Are breakfast on-the-go products a healthy way to start your day?

If breakfast is a rush at your house or you just want an extra half an hour sleep in, a grab-and-dash brekkie may answer your prayers. We looked at 25 breakfast drinks, breakfast biscuits and bites, cereal bars and oat/rice sachets (see our product comparison tables) to see how they stack up.

Breakfast isn’t called the most important meal of the day for nothing. Eating breakfast is a good way to maintain a healthy weight and better nutrient intake – you’re more likely to be hungry mid-morning and snack on unhealthy foods like savouries and muffins if you skip breakfast. Studies have also shown eating breakfast can improve children’s school performance.

But when it comes to nutrition, not all breakfasts are created equal. When we looked at kids’ cereals in 2013, we found two-thirds were high in sugar. The worst offenders had more than 2½ teaspoons in a 30g serving. This time, we’ve calculated the health star rating (see “Health stars 101”, below) of 6 breakfast drinks, 8 breakfast biscuits and bites, 4 cereal bars, 6 oat sachets and a rice porridge sachet.

Breakfast drinks

Up and Go has very different forms of fibre compared with Weet-Bix.
Up and Go has very different forms of fibre compared with Weet-Bix.

Sanitarium Up & Go and Up & Go Reduced Sugar claim to have the protein, energy and fibre of two Weet-Bix and 125ml of full cream milk, plus they earn 4.5 and 5 health star ratings respectively.

While they compare favourably to the other breakfast products we looked at, according to dietitian Gemma Dunkley they don’t compare as well to a bowl of Weet-Bix and milk.

“When you look at the ingredients list of Up & Go, it has very different forms of fibre compared with the fibre in Weet-Bix. The fibre in Weet-Bix comes from wholegrain wheat and the fibre in Up & Go comes from a mixture of hi-maize starch and inulin (derived from chicory). Hi-maize starch and inulin are soluble in liquid so stay well mixed in a drink, but this type of fibre won’t fill you up like insoluble fibre from wholegrains.”

Ms Dunkley said the full sugar breakfast drinks were too high in sugar to be consumed as a regular breakfast. Sanitarium Up & Go Choc Ice, Sanitarium Up & Go Energize Choc and Anchor Fast Start Chocolate all have about 5 teaspoons of sugar per serve. Hunger Buster Liquid Fuel comes in a 500ml pack and contains a whopping 11 teaspoons of sugar – you wouldn’t sprinkle that on your bowl of Weet-Bix!

So why do these drinks still earn good health star ratings? The food is rated on its overall nutritional value and the positive aspects of a food can offset its downsides. This is how a product with added sugars, but that’s also high in protein and low in saturated fat, can still achieve a good rating. Plus the health star rating is based on 100ml (or 100g) of the product so doesn’t consider serving size.

Breakfast biscuits and bites

belVita Breakfast biscuits come in a range of flavours – some healthier than others. Its Fruit & Fibre variant is the best option (it gets 4 stars) but the Honey & Nut with Choc Chips only earns 2.5 stars because it’s higher in sugar and lower in fibre.

The packaging says a balanced breakfast contains four belVita biscuits (for slow release of carbohydrates), a plain low-fat dairy product (for calcium), a fruit (for vitamins) and a tea or coffee (for hydration).

Mother Earth Brekkie on the Go products claim to have all the protein and fibre of a bowl of toasted muesli but its Hazelnut & Dark Chocolate variant has high levels of fat and saturated fat and only manages 2.5 stars.

The packaging of One Square Meal states two bars is equivalent to one meal and this has one-third of an average adult’s recommended daily intake for energy, protein, carbohydrates, fats, dietary fibre, 10 vitamins and 6 minerals. However, One Square Meal only earns a 2.5 health star rating – it has moderate amounts of fat, saturated fat and sodium and more than 7 teaspoons of sugar in two bars (although some of the sugar comes from fruit).

Cereal bars

Don’t rely on cereal-branded bars for a healthy start to your day. Bottom of the bars we looked at was Kellogg’s Nutri-Grain Original bar, which only earns 1 star. It’s more than a third sugar, has high levels of saturated fat and it won’t contribute much to your daily fibre intake: its list of ingredients doesn’t include fruit, nuts or seeds. Cadbury Brunch Toasted Coconut Bar is high in fat, saturated fat and sugar (but we couldn’t get all the information we needed to calculate its health star rating).

Oat sachets

Porridge is a 5-star way to start your day and you can buy single serve sachets. Plain options are the healthier choice – they are high in fibre and low in saturated fat and sugar. However, be wary of the sweetened varieties – they are all about one-quarter sugar.

Convenience costs

Convenience comes at a price. We paid between $1.33 and $1.66 for a 250ml breakfast drink. The equivalent two Weet-Bix and milk works out to cost you roughly 50 cents. The same goes for oats – if you make your own porridge in the morning a 30g serving will set you back about 15 cents – you’ll pay at least double that for a sachet.

We say

  • Most on-the-go products don’t compare to a nutritious breakfast of wheat biscuits or porridge with milk and fruit. They’re OK as a handy alternative but shouldn’t be a regular substitute. Plus they’re a much more expensive option.
  • The health star rating system is a good way to compare similar products. But we think the system should be made mandatory so it’s easier for consumers to make healthier choices.

Report by Belinda Castles.