Last week an article by Sean Poulter on how healthy cereal bars are in the Daily Mail caught my attention – ‘Healthy’ cereal bars that contain more sugar than a can of cola and as much fat as cheese’. Many other publications and the NHS also picked up on the interesting research that the Which? group did on this, reviewing 30 of the bars that are marketed as ‘healthy’. The report showed some interesting findings and concluded their health image as a ‘myth’.
A bit of background
I started opting for cereal bars way back in almost the prehistoric ages where the perception of them was that they were the healthier option to a Mars bar. Instead of a KitKat in my lunch box, a Fruseli bar or Nutri Grain seemed like a virtuous substitution and I felt good about myself. Manufacturers fired up and started churning out all sorts, so I pretty much tried them all (much to the entertainment of my friends). I settled on some favourites until I would get bored and go to the next one – I will never forget my discovery of the 90 calorie Kelloggs Choc Roco bar at university which soon became my staple snack during dozy lectures. At college the Double Decker – concluded by me as the most substantial of chocolate bars – was out, and the Tracker was in. I could get my sugar hit and feel like was being relatively healthy – game on! I appear to be sitting in the camp that on the most part, some of these bars are a healthier option to the high calorie and fat full chocolate whack, and if they are going to satisfy a craving you know you may give in to anyway then hey ho. However, a caution should be issued…
Ignorance certainly was bliss, well until I boarded the low sugar train. The perception I developed over the years of these being ‘healthy’ started to justify me eating them as a healthy choice, when sometimes I wouldn’t have had a chocolate bar. Bad move. As I mentioned in previous posts, when something is low calorie and low fat like these bars are advertised, sugar is the taste buster, and mostly of the refined kind – bar the odd raisin or poking of strawberry (which is probably not its natural colour). Your insulin is up, you don’t burn fat and a subsequent come down should be expected where you are hungry again or crave the next day.
An unofficial but perfectly plausible review
So which bars come in under the good, bad and ugly. The research itself paints the picture, but I air my own views below showing the average sugar content in each, and with an eye on the bigger picture at hand.
Nutri-Grain Elevenses (18g) – Seriously I used to dig these because put simply, they are a CAKE! Ok a smidge healthier with a few fibresome raisins but don’t delude yourself any more than that. Eat, but eat with the same frame of mind that you would the humble muffin.
Tracker Roasted Nut Bar (7.3g) – These are gooey and old school. You can’t quite tell what they are completely made of and Which? deemed them the most unhealthy due to the high fat content. Unless you love them over everything else in your life, avoid like a pork pie (oh and avoid pork pies if you don’t already!).
Naked Apple Pie (12g) – Now these came in as the most healthy and have no added sugar where all is from unrefined sources. Naked have a whole range of bars with quirky flavours that keep things interesting and they are quite substantial if your bar needs to fill a gap. ‘Dense’ is the word I would use, although that doesn’t sound really appetising. I am particularly fond of the Cocoa Orange one so if you want something chocolaty, natural and filling then this may be a good choice.
EAT Natural e.g. brazils, sultanas, almonds, peanuts & hazelnuts (12.9g) – The good claim by this brand is that nothing else has been added which is a comforting note when comparing to the not-sure-what-this-is-made-of Tracker. Many of these bars have a lot of nuts or seeds so are high in calories and fat – but goodish ones – so they will keep you fuller for longer and provide various skin busting nutrients if you don’t mind the calorie hit and are near to starving. Yogurt or chocolate coated variety are to be avoided as the sugar shoots up but I will say the Dark Macadamia Cranberry ones are divine if you are allowing a treat #iwantonenow!
Special K Red Berry (9g) – A staple ‘healthy’ bar found in every supermarket near you. In my mind a bit processed and for how unsubstantial they are, they pack a lot of sugar. I think they ride on the brand a bit ‘You really can look like this in a red dress if you eat these’ – yeah I don’t think so. Again, there are better options.
Weetabix Oaty Bars, Strawberry Crusher (4.6g) – Ok so these are for kids but the Weetabix range come up trumps for low sugar and being a big kid can occasionally be fun. The chocolate ones could hit the sweet spot and save you calories and sugar bigtime so substitute with these if required.
I could continue but the NHS has a great article summarising the Which? research with a useful link to a table that lists the content for the bars they tested. Think of it all under the term ‘substitution’ – have a cereal bar instead of a chocolate bar, have some fresh fruit and nuts instead of one of these – you get the point. You aren’t going to be a saint all the time but substitute for healthier options where your will power allows and don’t fall under the ‘this is healthy’ trap like I did… for many a happy cereal bar years.