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Cereal bars: The sugary truth

By Kacey Culliney , 20-Aug-2012

Sugar and fat content in cereal bars on a par with coke and biscuits, study finds
Sugar and fat content in cereal bars on a par with coke and biscuits, study finds

Leading cereal bar brands are high in sugar, saturated fats and calories, with one product containing more sugar than a small can of Coke, finds new research.

UK consumer advocacy group Which? conducted research into the sugar and fat content of 30 best-selling cereal bar brands. The sample included products from cereal giant Kellogg, recently purchased Weetabix, Mars and Cadbury.

Findings showed that just over half contained more than 30% sugar with only one bar listing no added sugar.

The group has slammed cereal bar brands saying few deserve their healthy image.

Richard Lloyd, executive director of Which?, said that manufacturers of the products need to be far clearer about the sugar, fat and calories content.

“People often choose cereal brands in the belief they’re healthier than chocolate or biscuits but our research shows this can be a myth,” Lloyd said.

“With high levels of sugar and saturated fat in some of these products they should be on the sweet counter not marketed as health foods,” he said.

Hidden sugars

Shefalee Loth, nutritionist and Which? food expert, described the sugar level findings as “surprising”.

“In many cases fruit contributes to the overall sugar content. But anyone buying a bar can only use the ingredients list to help them figure out how much of the sugar is added,” Loth said.

Researchers found a total of 18 different forms of sugars listed in the ingredients, including glucose syrup, honey and fructose.

“Manufacturers don’t make it easy for you to see how much sugar is added as they use several differed guises of it in the same bar…By having several different kinds of sugar, the names appear further down the list – allowing healthier ingredients, such as oats, to be higher up, and giving the impression that the bar is healthier than it really is,” Which? researchers wrote.

Bitter, sweet findings

Of the 30 products investigated, Nutri-Grain Elevenses raisin bakes had the highest level of sugar. The 45g bar contained 18g of sugar; nearly four teaspoons (5g) and 20% of an adult’s Guideline Daily Allowance (GDA) most of which comes from glucose-fructose syrup. That’s more sugar than in a small 150ml can of cola, Which? noted.

However, Kellogg has hit back at the findings of its Nutri-Grain product and in an emailed statement told BakeryandSnacks.com that it is not a cereal bar.

"If you’ve eaten one you know it’s not...It’s a baked bar and looks and eats much more like a muffin or cake.  We bake it like a cake and market it as a mid morning snack," Kellogg said. 

It detailed that compared to other similar mid morning snacks, such as muffins and cakes, it has "slightly less sugar than the norm".

Trek’s cherry crunch protein flapjack contained 16.8g and Cadbury’s Brunch Bar Raisin 15g. Nákd Apple Pie was found to have the lowest sugar content (12g) all of which is natural; the only bar without added sugars.

A third of the sample was high in saturated fats, including six products aimed at children.

The product with the highest fat content was Tracker Roasted Nut Bar which comprises of one-third fat, much of which comes from the peanuts and hazelnuts, but also from the added vegetable and hydrogenated fats.

Alpen Light Apple and Sultana had low fat, saturated fat and salt levels and had the lowest calories overall at 63.

However, just under half (11) of the products contained more than 142 calories; the equivalent to two digestive biscuits. The calories in Belvita Breakfast biscuits, marketed as a breakfast replacement, predominantly come from added sugars and vegetable oils, “which provide no nutritional benefits,” Which? said.

The research looked into seven brands targeted at children and found all to be high in sugar. Monster Puffs contained the highest levels with 11.8g sugar (with more than 40% added) and Rice Krispies Squares 9g.

All bars were high in saturated fats except the Weetabix Oaty Strawberry Crusher which was also the only children’s cereal bar to contain fruit.

Lloyd called for a traffic light colour-coding system on all products to ensure consumers can distinguish easily what they are consuming and giving to their children.

The report can be found HERE .

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