Why Special K Makes You Gain Weight

special k cereal

Like most women, I used to think eating Special K cereal for breakfast was a healthy choice. Low in calories? Check. Fruit on front of the box? A girl in a red dress promising me I could be as happy and slim as her? Check. Before I knew it, I was not only eating it for breakfast every day, I was turning to Special K bars for most snacks, until eventually I landed the opportunity to work on advertising the brand itself and was ecstatic.

I got to work on a brand that I loved, a brand that helped connect with and understand women so that they could lead a healthier life. Fortunately, when I began work on the account, I had also enrolled in part-time nutrition school out of personal interest, and it soon became apparent to me how naive I had been.

Bit by bit, I began to see how we were using marketing insights to understand and connect with women, and then use that very data to mislead them and damage their understanding of health in the long run. Whether intentional or not, we were fuelling the obesity problem and doing nothing to help these women truly gain control of their health.

This is why the Special K diet will never help anyone lose weight in the long-run:

1. Void of Nutrition

Special K hinges its marketing strategy on being a low-calorie brand. However, calorie counting doesn’t work when the food you eat is void of any nutrition. There is a big difference between 100 calories from an apple (rich in vitamins, minerals, fibre, and phytonutrients), and 100 calories from a Special K Crisp that contains the following list of ingredients offering no nutritional value:

Wheat flour, sugar, glycerin, fructose, soybean, palm and palm kernel oil shortening, dextrose, maltodextrin, modified corn starch, milk ingredients, apple powder, strawberry puree concentrate, modified milk ingredients, cornstarch, baking powder, soy lecithin, cellulose, natural and artificial flavours, salt, acetylated tartaric acid esters of mono- and diglycerides, mono- and diglycerides, citric acid, sodium citrate, malic acid, sodium alginate, xanthan gum, colour, BHT.

Remember, you are what you eat. Please don’t become a cocktail of sugar, corn starch and soybean oil.

2. Carbohydrate Overload

When we consume too many simple carbohydrates (such as cereal), it spikes blood sugar levels quickly, which leads to more cravings, less satiety and increased fat storage in the long run. This is not the ideal situation for someone who is trying to lose weight. Instead, the goal should be to balance blood sugar at each meal or snack by eating a high amount of protein, fibre and good fat alongside their carbohydrate intake.

And sure, Special K has made attempts to add more protein and fibre into some of their products, but it’s still far too little and pales in comparison to the amount of carbohydrates. When it comes to fat, for some reason Special K is still too stuck in the past, and continues to  promote that their cereals have “no fat”. We’ve learnt by now that fat doesn’t make you fat, and the real culprits are most often excess carbohydrates and sugar. It’s only a matter of time before Special K’s fat-phobic demographic starts to change their tune, and Special K has to follow suit as well.

3. Inflammatory ingredients

Inflammation is the natural response of your immune system to injury. Any food item that irritates the gut and harms the gut lining, therefore causes inflammation. Nearly every single Special K product is full of inflammatory ingredients such as wheat, sugar, vegetable oil, skim milk, corn syrup, soy protein, carrageenan and other preservatives such as BHT. A state of chronic inflammation not only makes you hang onto more water weight, but it throws off hormonal balance, including the hormones that regulate hunger and metabolism. The link between inflammation and weight gain has been well documented.

4. High sugar

I remember coming across a friend who was trying to lose weight, and she was drinking a Special K Protein Shake. Of course, she was unaware that the shake contained 19 grams of sugar, which is around 4 teaspoons of sugar. How does that make any sense? Why would a weight-loss brand add 4 teaspoons of sugar into its protein drinks?

And it’s not just the protein shake. For example, one serving of Red Berries cereal contains 7 g of sugar. But wait, who’s actually eating the suggesting 3/4 cup serving size? That’s tiny! Realistically, people pour twice that amount into their bowl, which is closer to 14 grams of sugar.

While many women are learning about the importance of eating real, whole foods and focusing more on quality vs. quantity, clearly a gap in education still exists. The data is speaking for itself as cereal sales decline, but there are still far too many women out there that are being misled into making poor choices. So if you see your mom, sister or friend still clinging to their Special K cereal, try to educate them on why it may be doing them more harm than good.


A big hurdle that people face when trying to lose weight is figuring out what’s actually healthy, and what’s not. Information online can either be sensational, conflicting, not written by an expert, or the advice is simply not realistic.

I wanted to end the confusion and simplify healthy eating for the regular person.

That’s why I put together a comprehensive guide on how to distinguish between what is healthy, what isn’t, and exactly what you should buy at the grocery store if you want to be lose weight or be healthier overall.

Learn more: How To Grocery Shop Like A Nutritionist


About Alina

I'm a Holistic Nutritionist based in Toronto, Canada and my official title is Certified Nutritional Practitioner (CNP). I received my diploma in Applied Holistic Nutrition from the Institute of Holistic Nutrition. I'm a coach and an educator. Follow Alina on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and Instagram for all of the latest updates.
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