How to read labels: Cereal bars

Generally consumed between meals to fill a little gap in the late morning or as a small break between two bits of work or as a reward after a long session of sport, cereal bars are the most convenient food for nibbling. Easy to carry, you can take them wherever you want, satisfying your hunger at any time of the day. The question is though, despite their enormous popularity, are these snacks really that good for you, or should we be avoiding them?

Maïa Baudelaire, Nutritionist and Coach Slimming Expert in Food Behaviour offers some tips to help you choose the right bars …

Even if “bread-butter” remains a classic and popular French tradition, cereal bars are everywhere, and you’ll find most of your favourite brands have launched some product into this growing market: Nestle, Danone, Kellogg’s, Lu….to name a few.… And suffice to say… it works!

The food industry has fully understood that by displaying the word “cereals” on their packaging, it automatically gives them a positive and healthy image. However be careful! Cereals are OK, but beware of other components in them.

What you should know:

Snacks eaten between meals should not exceed 250 Kcal in total, an equivalent of almost 3 bananas.

But that’s not all, fast sugars, present in snacks, are used almost immediately by the body. These should not exceed 5.5g, the equivalent of a standard sugar cube.

Keep an eye on the labels:

All bars are not equal, far from it. Let’s look at this more closely:

Energy (calories)

Depending on the brand and the recipe, a bar of cereal can give you between 80 Kcal (Green Apple Cereal Bar from Auchan) and 160 Kcal (Rice Krispies Chocolate SQUARES from Kellogg’s).

This is less than the 250 Kcal indicated above. Yes, but…..The negative part of this type of product is its size: it only weighs 20 to 25g, that’s small, way too small! You’ll be tempted to consume another … probably two.  And that’s it, suddenly you’ve exceeded your sugar intake!

Sugar (or sucrose)

For sugar, a bar can provide between 0.4g (e.g. Linessa muesli apple bar, brand distributor LIDL) and 13g (Rice Krispies Kellogg’s).

Sugar content is a good indicator

To help you choose. You’ll soon realise that many cereal bars exceed the limit of 5.5g as indicated above. Records are reached by children’s bars (Rice Krispies, Bar Coco Pops, Bar Frosties, Nesquik and Golden Grahams for example).

“Bad” fats (or saturated fatty acids)

Considered to be bad for your cardiovascular health, consuming these fats should be reduced as much as possible.

Depending on the brand and the recipe, a bar can contain between 0.7g (Kellogg’s Special K Red Fruit Bar) and 3.5g (Kellogg’s SQUARES Total Choco) of “bad” fats.

Go for the minimum quantities, that’s to say towards the 1.5g of fat-saturated materials per 100g. These 2 are therefore good choices.


High fibre bars are the most complete cereal bars and the best for your health. Children’s products are often lacking in fibre (e.g. Prince choco bar by LU, Croc Frizz by Carrefour) while adults bars are usually richer in fibre (Plus by Nestlé with 6.7g per bar, Crisp $ Cereals from Wasa with 4g per bar …).

A glance at your brands:

Gourmet bars:

Chocolate Treasure Sticks by Kellogg’s, Nestlé’s Chocapic bars and LU’s Prince Choc’au Milk bars are mainly aimed at teenagers and younger children. These bars are often too sweet and extremely rich in bad fats. They can be consumed from time to time as a “relief snack“. But be careful, don’t consume more than one bar at a time, and to increase satiety, add a fruit!

Slimming bars:

Often used by adults, these bars can have a variety of compositions. Be sure to choose the bars with the least amount of sugar (less than 5.5g for a bar), rich in whole grain cereals and low in bad fats (no more than 1g for a bar).

Sports bars:

Often associated with improving sporting performances, these bars actually are only marginally different to normal cereal bars. To choose the best one, it’s important to look at what type of sugar is used. Some sugars, such as maltose or glucose, are absorbed quicker into the blood system than the sugar used in standard bars (sucrose). They will also give you a quicker boost (for example IsostarMax apple-apricot).

Remember that the positioning of bars as Sports bars or Slimming bars allows companies to sell them at higher prices, that’s Marketing!

Maïa Baudelaire’s advice

Read the first ingredient on the list: On any packaging, ingredients appear in order of quantities. Therefore, the first ingredient is the one in the greatest quantity. So choose a bar in which whole cereals are listed first and sugars (sucrose) appear afterwards.

Choose the recipe: A fruit bar will contain fewer calories and better fats than a chocolate or nut  bar. Special K fruit bars are always a good choice.

Complete your snack:  Complement your bar with a glass of semi-skimmed milk and some fresh fruit to balance it out.

Make the right choice: Bars like PLUS by Nestle with antioxidants, and Fruit Special K make for a good choice as part of a balanced diet.

Find one of our easy snack recipes here: a glass of Fromage Blanc and Granola.

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