/ 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?


We have found most of these too sweet I don’t just mean high in sugar but uncomfortably sweet to the taste A lot of them are no more than very sweet biscuits – they are certainly not a substitute for breakfast cereal

We have found some which have lots of oats in them and don’t taste so sweet I think these were Kelloggs oat bars and Frusli bars taste fruity We don’t like bars that taste like chocolate bars or jammy biscuits They are useful for the occasion when you have run out of milk and are in a rush – but toast is probably a better solution then!

They were Quaker oat bars and not Kelloggs We stopped eating them when they disappeared off the shelves but they are still around somewhere I did try contacting them to find out where but they just said contact your local shops I did contact a couple but there isn’t enough time in life to just go chasing after these things I also tried to buy them online but they were out of stock I would have bought them in bulk!

laura says:
18 August 2012

My daughter’s school has a healthy eating policy but allows these kind of bars in lunchoboxes. I have been saying for some time that these bars are no better than a chocolate biscuit type snack but have not been listened to. I shall now show the school this!

I’m a big fan of Carmans muesli bars that some Sainsburys stock.

Thank you to which as I eat cereal bars every day as I have breakfast at my desk and I want something easy to eat and healthy. Some of them are sickly sweet so I eat Jordan’s almond and honey ( cheap) or great myself to 9 bar which I was shocked to read is high in salt and fat because it doesn’t taste that way. Nakd bars are way too expensive. Someone please suggest a cheap but healthy alternative that is practical to eat at a desk. Thanks!

Dawn Ellie says:
18 August 2012

My child’s school is strick at what we can put in lunch boxes but they do allow these bars. We’ve started to eat the nature valley bars, which are nice, are these just as bad for you? I think if these are so bad for you they shouldn’t be sponsors for sports, like the Olympics!

Kenny says:
18 August 2012

Don’t think elevenses has ever been marketed as a breakfast or a healthy snack but they are great for an energy boost on the hills.

I used to eat these bars but eventually realised how much sugar and fat I was eating, especially if I finished the box. 🙂

The most worrying thing is that seven of the products in your survey are described as “children’s bars” and might be a potential source of life-long sugar addiction.

Some years ago Waitrose had a range called “Food Explorers” aimed as children which was sold under large print claims of “controlled sugar” in shelf front advertising but with small print labels showing that some items were 2/3 rd sugar.

That range was eventually withdrawn but a responsible sugar commitment is still needed. Let’s name and shame both producers and sellers.

It looks as if there might be a market for muesli bars that don’t contain a lot of sugar or fat. I assume that sugar syrup is used to keep the bars in one piece but there must be a better way.

I hope the manufacturer of the bars containing no added sugar does not proclaim this on their advertising when their product contains more sugar than many of the ones with added sugar.

Mantequilla says:
20 August 2012

I like Alpen bars, very sweet, but never fill me up.

I’ve tried the less sugary ones but they taste very dry and bland. Back to the sausages then

Just goes to show that until the Government gets tough with food producers about labelling (i.e. actually GOVERNS!) we will all have to carry on reading the small print. I’m not holding my breath …

barbara says:
24 August 2012

try Stoats Porrige Bars – we got them at Conwy Feast a few years ago, you can buy online.

barbara says:
24 August 2012

Try stoats porrige bars. We found them at Conwy Feast a few years ago, nice and oaty, not too sweet.

Tony Holmes says:
24 August 2012

My wife and I are keen cyclists and as such often need to carry convenient forms of instant nutrition which we can keep in our pockets. We are both very ingredient conscious and suspicious of supermarket products and the transparent claims made by food manufacturers so we make our own muesli / snack bars which are easy to make, using known ingredients. The cost of course, is much more favourable to those bars you buy in shops. There are a variety of recipes on the internet or just make your own to suit your tastes. Well recommended !!!

RJoden says:
24 August 2012

I’m absolutely appalled to find that I have been giving my child sugar and fat laden breakfast bars as a bedtime snack!! I was particularly shocked at the content of the All Bran breakfast biscuits, which don’t taste particularly sweet. I’m now going to make my own HEALTHY bars.

James Bowman says:
25 August 2012

I now only eat the Nakd bars since they are wholly natural ingredients, with no sugar added.

These are naturally quite expensive and I have only seen them in Tescos and Sainsburys. However if eaten slowly they are filling and very tasty-there are about 5 or 6 varieties. Well worth a try especially if you are trying to reduce your processed sugar intake!

Julia Clark says:
27 August 2012

I too like the Naked bars although they are expensive. I also like the fruitus bars by Lyme Regis foods (from Sainsbury) – not on your list .

If I am out an about I need any energy boost when I start feeling faint – these have to be preferable to buying a Mars bar, I just have to remember to take one.

E Darlington says:
31 August 2012

As a Traidcraft supporter I was sorry not to see their Geobars in the evaluation of cereal bars. When they were first made (?10 years ago) a public health doctor commented that they were healthier than the others then available, but the recipes have changed since. They are sold in supermarkets as well as direct from Traidcraft, and have the advantage of using Fairtrade ingredients.

Marilyn says:
6 September 2012

I only eat the very occasional Eat Natural Bar, not because I think it’s especially healthy but because I like them. But what’s wrong with a banana as a healthy snack?. No additives, an energy power pack which can be eaten/carried anywhere

Peter Dolman says:
7 September 2012

Your article on cereal bars says, ‘Hydrogenated fats are harmful in the same way saturated fats are – they raise cholesterol and can lead to heart disease.’ I would recommend reading ‘The great Cholesterol Con’ by Dr Malcolm Kendrick. He believes that there actually is no evidence for this claim and his research is compelling. He says that this belief has become so ingrained that even when the evidence shows the opposite people just ignore it.

The consensus is that trans-fatty acids, which are formed by partial hydrogenation of vegetable oils to solidify them, are undesirable in food.

The larger food producers have largely eliminated them from our foods and small amounts have not been regarded as harmful anyway.