Cereal bars don’t deserve ‘healthy image’

What is the issue?

Recent research by the consumer group Which? has found that most cereal bars are high in sugar and fat, making their healthy image a “myth”, according to the BBC and The Independent. This story has been covered by a number of other newspapers, including the Sun, which calls the snack bars “cereal offenders”, as well as the Daily Mail and the Mirror.

The BBC and Daily Mail told their readers that one of the 30 cereal bars analysed, Nutri-Grain Elevenses, contained nearly four teaspoons of sugar – 20% of an adult’s recommended daily allowance, and more than the amount found in a 150ml can of cola.

In the news coverage the results of the survey were accurately reported.

What did Which? do?

Which? examined the nutritional content of 30 different cereal bars “from best selling brands”. The researchers say they looked at bars on supermarket shelves and chose 30 bars, bakes and biscuits, focusing on fruit and nut varieties and those that “appeared most healthy, avoiding ones that contained chocolate and yoghurt if possible”.

The researchers then analysed each cereal bar for how much it contained of the following:

  • calories
  • sugar
  • fat
  • saturated fat
  • salt

What did Which? find?

The research found that 29 of the 30 bars were high in sugar (over 15g of total sugars per 100g, or 15% sugar) and 16 bars contained more than 30% sugar. Some of this sugar was from fruit; however, 29 of the bars had added sugar. The Naked Apple Pie bar was the only one not to have added sugars, and was the only one not to be high in sugar. The Nutri-Grain Elevenses bar had the most sugar. It contained 18g of sugar, equivalent to 20% of the guideline recommended daily allowance for an adult in one bar.

The survey also found that often several different forms of sugar were used. Which? said this could confuse consumers because, by law, manufacturers must list all the ingredients on their food labels in order of quantity, with the greatest first. When several different forms of sugar are used in a product, each of these sugars is listed separately and appears lower down on the ingredients list. In the case of some of the cereal bars, this gives the impression that the bars contain less sugar than they do – the amount of sugar, if it was given as a total, would have had to appear higher on the list.

Some of the different kinds of sugar found in the cereal bars were glucose syrup, honey, golden syrup, raw cane syrup, inverted sugar syrup, molasses, glucose-fructose syrup, barley malt syrup, dried glucose syrup, partially inverted sugar syrup, fructose, lactose, prebiotic oligofructose syrup, grape juice concentrate, oligofructose syrup, dextrose and sugar. A cereal bar that contains, for example, honey, glucose syrup and fructose would have these three ingredients listed separately on its list of ingredients, even though they are all sugar.

The survey also found that 11 of the bars had at least the same number of calories as several digestive biscuits. In addition, 10 bars were high in saturated fat (more than 5g of saturated fat per 100g). One bar, the Wholebake 9Bar, contained 277 calories.

The Which? report did not comment on the amount of salt in the cereal bars. The analysis results show that the highest salt content (0.3g per bar) was found in three bars – All-Bran Breakfast Biscuit, Nature Valley Crunchy and More Oats and Berries, and Nutri Grain Soft and Fruity Apple. A number of cereal bars had the amount of salt listed as a ‘trace’, and the rest had between 0.1 and 0.28g.

Several of the tested bars were marketed at children. One bar carried the line “great for your lunch box” on the packaging. The survey found all the bars marketed at children to be high in sugar, with the highest amount of sugar listed as 11.8g in a single bar (Monster Puffs Cereal and Milk Chocolate).

Which? also found that the Kellogg’s bars had listed on their packaging guideline daily allowances for adults, rather than children. Which? said they had raised this issue with Kellogg’s.

Which bars were the most/least healthy?

Of the bars examined, the least healthy bar was the Tracker Roasted Nut bar, which was found to be high in sugar, fat and saturated fat. The main ingredient of this bar was sugar and it was 30% fat. The researchers acknowledge that a proportion of the fat content came from peanuts and hazelnuts, but point out that it also contained “harmful hydrogenated fats”.

The bar highest in calories was found to be the Wholebake 9Bar, which contained 277 calories. It also contained 20g of fat and 13g of sugar.

The healthiest bar was the Alpen Light Apple and Sultana – the only bar to have a “green light” for being low in fat, saturated fat and salt. It contained 0.7g of fat, 0.3g of saturated fat and 8.3g of sugar, and it also had the lowest calorie count, at 63.

The Alpen Fruit and Nut bar, the Naked Apple Pie and the Nature Valley Chewy Trail Mix Fruit and Nut also made it into Which?’s “healthiest” category.

The healthiest children’s bar was Weetabix Oaty Strawberry Crusher, with 1.4g of fat, 0.6g of saturated fat and 79 calories, but it was still considered to be high in sugar, with 4.6g.

The unhealthiest children’s bar was the Monster Puffs Cereal and Milk Chocolate bar, which was high in sugar (11.8g) and high in saturated fat (1.9g). It contained 210 calories and 4.1g of fat.

What does Which? want?

Which? wants to see clearer labelling on cereal bars. The researchers call for changes to make healthy choices easier for consumers, including:

  • clear, traffic light colour coding on the front of packs
  • accurate claims about nutritional content to be used regarding food products, so that they are marketed accurately
  • tighter controls over marketing to children, for example not allowing cartoon characters to be used to promote foods that are high in sugar

Bottom line

This research has found that many cereal bars have high levels of sugar and fat, and that their health image is a “myth”. Consumers may be led to believe that a cereal bar is a healthier option than, for example, chocolate biscuits or chocolate bars, but this is not always the case. Consumers need to be aware that there are different types of sugar, and should examine ingredients lists and nutritional content carefully to make sure they understand what the cereal bar contains. As with many foods, cereal bars can still be enjoyed as part of a balanced diet.

Analysis by Bazian
Edited by NHS Website

Links to the headlines

Cereal bars: healthy image a myth – Which?

BBC News, 18 August 2012

The ‘healthy’ cereal bars that contain more sugar than a can of cola and as much fat as cheese

Mail Online, 18 August 2012

‘Health benefits’ of cereal bars are nothing but a myth, says study

The Independent, 18 August 2012

Cereal offenders: ‘healthy’ snack bars are packed with sugar

The Sun, 18 August 2012

Are cereal bars as healthy as you’d expect?

Which?, 18 August 2012

Links to the science

Which?

Investigation: Healthy snacks? (PDF, 910kb)

September 2012

Which?

Analysis of 30 cereal bars: table of results (PDF, 58kb)

August 16 2012

5 of the Healthiest Granola Bars, According to Nutrition Experts

Granola bars make on-the-go eating efficient, but are they actually healthy? Usually not—even though most people think so. A 2016 New York Times survey of about 2,000 Americans and 672 nutritionists revealed that while more than 70% of Americans described granola bars as “healthy,” less than a third of nutritional experts agreed.

People think they’re healthy because they’re often made with grains, which are high in fiber, and contain protein-rich nuts and dried fruit. But despite their health halo, many granola bars are full of added sugar, coated in chocolate and dressed up with a little protein powder—making them nothing more than a glorified candy bar. “I’ve seen bars with as much as 25 grams of added sugar, which is ludicrous,” says Andy Bellatti, a registered dietitian and strategic director of Dietitians for Professional Integrity.

However, it is possible to find a truly healthy granola bar (and other nutrition bars that don’t contain granola specifically). “I definitely think the nutrition bar market has come a long way in the last few years,” Bellatti says. “Now there are more whole food based bars that are nutrient dense.”

Here are some tips for finding a truly healthy granola bar, as well as some specific brands that nutrition experts recommend.

MORE: Is Protein Powder Good For You?

Read the label

The best place to start is the ingredient list. Look for bars that feature simple foods: if the primary ingredients are foods like nuts, berries and fruits, rather than complicated ingredients with names you can’t pronounce, you’ve likely found a bar with a good ratio of fiber, protein and healthy fats, says Bellatti.

Sometimes bars with basic ingredients have long lists, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. “The ingredient lists are long because Mother Nature doesn’t tend to consolidate a whole meal’s worth of nutrition into a single food,” says Keith Ayoob, an associate professor of pediatrics at Albert Einstein College of Medicine and Montefiore Health System. “The ingredients may be all good, but there can be a lot of added vitamins and minerals, and high protein levels will probably involve added protein concentrates.” While experts say getting protein naturally from foods like quinoa and chicken can offer extra nutrients and fiber, protein powders can be more easily added to foods like smoothies and bars. Just keep in mind that not all protein powders provide the entire range of essential amino acids that natural forms of protein can.

Pay attention to sugar

It’s also important to track where the sugar in each bar is coming from. Bars that rely on sweetness from whole foods like dates, rather than table sugar, artificial sweeteners or high fructose corn syrup, are typically healthier. But it may be tricky to distinguish between sugar from whole ingredients like dried fruit, and added sugars. For most products, the amount of “sugars” listed on the nutrition facts labels don’t distinguish between the two. That’s going to change, but for now, calling out added sugar on a label is voluntary. So “if there’s a bar and the ingredients are dates, almonds, chia seeds, coconut and granola, you are getting nutrition and fiber without added sugar,” says Bellatti.

Fat is not your foe

“Don’t be afraid of fat, but focus on the source,” says Erin Palinski-Wade, a registered dietitan and author of 2 Day Diabetes Diet. “Some granola bars are high in fat, but that doesn’t mean you have to avoid them.” Palinski-Wade says unsaturated fats coming from plant-based sources such as nuts and seeds can provide health benefits while making the granola bar more satisfying. “Just watch out for bars that contain more than 20% Daily Value of saturated fat,” she says.

Make sure the bar is filling

“A granola bar that contains mostly refined grains and added sugars will digest rapidly, leaving you hungry,” says Palinski-Wade. That’s why you should look for a bar that’s a good source of fiber, protein, and healthy fat, which will keep you feeling full for longer.

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Palinski-Wade says she tells her clients to use the “rule of 5.” That means looking for bars that contain at least 5 grams of fiber, 5 grams of protein, and 5 grams of unsaturated fat. “This mix will usually result in a filling option,” she says.

Here are five especially healthy bars—listed in no particular order—that meet the above requirements and are recommended by Bellatti, Palinski-Wade, and Ayoob. (The experts do not have any financial relationships with the bars they recommended).

RXBARs: The bars are around 210-220 calories each and have about six easily recognized ingredients, like nuts and dates. They contain a lot of protein, which comes from egg whites. But they contain don’t have added sugar, gluten, soy or dairy.

LÄRABARs: “Although these bars may look high in sugar at first glance, the majority of the sugar comes naturally from the dates which make up one of just six simple ingredients in these bars,” says Palinski-Wade. The bars are also high in healthy fat and fiber, which will help you feel full while still providing sweet flavor.

KIND: KIND healthy grain bars are high in nutrients, and while they do contain a little added sugar, it’s typically low, says Ayoob. For example, a KIND cinnamon oat bar contains just 5 grams of added sugar.

CORE Foods bars: Bellatti says this hearty bar made entirely of whole foods is his top choice. They come in flavors like walnut banana and sunflower carob, are made from 100% plant products, and are gluten-free, organic, and vegan. They’re higher in calories than other bars, at over 300 calories per bar, but can be eaten as a meal. Core bars are also perishable because they do not use any preservatives (no salt, syrup, oils or natural flavors). That makes them a bit more high maintenance, since they need to be refrigerated, but the added freshness might be worth the hassle for some people.

This Bar Saves Lives: “Made of mostly of nuts and seeds, these bars contain little added sugar while providing a good source of fiber,” says Palinski-Wade, “In addition, every bar purchased helps to feed a child in need, so you can feel good enjoying these bars in more ways than one.”

The bars range in pricing, from around $15 to $35 for a box of about a dozen. If some of the prices seem excessive, or it’s a challenge to find the bars (you can buy the ones above online in bulk), you can get the same filling effects for fewer calories by eating a handful of almonds or an apple. “Bars aren’t the be-all and end-all,” says Ayoob. “They’re another tool in the toolbox, that’s all.”

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Nutritional info per bar:

  • Calories: 135
  • Fat: 5 g
  • Carbs: 21 g
  • Protein: 2 g
  • Fiber: 3.5 g
  • ww points (new system): 3 points

Substitution Notes:

I’ve not tried these bars with another flour in place of the oat flour, but I’d love to know the results if anyone wants to experiment (especially if someone wants to try coconut flour!). Same goes if you want to experiment with a different cereal in place of the rice crispies or use quick oats.

I also haven’t tried replacing the oil with applesauce or nut butter, and I can’t predict the results if you make one of these substitutions. But as always, feel free to experiment.

Some commenters have reported success with maple syrup :). If anyone wants to try the bars with date paste or brown rice syrup as the sweetener, please report back with the results.

All other substitutions: I can only vouch for the results of the bars if you make them exactly according to the recipe, as this is the only way I’ve tried them. I can’t give out any other substitution ideas or tell you if a certain substitution will work. The only way to know is to try (and to not be upset if the trial yields less-than-stellar results!).

For more granola bar recipes, click here: Healthy Recipes: Cookies and Bars.

What’s Really in Your Nutrition Bar?

Which?, the U.K. consumer advocacy organization, just released a report in which they explored the healthfulness of cereal bars. You know the ones-meal and snack bars from popular cereal brands that are meant to be healthy, and often include whole grains, nuts, and dried fruit.

But as the research team found, many of these bars were full of sugar, fat, and calories. In fact, one bar had 18 grams of sugar, which is almost four teaspoons, or about the same as a small can of Coca-Cola.

“People often choose cereal bars in the belief they’re healthier than chocolate or biscuits, but our research shows this can be a myth,” Which? executive director Richard Lloyd said in a statement.

The researchers looked at 30 different best-selling bars, choosing ones that were meant to appear healthiest. They found that 16 of those bars had at least 30 percent sugar and had calorie counts akin to cookies. Perhaps most shocking, a third of the bars were high in saturated fat.

Although the study was based in the U.K. market, there are several lessons that apply to American bars too. So what should you be aware of? Read on:

1. Watch your fat count: Though one wouldn’t expect a great deal of fat and saturated fat in a breakfast bar, the Which? inquiry found that many of them included hydrogenated vegetable fat and other sources of saturated fat.

2. Beware of hidden calories: Unless you are truly replacing a meal with a bar, many of the cereal bars contain too many calories for a snack. In fact, Which? found that many bars contained as many calories as cookies and cakes.

3. Read the labels twice: Many cereal bars are aimed at children, with cartoon characters and palatable, kid-friendly flavors. But those same bars have nutrition labels based on dietary guidelines for adults. That means you’ll need to rethink the calorie proportions with your little one in mind.

4. Check the list of ingredients: During the course of research, the Which? staff described frustration with confusing labels-especially when it came to sugar.

“By law, manufacturers have to list the ingredients in order of quantity,” wrote the authors. “By having several different kinds of sugar, the names appear further down the list-allowing healthier ingredients, such as oats, to be higher up, and giving the impression that the bar is healthier than it really is.”

Look for concentrated fruit juices, honey, fructose, high fructose corn syrup, and more. No matter the source, added sugar contributes to your daily intake. Although it can be tricky to parse which sugar is naturally occurring and which is added, Which? nutritionist Shefalee Loth recommends checking how many and in what position the sugar ingredients are placed. Additionally, anything with yogurt or chocolate is bound to have more added sugar than a plain fruit and nut bar.

More on Huffington Post Healthy Living:

50 of the Healthiest Foods in the World

What’s Really in Your Brown Bag Lunch?

20 Ways to Reduce Your Cancer Risk

  • By The Editors of Huffington Post Healthy Living

You can probably think of a handful of times when you were running late for work or school and didn’t have time to make breakfast. When you look around and see nothing worth eating, you suddenly find a granola bar – the perfect on-the-go breakfast. But you don’t know if it’s healthy. Some granola bars are healthy – but what exactly are the healthiest granola bars?

If you’re like me, then granola bars are a staple part of your diet. They work perfect for a snack when your caught waiting for your next meal. You want this snack to be healthy, and trust me, so do I. So here’s some healthy granola bars that your going to want to add to your grocery list.

1. Annie’s Granola Bars

These organic bars are perfect for any occasion. They come in a variety of flavors and are low on the calories. They’re sweet enough to satisfy your sweet tooth craving without packing in too much added sugars. You’ll also be getting some protein and fiber, don’t mind if I do.

2. Larabars

Larabars are great for breakfast or as a mid-afternoon snack. The main ingredient in each flavor of this granola bar is dates – giving them a unique yet delicious flavor. Each bar is packed with protein and fiber that will keep your stomach satisfied. Some flavors are higher in sugar than others, so make sure to check the nutrition label if you’re curious.

3. KIND Bars

The KIND brand prides itself in using real ingredients that its customers will enjoy. With all the different fruit and nut combinations, there’s something for every picky eater to enjoy. Not only that, but you’ll be getting a protein-packed treat. It’ll taste so sweet you’ll think it’s filled with so many added sugar.

4. RXBAR

If you want to know what goes into each of these RX bars, just look right on the packaging. There’s no added sugar and each bar contains 12 grams of protein – I’d say that’s pretty amazing. Plus, these bars are dairy-, gluten-, and soy-free which makes them perfect for anyone with certain dietary restrictions.

5. CLIF Bars

If you want a granola bar that’s going to provide you a little more fuel for a workout, then CLIF bars are perfect for you. They’re filled with protein, fiber and carbs to sustain any workout and give you energy to complete whatever you start. Just grab a flavor and go – and don’t forget to try the nut butter filled ones.

6. Health Warrior Chia Bars

You might not have heard of this brand before, but you’ll be glad you did. These granola bars are just what you’ve been looking for. With only 100 calories per bar, they’re packed with protein, fiber and omega-3 fatty acids. And you’ll be glad to know that it has half the sugar as most other granola bars.

7. Simple Squares Organic Nutrition Bars

With these granola bars, the name says it all. This brand wants you to eat clean, so it made these bars to help you do so. There’s only five ingredients that you’ll be able to pronounce and recognize as soon as you read them. Not to mention there’s 6 grams of protein and 3 grams of fiber – I’d say that’s pretty good.

8. Zing Bars

Zing bars contain everything you need to be fueled and focused for your workout. There’s healthy fats, protein, prebiotic fibers, and carbs (but not too many). Each bar has 10-11 grams of protein and 5 grams of fiber to keep you on your toes. What more could you ask for?

9. NuGo Bars

NuGo bars are perfect for breakfast, lunch, or even as a snack before your morning run. There’s a flavor for everyone – and they’ll definitely want to keep buying more. These bars are high in protein, are gluten-free and are high in important vitamins. You’d be crazy not to try one.

No matter when you like to eat granola bars, there’s always something for you. Some of the healthiest granola bars are the tastiest, so now you’ll have to try them for yourself and see what you think.

Granola bar food label

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