magic Spoon. It isn’t what you’d taste in Lucky Charms or Frosted Flakes, but it’s satisfying nonetheless.
Although there’s data backing the change in sugar labeling, another claim that Magic Spoon makes isn’t so clear-cut. Magic Spoon, like a lot of foods in this category, has a separate box for “net carbs,” which is generally the result of subtracting fiber and non-metabolized sweeteners like allulose from the total carbohydrates. Unlike the listed sugar content, Fetter told me, net carbs aren’t a formal measurement.
“It’s not used by the FDA or American Diabetes Association, there isn’t a standardized way to calculate [it],” she said. “There’s misleading information out there, so it can be difficult to actually quantify which carbohydrates are being digested/absorbed.”
In the case of Magic Spoon, some servings have 15 grams of carbs, 1 gram of fiber, and 10 grams of allulose. But although the nutrition label says each serving contains 15 grams of carbohydrates, the net carbs come out to just 4 grams, and that’s the number in large print. That might work under the rules of some dietary restrictions (and some fad diets). But Fetter told us that tracking “net carbs” isn’t recommended for someone who is keeping an eye on their carbohydrate intake for medical reasons such as managing blood glucose levels with diabetes.
All nine flavors of Magic Spoon cereal are made of the same loops. No flakes, no spheres, no rainbows—just loops. The texture isn’t as dense as that of a Cheerio, but it isn’t as light as a Kix sphere. It contains neither wheat flour nor corn filler, and the first ingredient is “Milk Protein Blend,” which is probably why the texture is a little hard to compare. Dry out of the box, it’s not far off from a piece of Cap’n Crunch that’s just a day away from going stale. Maybe not ideal, but when you put it in milk (I prefer almond milk), the texture works.
I’m not sure if it’s my age or the months I spent without refined sugars, but I actually appreciate that all the flavors I’ve tried aren’t as sweet as a “kids cereal.” The plainest flavor I’ve tried, the one called Frosted, has a creamy, vanilla sweetness. Without another flavor laid on top, it’s the sweetest cereal of the bunch, but it still doesn’t have the sharp tang or funky aftertaste that foods with zero-calorie sweeteners sometimes produce. I tend to toss fruit in that one, or even pair it with plain Greek yogurt, to level it out a little.
It’s not far off to compare Magic Spoon, dry out of the box, to a piece of Cap’n Crunch that’s just a day away from going stale.
So far, all of the other flavors have been exactly as promised on the box. The Cocoa flavor is really cocoa, not a more sweet chocolaty flavor as in Cocoa Krispies. The Peanut Butter really tastes more like natural peanut butter on toast, rather than a handful of Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups. And Oatmeal Cookie smells just like one of those single-wrapped, soft oatmeal cookies you can buy at a gas station—the taste is duller but the same.
I liked Magic Spoon enough to place a second order and then a third. But if you don’t have any dietary restrictions, it’s not good enough or cheap enough to justify the purchase. A six-box bundle of 7-ounce boxes is $54, or $9 a box. That’s more than three times pricier than a similar amount of Froot Loops from my local grocery store (albeit those have 12 grams of sugar per serving). You can save a little more by signing up for auto-ship of a four-box bundle, which drops the price to about $7.30 per box. Each box holds about five reasonably sized—though not indulgent—bowls. That’s $1.46 or so a bowl if you sign up for auto-shipping. As a teenager, I would have eaten my parents out of house and home at that price.
If I hadn’t shifted my diet on doctor’s orders, I’d be much more inclined to enjoy a bowl of Fruity Pebbles on rare occasions. And I don’t eat Magic Spoon every day. Even though allulose occurs naturally in small amounts in some food, Fetter, like my own dietitian, urged moderation given its more recent, larger scale use as a sweetener: “Allulose has only been in the food supply for a short period of time and there have been limited human clinical trials, so additional research may uncover more information in the future. For now, I recommend still treating allulose like a sugar—where you want to be mindful of your intake.”
I’ll keep Magic Spoon around. It’s just good enough to be jazzed about once or twice a week as a break from a more well-rounded routine.
This article was edited by Elissa Sanci and Treye Green.
Debbie Fetter, PhD, assistant professor of teaching nutrition, Department of Nutrition, University of California Davis, email interview, March 4, 2022
Mark Smirniotis
Mark Smirniotis was a senior editor at Wirecutter. He has written and edited at Wirecutter since 2015, covering a range of products with a focus on computers and consumer technology.
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