Muesli bar reviews

Grabbing a quick muesli or muffin bar may not be the healthy fix you’re after.
 
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  • Updated:9 Jan 2006
 

01 .Introduction

Muesli-bars

In brief

  • Cereal bars can be loaded with sugar and saturated fat. Find out from the results table which are the healthiest, and which the ones to avoid.
  • Some brands contain ‘fruit’ that owes more to chemistry than agriculture. You only find out by checking the ingredients in the small print on the label.
  • A piece of real fruit is a much healthier snack.

Please note: this information was current as of January 2006 but is still a useful guide to today's market.


Going behind bars

Cereal bars, muesli bars and breakfast bars may have a healthy image but most of them are more than 20% sugar, and some deliver more saturated fat than a packet of chips. What’s more, even the ‘fruit’ in them can be a sham — a laboratory creation of chemicals and sugar.

Whatever their nutritional shortcomings, there’s no lack of choice — we found more than 150 brands and flavours in the major supermarkets and assessed their nutritional value.

But there’s no getting away from it, cereal bars are sweet. The manufacturers depend on sugars of various kinds — usually ordinary sugar (sucrose), glucose or glucose syrup — to hold the bar together.

They’ll also usually include some fat to make the bar tastier. This is OK if it’s just a small amount of polyunsaturated vegetable oil (such as canola) but not if it’s palm or coconut oil (vegetable oils that are high in saturated fat) — and even worse when it’s a hydrogenated oil that contains artery-clogging trans fats.

What we assessed

To make choosing a relatively healthy bar easier, we used the information on the labels to assess the bars nutritionally. Here’s what we looked for:

  • Energy. A healthy snack should fill a hole without giving you too many extra fattening kilojoules. We set the limit that you should get from a cereal bar as less than 600kJ — that’s about 6% of the average daily energy intake for an adult or an 8–11-year-old (active teenagers, especially boys, need more). But that’s still a hefty snack — you’d get about as many kilojoules from a piece of fruit and a tub of yoghurt, only they’re likely to be healthier.
  • Whole grains. Whole grains are rich in protective antioxidants and minerals, as well as providing plenty of dietary fibre. There’s now good evidence that wholegrain cereals protect you against heart disease and some cancers. We looked for wholegrain cereals (usually rolled oats) as the first or second ingredient listed on the label.
  • Saturated fat. Experts recommend that saturated fat shouldn’t provide more than 10% of your energy intake. So we set a limit of 1.5g of saturated fat per bar (which translates into about 60kJ).
  • Sugars. Ideally you shouldn’t get more than 20% of your energy from sugars (which translates to about 6g of sugars per bar). But given that it’s sugar that sticks these bars together, we set a more realistic limit of 10g. (You just have to eat less sugar somewhere else in your diet.)
  • Dietary fibre. Adults should be getting at least 30g of fibre per day, and older kids about 20g. It works out that a cereal bar that gives you 6% of your energy should deliver at least 6% of your fibre as well — that’s 1.8g.

These five criteria — kilojoules, whole grains, saturated fat, sugar and fibre — were what we used to find the best and worst cereal bars. You’ll find them in the results table.

Not good for your teeth

Eating sugary snacks activates bacteria that attack your teeth and can cause decay. Cereal bars, especially the stickier ones, are bad news because the sugar sticks to your teeth. The Australian Dental Association recommends keeping sugary snacks to a minimum. Chewing on sugar-free gum afterwards can help — it stimulates saliva flow and protects teeth from decay.

 
 

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Results table

 

Meets nutrition criteria2
Cereal bars (in order of least to most kJ per bar) Energy per bar1 (kJ) Energy Whole grains Saturated fat Sugars Dietary fibre Bar size3
(g)
Price per
bar4($)
Best (complied with all five nutrition criteria)
Apple red (for comparison) 320 140 0.43
NESTLÉ Ski D’Lite Apple & Pear 363 24 0.72
NESTLÉ Ski D’Lite Apple & Cinnamon 365 24 0.72
NESTLÉ Ski D’Lite Apple & Strawberry 365 24 0.72
FIT & ACTIVE Grains Delight 452 33 0.45
COLES FARMLAND Chewy Muesli Bars Choc Chip 517 32 0.30
NICE & NATURAL Apricot Muesli Bars 540 35 0.72
UNCLE TOBYS Chewy Muesli Bars (Apricot) 540 31 0.57
UNCLE TOBYS Chewy Muesli Bars (Choc Chip) 540 31 0.57
UNCLE TOBYS Chewy Muesli Bars (Forest Fruits) 540 31 0.56
UNCLE TOBYS Chewy White Choc Chip 550 31 0.62
HOME BRAND Muesli Bars Apricot 567 31 0.24
NICE & NATURAL Choc Chip Muesli Bars 570 35 0.72
A O Apricot & Almond Bars 600 35 0.83
Worst (complied with only one or no nutrition criteria)
KELLOGG’S Nutri-Grain Bar 514 30 0.76
KELLOGG’S Nutri-Grain Choc Malt 514 30 0.75
HILLCREST Muesli Bars Honeycomb & Nut 573 31 0.24
CADBURY BrunchBar Raisin 623 35 0.50
COLES SAVINGS Choc Coated Muesli Bars (Honeycomb & Nut) 628 33 0.30
TASTI Muffin Bakes Blueberry Delight 640 40 0.50
CADBURY BrunchBar Cranberry & Orange 650 35 0.50
KELLOGG’S K-Time Muffin Bars Sultana & Apple Bake 690 45 0.90
Mars Bar (for comparison) 697 40 1.20
KELLOGG’S K-time Muffin Bars Strawberry & Vanilla 698 45 0.90
NICE & NATURAL Yoghurt Natural Nut Bars 703 35 0.65
KELLOGG’S K-time Muffin Bars Apple 719 45 0.90
KELLOGG’S K-time Muffin Bars Blueberry 720 45 0.90
BE NATURAL Almond and Apricot Bars 790 40 1.25
SUNIBRITE Muesli Slices 844 45 1.00
SUNIBRITE Apricot & Muesli Slices 849 45 1.00

Table notes

1 Energy per bar: From the figures provided by the manufacturer on the label.

2 Meets nutrition criteria: We used the nutrition information on the label to assess whether the cereal bars met our criteria for energy, whole grains, saturated fat, sugar and dietary fibre (see What we assessed). A dot means the bar meets the criterion.

3 Bar size: The bars vary in size quite a lot between brands but we think you’d eat the whole bar regardless of its size. We’ve given the weight shown on the label.

4 Price per bar: Most brands come in packs of six or eight. For ease of comparison we’ve calculated the price per bar based on what we paid in Sydney supermarkets in June 2006.

The best

Thirteen bars met all our nutrition criteria (see the table for details).

  • The NESTLÉ Ski D’Lite range has the least energy, saturated fat and sugar. But they’re smaller bars than most (24g compared with an average size of about 32g) so you probably won’t find one as filling.
  • HOME BRAND Apricot Muesli Bars are the cheapest of the healthier bars. But an apple (included in the table for comparison) is only slightly more expensive and is a much healthier snack than any of them — with only about 320kJ it would give you plenty of fibre plus less sugar than any of these bars, and no fat.

The worst

Some of these cereal bars would be more accurately called fat and sugar bars.

We found 14 that only meet one of our nutrition criteria, and even one — NICE & NATURAL Yoghurt Natural Nut Bars — that meets none of them. Most of these are loaded with saturated fat and all of them have far too much sugar (see the table for details).

  • SUNIBRITE Muesli Slices have as much saturated fat as a good fry-up of two bacon rashers, two fried eggs and a fried tomato — and that’s on top of any trans fat the manufacturers don’t have to tell you about.
  • Some of these products should simply be in the confectionery aisle. KELLOGG’S K-time Muffin Bars give you more than three teaspoons (15g) of sugar and CADBURY BrunchBars are 20% chocolate, which pushes them over the limit for energy and saturated fat.
  • We included a MARS Bar for comparison and found some cereal bars that give you more kilojoules.

Faux fruit

The packaging might show luscious-looking strawberries or cherries but the pieces of ‘fruit’ you find in some of these bars owe more to chemistry than agriculture.

  • The “strawberry flavoured pieces” in NESTLÉ Ski D’Lite Apple and Strawberry are made from “strawberry puree 2.3%, apple paste, pear paste, plum paste, invert sugar, sugar, humectant (422), wheat fibre, gelling agent (pectin), food acid (malic acid), flavour (elderberry concentrate)”.
  • And the “red cherry fruit pieces” in UNCLE TOBYS Chewy Forest Fruits contain “fruit (red cherry purée (2%), apple paste, pear paste), invert sugar, sugar, humectant (422), wheat fibre, vegetable fat [emulsifier (soy lecithin)], vegetable gum (pectin), food acid (lactic), flavour”.
  • The label on UNCLE TOBYS Fruit Roll-Ups Cereal & Fruit Bars (which didn’t make it into our best or worst list) is even more fanciful. It proclaims in big print that they’re “Topped with real fruit”. But hidden in the small print of the ingredients list you’ll find that the “fruit layer” is made from “maltodextrin, glucose, apple purée concentrate (3.8%, which is equivalent to 12% fresh apple), fructose, humectant (glycerol), vegetable fat, modified maize starch, flavours, colours (122, 123, 129, 133), vegetable gum (pectin), food acid (citric acid), firming agent (calcium lactate), emulsifier (sunflower lecithin)”.

UNCLE TOBYS told us it’s changing its packaging and instead of “Topped with real fruit” the label on its Fruit Roll-Ups Cereal & Fruit Bars will say “Contains real fruit”.

But with “apple purée concentrate (3.8%)” the only ingredient that even remotely resembles real fruit, we think ‘cereal and chemical bars’ would be a more realistic description.