Wendyl Wants To Know

Each week, Wendyl Nissen takes a packaged food item and decodes what the label tells you about its contents.

Wendyl wants to know: Great lunchbox choice

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Each week, Wendyl Nissen takes a packaged food item and decodes what the label says about contents.

Be Natural Trail Bars, nut and fruit - $3.99 for 6 bars Photo / Supplied
Be Natural Trail Bars, nut and fruit - $3.99 for 6 bars Photo / Supplied

I get a lot of emails from parents asking me to decipher the plethora of muesli bars you find on supermarket shelves.

One study by Choice magazine in Australia found in 2006 that after analysing 150 muesli bars, seven had more kilojoules than a Mars Bar and two had more saturated fat than a breakfast of two bacon rashers, two fried eggs and fried tomatoes.

On the surface, muesli bars seem like a great, nutritious snack to pop in school lunches but hidden in those little bars can be lots of sugar and fat, emulsifiers, preservatives, flavours and colours.

These bars market themselves as having no artificial colours, flavours or preservatives so we're off to a good start.

Ingredients (in order of greatest quantity)

Wholegrain cereals (46 per cent), rye (13 per cent), oats (13 per cent), wheat (8 per cent), barley (6 per cent), triticale (6 per cent).
It is great to see five wholegrains used in this bar instead of just one.

Most people will be familiar with rye, oats, wheat and barley but triticale is a new one on me. It is a hybrid of wheat and rye and is a good source of phosphorus and magnesium and a very good source of manganese.

Wholegrains are good in our diet because you get all of the nutrition of the grain, which disappears when they are refined and you get more fibre. There is 4.2g of fibre in each of these 32g bars, which is 14 per cent of our recommended daily intake.

Glucose
This is sugar syrup and you will get 5.7g of sugars a bar.

Nuts (7 per cent, peanuts, almonds)
Nuts are a very good source of protein and fibre and even though they are high in fat it is good fat (mono and polyunsaturated). These bars are low in fat at just 2g a bar - and only 0.5g saturated fat.

Fruit (7 per cent, sultanas, dates)
Sultanas and dates provide great flavour but they also have good levels of fibre and are high in potassium and iron.

Invert sugar syrup
This is sugar which has been treated to split into glucose and fructose which is sweeter than sugar and when used in processed foods remains more moist and less prone to crystallisation.

Glucose solids
These are crystallised glucose.

Raw sugar
Raw sugar is different from refined white sugar because it retains its natural molasses coating. It also has a better flavour, in my opinion.

Bran cereal (wheat bran, wheat flour, rice flour, malted wheat flour, salt)
This would be similar to a bran cereal you might buy in the supermarket.

Vegetable fibre (chicory)
I call this "faux fibre" as it is often added to foods to boost the fibre content. This is otherwise known as inulin and is made out of chicory.

Puffed rice
This is just as you would expect - puffed pieces of rice.

Vegetable oil (antioxidants soy lecithin, vitamin E)
Not sure what the oil is so it might be palm oil but this low down on the list there isn't a lot in here. But, I think for a product which markets itself so heavily as caring about the environment (they support Landcare Australia) they should declare the presence of palm oil, or if not, tell us what oil is in here so that we don't have to worry. The antioxidants sourced for soy lecithin and vitamin E are in the oil as a preservative.

Humectant (glycerol)
A humectant is something which keeps a food moist and glycerol is a very common additive in processed foods to do this job.

Salt
Salt levels are not high in these bars. You'll get 57mg of sodium which is 0.1g of salt.

Molasses
This is a lovely old-fashioned product which has a sweet taste but is also a source of minerals iron, calcium and magnesium.

Emulsifier (soy lecithin)
Soy lecithin is a naturally occurring substance which is most likely in these bars to keep the oil and water mixed together.

My recommendations: A good guide to follow when looking for muesli bars is to find one which has less than 2g saturated fat, less than 10g sugar and more than 1.5g fibre. And has less than 600kj a bar.

These bars pass this guide easily at just 480kj, 0.5g saturated fat, 5.7g sugar and 4.2g fibre.

If you type the words "muesli bar" into the search field on the Countdown website you will get 129 results, so that's an awful lot of muesli bars to wade through when you are looking for a healthy choice.

These bars might not taste as scrumptious as others with chocolate chips or lollies in them, and my grand-daughters were less than impressed when I offered them one, but they did like the berry version. For a lunchbox snack, I think these are a great choice and they have become a permanent resident of our snack drawer.

- NZ Herald

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