/ Food & Drink, Health

Are 30% sugar cereal bars really a substitute for breakfast?

This month Which? investigated cereal bars and discovered that the majority don’t really deserve their healthy image. Most were high in sugar and many were also high in saturated fat.

We looked at 30 bars, bakes and breakfast biscuits from the best-selling brands and 16 of them contained 30% or more sugar. While some of the sugar came from fruit, which obviously provides nutritional benefits, lots of it came from added sugars. Only one of the bars we looked at, Nakd Apple pie contained no added sugars.

Just a spoonful of glucose, fructose, raw cane syrup…

It wasn’t always easy to see how much added sugar was in each bar as manufacturers tend to use several sources. In total we found 18 different forms of sugar and most bars contained at least a few. At a glance this can make the cereal bar appear healthier than it is, especially if you don’t know what to look for the ingredients list.

Forms of sugar we found included: glucose syrup, honey, golden syrup, raw cane syrup, oligofructose syrup and of course, plain old sugar.

What’s for your breakfast?

Many people think of them as a healthy snack and choose them over a couple of biscuits or a chocolate bar. And according to an article in The Guardian this week many people are shunning traditional breakfast cereals and replacing them with cereal bars and breakfast biscuits instead.

Apparently due to the recession and working longer hours we no longer have the time for the more traditional breakfast and instead have taken to eating breakfast in front of our computer screens.

Which? has always been critical of the high levels of sugar and until recently salt in traditional breakfast cereals but the levels in the cereal bars we looked at exceed these.

It looks like we’ve swapped cereals, some of which have dubious nutritional value, for cereal bars and biscuits whose nutritional value is even more questionable. What’s in your breakfast – would you be put off cereal bars knowing that they’re not as healthy as their packaging might suggest?


I’m amazed that any of these snack bars should even be tested by Which? for “healthy” aspects. I’ve always considered these as “puddings/cakes” and rationed my intake accordingly. Anything labelled as an energy bar MUST have high energy ingredients, such as fats and sugars, both in standard format and as fruits and nuts. These were never intended as everyday lunchbox snacks.

By now we should all be aware that we need to read the labels and should not be surprised by this Which? report.

Cat E says:
18 October 2012

As an Australian living in the UK I am desperate to find decent muesli bars here, everything is full of chocolate or so sweet they make my teeth hurt! Some Sainsburys do stock Carmen’s bars (Australian brand) – these are amazing but you have to hunt for them. If you can get your hands on them – do! (Fruit are the best, Apricot & Almond a close second!)

Hannah says:
24 October 2012

I expected a bit more of Which? to be honest. This “investigation” is based on Which? wanting to get an easy, obvious story and not about informing us on the cereal bars are actually good for us. They say that 30 cereal bars were included which is a ridiculously small proportion of the market to judge on, and the bars they looked at were clearly ones that contained loads of fat and sugar. Tracker bars, Elevenses, and Squares for God’s sake! Squares is a mesh of marshmallow, I’m pretty sure most people would recognise it’s not very good for you. What about all the others that are actually marketed as being healthy, like Jordan’s, Carmen’s, Dorset Cereals?

Interesting that they include Belvita but not Ryvita. I found this article because I would genuinely like to know which cereal bars are healthiest, and all I got was an article demonising all cereal bars as being sugar-laden and/or fat-laden on the basis of less than 30 brands (more than one Alpen bar was included), most of which I wouldn’t touch anyway. Very helpful, thanks.

Come on Which?, you can do better than this!

Hannah says:
24 October 2012

Ok, just realised they included one Dorset Cereals bar and Jordan’s. But my point still stands – there are far too many of the same brands here, tonnes of Nutri-Grain bars seem to have made the list. Why?

And you would have thought that 150 calories isn’t bad, given the fact that most chocolate bars are twice that.