Are Cereal, Protein, Snack, Granola Bars Healthy - Myths and Facts

Cereal bars, granola bars, protein bars, muesli bars and breakfast bars are marketed as healthy snacks but what are the facts and are they really healthy?

How do you make the healthy choices?

There is a huge range of type available and this makes it hard to choose the healthy ones and to know what to look for when choosing a snack that you can be assured is not full of sugar and fat and stuffed with artificial ingredients.

It is alarming that recent surveys has shown that most of they are more than 20% sugar and contain more calories and fat than an equivalent amount of chocolate. The same warning applies to protein bars that are stuffed with sugar and fat. The best way of course is to make your own granola bars, protein bars and protein shakes and smoothies.

This article aims to dispel the myths about snack bars and provides some advice as to what to look for when choosing a snack bar that is really healthy.

Making healthy choices with cereal, granola, protein, energy and other snack bars requires close reading of the nutrition labels and debunking of the myths about bars.
Making healthy choices with cereal, granola, protein, energy and other snack bars requires close reading of the nutrition labels and debunking of the myths about bars. | Source

Dispelling the Myth - Most Cereal, Protein, Fruit and Snack Bars are not Healthy and are Stuffed with Sugar, Calories and Fat

Recent research by the consumer organisations 'Which?' in the UK and 'Choice' in Australia found that most cereal bars are rich in fat and sugar and have more calories per 100g than a bar of chocolate.


Shown below is a table of 90 cereal and protein bars listed from highest calories counts per 100 g to the smallest.


For comparison the nutrients in apples, oranges and peanuts as well as a variety of fruit snacks is provided for comparison (all for 100 g servings).


Similarly the nutrients in 100 g of dark milk and white chocolate is also included for comparison.



The researchers found that 90% of the bars they examined were high in added sugar with more then 20% of the weight being pure sugar, equivalent to about 4 teaspoons of sugar per 100 g, or 2 teaspoons in a bar weigh about 30-50g.


Many different kinds of sugar were found in the cereal bars suggesting that the makers may have been trying to obscure the sugar levels on the labels.


The types of sugar included were sugar, dextrose, grape juice concentrate, lactose, fructose, dried glucose syrup, barley malt syrup, glucose-fructose syrup, molasses, inverted sugar syrup, raw cane syrup, golden syrup, honey and glucose syrup.


A cereal bar that has honey, fructose and glucose syrup as ingredients will have these 3 ingredients listed separately and not as added sugar, even though they are all sugar. This tends to hide the total sugar content.


About 30% of the bars were very high in saturated fat (more than 5g of saturated fat per 100g). For example Chocolate Chip Tracker bar (37g) includes some 9 g of fat, representing an alarming 43% of the calories in the bar!


Fat should only account for about 30% of your calorie intake in a balanced.

About half of the bars included in the table have more calories per 100 g that an equivalent size bar of chocolate (500 Calories per 100g).

Many also have higher fat contents than chocolate.

The table also demonstrates that fresh fruit and snacks based on diced processed fruit and fruit salad portions are much healthier than the snack bars (listed at the top of the table).

Debunking The Myths about Snack Bars

If you are looking healthy snack bar choices you need to read the label carefully exactly to see what the bar contains. Similarly you need to not be fooled by the many myths that mislead people into making unhealthy choices about snack bars. The occasional snack bar is not going to ruin your diet, provided you eat well during the day. But the nutrition data clearly shows that there are dangers is eating these snacks as regular meal replacements or as regular between meal snacks. Always consider other snack ideas such as a slice of wholegrain toast with honey, and an apple or an orange, low-fat, low cal yoghurt with fresh berries or fresh fruit. Healthy granola or muesli also makes a healthy between-meals snack.

Myth: Cereal bars have lower calories and less sugar than a bar of chocolate

  • Wrong: The table clearly shows that 50% of the bars have more calories than a chocolate bar, partially due to their high fat contents.

Myth: A label that reads reduced or low fat will always be a good healthy choice.

  • Wrong: This is not true in many cases because the labeling can be misleading. Depending on the country low-fat products generally must contain less than 3g of fat per 100g. However, the term 'reduced fat' is not regulated to mean anything. If the product such as cheese has a very high fat content, choosing a reduced fat version may still contain far too much fat. Likewise goods labelled 'low fat' or 'reduced fat' may have high sugar or have high dried fruit contents and may have high calories.

Myth: Dried fruit has few calories and is therefore a healthy snack.

  • Wrong: Dried fruit is fresh fruit with the water extracted. This means that dried fruit has a huge number of calories on a per weight basis . For example, a fresh apricot (43g with stone) contains only about 12 calories while a dried apricot (8 g) contains 15 Calories, and 40 g or dried apricots contains 75 calories ( 5 times as much). Dried fruit is a good source of fiber and some nutrients, but the drying process wipes out most of the Vitamin C, and any other nutrients in the fresh fruit. So beware of bars packed with dried fruits and nuts which will generally have very high calories.

Myth: It's always best to choose a cereal bar that has no chocolate

  • Wrong: Cereal bars that contains nuts, dried fruit, honey and fats can have more calories than one with chocolate chips, or chocolate coatings. Chocolate is not all bad news as it contains many healthy nutrients. Check the labels to compare the varieties available and choose wholegrain bars that have low sugar, low fat and low salt content, irrespective of whether they contain chocolate.

Myth: Yogurt-coated bars are a healthier choice than bars coated with chocolate

  • Wrong: Yogurt-coated products can be rich in fat and sugar. For example 50 g of Yogurt-coated raisins contains 250 calories, which is very similar to chocolate coated ones and the fat level may be lower.

Myth: Bars with mixed seeds and nuts are a healthy choice.

  • Fact: Mixed seeds and nuts are an excellent source of nutrients but they are calorie dens foods and the calories and fat can build up very quickly. Always check the calorie and fat contents of these bars.

Tips For Making Health Choices of Snack Bars

  • Does the bar have at least 3 grams of fiber?
  • Does the bar have at least 5 grams of protein?
  • Does the bar contain less than 35% calories from sugar? Sugar has 4 Calories per gram, so to calculate the calories from sugar as a percentage multiply the grams of sugar by 4 and express this as a percentage of the total calories. For example Nature's Choice Multigrain Raspberry bar has 12 grams of sugar which is equivalent to about 50 Calories. The total calories in the bar is 120 calories and so about 40% calories are from sugar.
  • Does the bar have too much fat and saturated fat? Find bars that have very low amounts of saturated fat and low amounts of total fat. But you don't want too much fat, and you certainly don't want any saturated fat if you can help it.
  • Does the bar have lower GI scores which helps to prevent a blood sugar spike and subsequent hunger. Choose bars with a higher protein content, and high fiber content. Bars that have more seeds and nuts are generally better that those with lots of cereal and dried fruit, which are rich in carbohydrate. But check the calorie levels.

Nutrition Comparisons for Various Snack Bars

(click column header to sort results)
Serving 100 g  
Energy (Cal)  
Total fat (g)  
Sat. fat (g)  
Carbs (g)  
Fibre (g)  
Sodium (mg)  
Calcium (mg)  
Protein (g)  
FRUIT SNACKS
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
WeightWatchers Peaches in mango jelly
12
0
0
2
2
66
 
0.2
Australian sultanas
320
0.8
0.2
76
4
16
 
2
Goulburn Valley fruit salad in juice
70
0
0
17
2
8
 
0.5
Goulburn Valley diced two fruits
50
0.1
0
12
1
8
 
0.66
Goulburn Valley diced apricot
60
0.3
0.1
17
1.3
2
 
0.8
APPLE
53
0.2
0
14
2.4
1
 
0.3
ORANGE
45
0.1
0
12
2.3
0
 
1
Peanuts
489
0.1
0
12
2.3
0
 
1
CHOCOLATE BARS
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Peanuts
498
43
6
18
7
6
 
20
Arnott's Tim Tam Fingers
516
27
13.3
45
0
170
 
 
Mars Bar
502
19
11.2
56.8
1.4
140
0
3.8
Dark Chocolate
450
30
20
62.5
7.5
37.5
0
7.5
Milk Chocolate
525
32.5
20
65
2.5
87.5
0
7.5
White Chocolate
611
34
22
60
0
100
220
6
SNACK BARS
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
MET-Rx Big 100
1140
24
12
80
6
0
1350
84
Detour (30 g protein)
1080
36
15
80
9
0
420
90
Pure Protein
930
30
15
72
4.5
0
900
96
Odyssey
930
30
12
80
12
0
450
90
PowerBar ProteinPlus
900
18
10.5
80
12
0
1275
69
Snickers Protein Performance Bar
870
24
9
80
12
0
1500
69
Promax
870
18
10.5
80
12
0
600
60
Kashi GoLean Bar
855
18
12
80
18
0
255
39
Harvest PowerBar
735
15
3
80
15
0
1200
30
Clif Bar
735
15
5.4
70
15
0
750
30
GeniSoy Soy Protein Bar
720
15
8.4
80
3
0
645
42
EAS AdvantEdge Complete Nutrition
720
21
14.1
81
6
0
900
51
PowerBar Triple Threat
690
21
9
80
12
0
450
30
Odwalla Bar
690
15
4.5
80
6
0
750
15
Atkins Advantage Original
690
30
15
69
24
0
900
57
Snickers Marathon Energy Bar
660
21
5.1
80
6
0
1350
33
SlimFast Optima Meal & Meal-on-the-Go
660
18
9
85
15
0
900
24
ZonePerfect
630
21
12
66
6
0
300
45
South Beach Meal Replacement
630
18
9
78
15
0
300
57
PowerBar Nut Naturals
630
30
3
60
9
0
450
30
LARABAR
630
33
6
72
9
0
150
15
Balance Gold Bar
630
21
12
69
3
0
300
45
Clif Mojo Bar
615
27
6
66
6
0
165
30
Sun Health Foods Rice Syrup bar Macadamia and honey
604
50.6
9
31.2
0.9
8
 
 
Balance Bar
600
18
6
66
6
0
285
42
Uncle Tobys Crunchy Nut Crumble 6 x 20g
586
21.6
4.7
22.4
11.5
353.3
 
 
Myoplex Lite
570
15
9
78
12
0
750
45
Nature Valley Crunchy Granola Bar
540
18
1.5
82
6
0
0
12
Luna Bar
540
15
3
78
9
0
1050
30
Kashi TLC Crunchy Granola Bar
540
18
1.5
78
12
0
0
21
Detour (15 g protein)
540
18
9
51
3
0
240
45
Kelloggs Crunchy Nut Nutty
533
35.6
10.9
26.2
5.1
275
 
 
Go Natural Nut Bar macadamia and hazelnut
529
40.5
5.7
21.7
7
14
 
 
Golden Days Seasame Snaps Original
521
30.5
4.6
37.8
0
99
 
 
Go natural Nut Delight
521
39.9
4.5
20.2
7.5
16.4
 
 
Pria Grain Essentials
510
9
1.5
90
15
0
1200
18
Pria Complete Nutrition
510
18
10.5
66
15
0
1200
33
Snickers Low Carb Lifestyle Bar
495
21
6
57
21
0
1500
42
Kashi GoLean Crunchy! Bar
495
12
6
84
15
0
600
24
Wheelies mini sandwich cookies
492
20
12
28
0
300
 
 
Sun Health Foods Rice Syrup bar Cashew and honey
489
29.1
5.2
31.1
2.2
24
 
 
Go natural Yoghurt Almond and Apricot
486
30.7
20.3
41.5
6.6
48
 
 
Mrs May's strawberry Trio bar
485
34.3
4.3
17
5.7
129
 
 
Ministry of Muffins Little bites muffins choc fudge brownies
483
24.1
6
42.4
0
270
 
 
White Wings Homestyle Chunkies minis choc chip
468
16.8
12
33.8
5.1
260
 
 
Nature Valley Crunchy Oats and Honey
462
16.1
11
27
6.2
340
 
 
Snickers Marathon fortified for women
450
9
6
69
15
0
1800
30
Extend Bar
450
9
3
63
15
0
90
33
Be natural four currant + nuts + grains + seed
445
21.7
3.2
26.3
5.3
150
 
 
Carmens Yoghurt Apricot and Almond bar
442
22
5.6
25.2
5.5
49
 
 
Glucerna Snack Bar
435
12
9
69
6
0
75
21
Uncle Tobys Yoghurt Tops Apricot
433
16.3
8.8
30.1
5
33
 
 
Carmen's Original fruit-free muesli bar
430
18.2
2
12.1
7
45
 
 
South Beach Diet Cereal Bar
420
15
12
45
9
0
450
30
Kashi TLC Chewy Granola Bar
420
15
1.5
60
12
0
0
18
Paradise Vive Lites mini choc
413
6.8
3
34.1
3.1
325
 
 
Kelloggs Special K Chocolatey Bars - raspberry flavour
413
8.1
5.8
29.4
2.5
250
 
 
Woolworths Homebrand Chewy muesli bar Strawberry and Yoghurt flavoured
411
10.8
8
27.8
4.2
120
 
 
Sun Health Foods Hifi plus yoghurt, macadamia and apricot
410
22.2
9.8
26.8
15
29
 
 
Ministry of Muffins Little bites muffins choc chip
394
15.9
4.1
36.4
9.3
365
 
 
Balconi Trancetto
392
17.6
8.7
35.2
0.7
0.2
 
 
Kellogg�s All-Bran Bar
390
9
1.5
63
15
0
0
6
Mills and Ware Muffin bars chocolate
382
14.8
2.2
25.3
8.9
295
 
 
Mills and Ware Muffin bars choc chip
380
14
4.7
28.7
9.5
300
 
 
Be Natural trail bars Honey nut
368
8.4
1.6
13
11.8
150
 
 
Be Light (Aldi) Cereal bar Orange flavoured
368
2.9
0.7
13.6
7.6
180
 
 
SlimFast Optima Snack & Orig. Snack
360
12
6
57
3
0
720
6
Kelloggs K-Time Twists Raspberry and apple
339
5.8
0.8
35.6
5.6
180
 
 
Pria PowerBar
330
9
6
48
3
0
900
15
Hillcrest (Aldi) fruit filled Apricot flavoured bars
320
2.9
1.1
27.9
6.8
345
 
 
Uncle Tobys Bodywise Apple delight 6 x 35g
318
6.3
0.9
16.2
25.4
90
 
 
Weight Watchers Oven baked ceraeal bar strawberry and blueberry duo
315
0.9
0.2
30.3
12.8
225
 
 
Leda Nutrition Baked fruit filled bar Apple flavour
311
0.9
0.1
49.8
5.1
115
 
 
ZonePerfect Snack Size
240
9
4.5
27
0
0
120
18
All Natural Bakery Honey and oat slice - Apricot
215
10
6.2
8.5
3.8
96.5
 
 
All Natural Bakery oat slice Nut Delight
156
8
4.1
5.5
2.6
61.3
 
 
All Natural Bakery oat slice yoghurt peach and mango
145
6.7
4.5
7.7
2.4
59
 
 
Adams Bruce mini cakes Light fruit and sticky date
105
2.6
1.1
9
0
73.3
 
 

© 2012 Dr. John Anderson

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