Cereal Bars: the not very Good, the very Bad and the very Ugly!!!

Cereal Bars: the not very Good, the very Bad and the very Ugly!!!

They may be a handy go-to snack but cereal bars as we know them are not exactly the healthy option many claim to be. In fact, if you’re in the habit of using a cereal bar to "keep you going" then you could easily be consuming the same amount of sugar as you would find in your favourite chocolate bar. The ugly truth is that the vast majority of cereal bars are the polar opposite of healthy and we should try to eliminate them from our daily eating habits.

What to look for in a cereal bar

For a snack to be effective, it needs to contain good levels of both protein and fibre. This is a combination which will keep your blood sugar balanced by slowing down the release of sugars into the blood thus keeping you fuller for longer and providing you with a sustained energy release that in turn keeps cortisol levels in check. The body will burn through high-sugar snacks very quickly leading to a blood sugar and energy crash and burn in addition to the inevitable cravings that follow. 

Next time you’re picking up a cereal bar, check the label carefully – 4g of sugar is the equivalent of a teaspoon, so you can easily do the maths. Some products contain 6 or more teaspoons of sugar! And when you have checked the label put it back on the shelf and count your lucky stars that you have dodged a sugar bullet.

This isn’t always refined sugar, so don’t be fooled: lots of brands use dates or other dried fruits to sweeten their bars and while these are more nutritious than refined sugar, the impact on your blood sugar levels will be the same. A date is made up of 65% sugar and a medium-sized date contains the equivalent of about 6 teaspoons of sugar - would you eat 6 teaspoons of sugar - no you wouldn’t so why do we consume such unhealthy and dangerous products.

According to the chilling CEREAL BAR MARKET - GROWTH, TRENDS, COVID-19 IMPACT, AND FORECASTS (2022 - 2027)  report,

“The COVID-19 pandemic had led to greater demand for snacking items such as cereals bars and snack bars globally. Lockdowns across the world have in a way forced consumers to stack up on eat-at-home and long-lasting cereal products like breakfast cereals, granola bars and other cereal bars.”

Some of the figures in the report are startling and show the huge cereal bar consumption growth rates are such that its inevitable the obesity epidemic will continue to gain pace and rapidly become a full scale pandemic. According WHO, 2.8 million people die globally per year due to obesity. The figure is probably much much higher.

But obesity will never be described as a pandemic as manufacturers of these sugar drugs have the money, power and influence to keep health authorities everywhere under their sugar coated thumbs. Rant over!

Okay, back to the cereal bar. Some cereal bars will contain a higher protein content which may sustain you a little longer whether you’re planning a trip to the gym or have to stay late at work. Anything that has more than 8g of protein is likely to be a winner in energy terms and will help keep the munchies at bay but we are still dealing with a high sugar content and most cereal bars contain little or many protein.

Foods rich in complex carbohydrate such as oats, nuts and seeds are also an essential part of a good cereal bar. These contain good levels of fibre which the body will break down more slowly than refined carbohydrate, which regulates the release of sugars into the blood.

In short, aim for a ratio of high protein and fibre to low sugar and you’ll be onto a winner. 

Cereal Bar Review - Please note that I have tried all of these at some stage and I show no bias towards any particular brand as they all taste awful :)

Here’s my analysis of some of the popular cereal bar brands so you can see how healthy and effective they are as a quick snack. I’ve tried to select fairly similar products from each brand, so that the comparisons are as meaningful as possible. Each product is rated out of 5. I have used MyFitness Pal to come up with macro nutrient breakdown.

Special K - Chocolate Peanut Butter Protein Meal Bar– 0/5

Cals – 180

Protein – 12g

Fibre – 5g

Sugars – 13g

While this product is high in protein and fibre, it features multiple forms of refined sugar which isn’t good news for your blood sugar balance. The extensive list of ingredients and additives makes it a far more processed product than most of the others on this list. It might keep you going in the short term, but it’s not terribly nutritious.

Deliciously Ella Cacao and almond – 1/5

Cals – 173

Protein – 5g

Fibre – 3g

Sugars – 13g

These small protein balls are quite dense and chewy, but they might not keep you going as long as you’d imagine. Across, the range, these balls tend to be lower in protein and fibre and higher in sugar than this specific product, with some of them containing the equivalent of 5 teaspoons of sugar, due to the high content of dates and other dried fruit. It’s best to be selective with this brand if you want the best results.

Nakd Bar Cocoa Orange – 2/5

Cals – 145

Protein – 4g

Fibre – 2.2g

Sugars – 14g

If you’re familiar with the soft, sweet consistency of a Nakd bar, it’ll come as no surprise to learn that over half of the ingredients are dried fruit, so this is a pretty sugary option which is unlikely to keep you going for very long. However they do get a bonus point for the lack of additives and for their simplicity, which makes them suitable for people avoiding dairy and gluten.

Trek Cocoa Oat Protein Flapjack– 2/5

Cals – 227

Protein – 9g

Fibre – 2g

Sugars – 14g

This product is a chocolate-topped flapjack rather than a traditional cereal bar, but despite the name it contains less protein, gram for gram than several of the products reviewed here. While Trek bars have the advantage of containing oats which are a great source of slow-release complex carbohydrate, the range is sweetened with added cane sugar rather than using natural sugar or dried fruit, so they’re not as nutritious as they could be.

Nature Valley Regular 0/5

Cals – 98

Protein – 2g

Fibre – 1g

Sugars – 6g

In addition to providing nothing in the way of beneficial nutrients, this bar has a lengthy list of toxic ingredients which includes a number of additives, such as the artificial sweetener maltodextrin. It is quite a processed offering which may be harder for your body to break down and absorb.

Nature Valley Bars also have a tendency to turn up in race packs and gym membership packs and my advice would be bin them straight away.

Natures Bakery Fig Bar - Raspberry Flavour – 0/5

Cals – 100

Protein – 1g

Fibre – 1g

Sugars – 10g

Low in protein and fibre and with the equivalent of 2.5 teaspoons of sugar, this isn’t a great option in energy terms. The sugar content is consistently high across the range and the protein content is token at best. These products are unlikely to keep you going for very long.

Bounce Energy Ball Orange Cacao– 1/5

Cals – 180

Protein – 9g

Fibre – 2.5g

Sugars – 11g

The good thing about Bounce Balls is that they avoid using dried fruits, so the sugar content is invariably a bit lower than other brands of cereal bar. This product contains less protein than the rest of the range which is nearer 12g per ball, so you can be sure to get a good blast of protein from a combination of nuts and seeds, whichever one you choose. Although the fibre content could be better, the ratio of high protein to low sugar makes this a great blood sugar-balancing option which will definitely keep you going.

Nutrigrain Raspberry – 0/5

Cals – 182g

Protein – 2g

Fibre – 1g

Sugars – 17g

The very broad distribution of this range in supermarkets and petrol stations makes it an easy ‘grab-and-go’ option if you’re after a quick snack but you’d be well advised to take a bit more time to find something better. Super-duper high in sugar for such a small bar and with virtually no fibre and very little protein to neutralise the impact, these products are going to leave you wanting more in a very short space of time or making a visit to the diabetes clinic.

Carman’s Natural Bircher Muesli 1/5

Cals – 189

Protein – 6g

Fibre – 3g

Sugars – 7g

Though not great this particular piece of cardboard contains a decent amount of protein. The range gets a bonus point for being lower in sugar than many other bars on the market and for using pumpkin and sunflower seeds which provide a great boost of omega 3, as well as protein.

Jordans Frusli Bar – 0/5

Cals – 120

Protein – 2g

Fibre – 1.5g

Sugars – 10g

High in sugar, with minimal protein and fibre, snacking on this Frusli bar won’t get you very far in energy terms and you’re likely to soon have the munchies again. It is sure to have you bouncing for a few minutes before the inevitable crash and burn.

To finish I’m going to add a bar from a popular supplement company as a comparison.

Myprotein: Peanut Butter Protein Bar - 3/5

Cals – 240

Protein – 20g

Fibre – 0g

Sugars – 7g

The Myprotein's Peanut Butter Protein bar is a pick-me-up that won't ruin your hard-earned fitness regimen. Its lower in sugar than traditional supermarket alternatives is packed with 20g of protein that is sure to keep you full and in fact you may not be able to consume them in one sitting. They are quite expensive when compared to the items above but provides a better alternative should you need a snack on the go.

There you have it. My advice is stay away from all of them. Develop good nutrition habits and practices and always carry some fruit and nuts with you if you feel that you may need a snack. The vast majority of snack products marketed as healthy alternatives are in fact the direct opposite and can be so damaging to your long term health as well as your pocket.

Remember the added sugar in the snack has no actual benefit. It’s just there to improve the taste. Increased sugar consumption causes obesity. And obesity, as you already know, can cause several life-threatening diseases. The only winners in this battle are the companies that manufacture these products. Time to grab an apple :)