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Breakfast on-the-go products

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

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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.

Breakfast drinks

Product[sort;desc]Price per serve ($)[sort;asc]Health stars[sort;desc]Energy (kJ/serve)[sort;asc]Fat (g/100g)Fat (g/100g)[sort;asc;hidden]Saturated fat (g/100g)Saturated fat (g/100g)[sort;asc;hidden]Sugar (g/100g)Sugar (g/100g)[sort;asc;hidden]Sugar (g/serve)[sort;asc]Sodium (mg/100g)Sodium (mg/100g)[sort;asc;hidden]Fibre (g/100g)[sort; desc]
Sanitarium Up & Go Reduced Sugar Liquid Breakfast Choc Ice flavour (250mL)1.505698Green 1.51.5Green 0.20.2Green 4.74.711.8Green 65651.8
Select Great Start Chocolate flavour (250mL)1.334.5783Green 1.41.4Green 0.40.4Orange 5.85.814.5Green 75751.9
Sanitarium Up & Go Liquid Breakfast Choc Ice flavour (250mL)1.504.5815Green 1.51.5Green 0.20.2Orange 7.77.719.3Green 65651.7
Sanitarium Up & Go Energize Choc flavour (250mL)1.334.5875Green 1.51.5Green 0.20.2Orange 8.08.019.9Green 1001001.6
Anchor Fast Start Liquid Breakfast Chocolate (250mL)1.6641025Green 2.22.2Green 1.31.3Orange 8.28.220.5Green 76761.6
Hunger Buster Liquid Fuel Double Choc (500mL)3.2941220Green 0.80.8Green 0.60.6Orange 8.88.844.1Green 35351.3

Biscuits and bites

Product[sort;desc]Price per serve ($)[sort;asc]Health stars[sort;asc]Energy (kJ/serve)[sort;asc]Fat (g/100g)Fat (g/100g)[sort;asc;hidden]Saturated fat (g/100g)Saturated fat (g/100g)[sort;asc;hidden]Sugar (g/100g)Sugar (g/100g)[sort;asc;hidden]Sugar (g/serve)[sort;asc]Sodium (mg/100g)Sodium (mg/100g)[sort;asc;hidden]Fibre (g/100g)[sort; desc]
belVita Breakfast Fruit & Fibre (50g)0.504841Orange 14.114.1Green 1.51.5Orange 22.422.411.2Orange 1241248.8
belVita Breakfast Cranberry (50g)0.503.5798Orange 13.513.5Green 1.41.4Orange 19.719.79.8Orange 3023026.4
Mother Earth Brekkie on the Go Apricot & Almond with Toasted Muesli Bites (45g)1.253761Red 18.118.1Orange 3.53.5Orange 19.719.78.9Orange 1801809.0
Mother Earth Brekkie on the Go Cranberry & Cashew with Toasted Muesli Bites (45g)1.253792Orange 16.616.6Orange 4.24.2Red 25.625.611.5Orange 1751758.0
belVita Breakfast Milk & Cereals (50g)0.533863Orange 15.215.2Green 1.51.5Orange 21.321.310.6Orange 3283286.8
belVita Breakfast Honey & Nut with Choc Chips (50g)0.502.5812Orange 15.415.4Orange 1.71.7Red 26.826.813.4Orange 3563564.3
Mother Earth Brekkie on the Go Hazelnut & Dark Chocolate with Toasted Muesli Bites (45g)1.252.5855Red 24.324.3Red 9.09.0Orange 19.419.48.7Orange 1781787.1
One Square Meal Apricot with Manuka Honey (175g/2 bars)4.502.52900Orange 13.313.3Orange 4.64.6Orange 17.117.130.0Orange 2922925.7

Cereal bars

Product[sort;desc]Price per serve ($)[sort;asc]Health starsEnergy (kJ/serve)[sort;asc]Fat (g/100g)Fat (g/100g)[sort;asc;hidden]Saturated fat (g/100g)Saturated fat (g/100g)[sort;asc;hidden]Sugar (g/100g)Sugar (g/100g)[sort;asc;hidden]Sugar (g/serve)[sort; asc]Sodium (mg/100g)Sodium (mg/100g)[sort;asc;hidden]Fibre (g/100g)
*Nestle Milo Bar (27g)0.702.5450Orange 9.19.1Orange 4.44.4Red 27.327.37.4Green 97976.3
Kellogg's Special-K Chocolatey Bars Raspberry flavour (21.5g)0.421.5370Orange 8.18.1Red 6.06.0Red 32.432.47.0Orange 2002002.4
Kellogg's Nutri-Grain Bar Original (24g)0.631420Orange 10.010Red 7.67.6Red 36.636.68.8Orange 2552551.8
Cadbury Brunch Toasted Coconut Bar (35g)0.50nc672Red 21.021Red 12.912.9Red 31.831.811.1Orange 181181ns

  • nc = not calculated because there was insufficient information available (see “About our survey”, below).
  • ns = not stated and not provided by the manufacturer.
    *Nestle advised on 8 July this bar has been reformulated. The reformulated product has 4 stars.

Oat and rice sachets

Product[sort;desc]Price per serve ($)[sort;asc]Health stars[sort;asc]Energy (kJ/serve)[sort;asc]Fat (g/100g)Fat (g/100g)[sort;asc;hidden]Saturated fat (g/100g)Saturated fat (g/100g)[sort;asc;hidden]Sugar (g/100g)Sugar (g/100g)[sort;asc;hidden]Sugar (g/serve)[sort;asc]Sodium (mg/100g)Sodium (mg/100g)[sort;asc;hidden]Fibre (g/100g)[sort; desc]
Harraways Oat Singles Plain (40g)0.355604Orange 6.86.8Green 1.31.3Green 0.80.80.3Green 1111.9
Pams Instant Oat Sachets Original (40g)0.305652Orange 8.58.5Green 1.51.5Green 1.21.20.5Green 2212.1
Harraways Oat Singles Honey and Golden Syrup (30g)0.354468Orange 4.64.6Green 0.90.9Red 25.125.17.5Green 11119.2
Uncle Tobys Oats Gourmet Tempations Almond, Hazelnut & Vanilla (35g)0.744550Orange 8.78.7Green 1.31.3Red 24.724.78.6Green 13137.5
Uncle Tobys Oats Quick Sachets Apple & Cinnamon (35g)0.444560Orange 5.95.9Green 1.11.1Red 24.624.68.6Green 70707.0
Pams Instant Oat Sachets Brown Sugar & Honey (35g)0.304567Orange 6.46.4Green 1.21.2Red 26.026.09.1Green 15159.6
Real Foods Quick n' Easy Rice Porridge Brown Sugar & Cinnamon (35g)0.872.5555Green 1.51.5Green 0.80.8Red 23.423.48.2Orange 2272270.8

Healthy cereal options

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About our survey

We bought 25 breakfast on-the-go products from supermarkets. We determined the health star rating using the calculator provided by the Australian Department of Health.

Some of the 25 products we looked at.
Some of the 25 products we looked at.

It wasn’t always possible to calculate the health star rating from the product’s nutrition information panel and ingredients list. For example, information on the amount of dietary fibre and the percentage of fruit and nuts isn’t required (unless a specific nutrient claim is being made for the product or fruit or nuts are the characterising ingredient).

Where information was missing, we contacted the manufacturer to fill in the gaps. This wasn’t always successful. The maker of Cadbury Brunch Bar told us it would not provide the information and validate our workings on the health star ratings. This is because it would be inconsistent with the company's view that the concept and formula underpinning the system fails to account for individuals’ dietary requirements and takes an unrealistic view of portion sizes. Instead it supports daily intake guides.

As well as calculating the number of health stars for a product, we used "traffic light" symbols to show its levels of fat, saturated fat, sugar and sodium. If you see a red light, you know the food is high in something you may be trying to cut down on. Green means the food has low amounts of it; orange fits somewhere in between.

Our traffic light criteria are:

  • Total fat (g/100g): green ≤3; orange 3.1-17.5; red >17.5.
  • Saturated fat (g/100g): green ≤1.5; orange 1.6-5.0; red >5.
  • Sugar (g/100g): green ≤5; orange 5.1-22.5; red >22.5.
  • Sodium (mg/100g): green ≤120; orange 121-600; red >600.

Our traffic light criteria have been developed by UK health agencies.

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Health stars 101

The health star rating system is a voluntary front-of-pack label designed to give you “at-a-glance” information about the nutritional value of a packaged food. The ratings range from ½ a star to 5 stars – the more stars the better.

The system is based on nutrient-profiling criteria developed by Food Standards Australia New Zealand. It takes into account the “positive” and “negative” aspects of a food. Positive aspects are the food’s dietary fibre and protein – and also how much fruit, vegetables, nuts or legumes it has. Negative aspects are the food’s energy content, saturated fat, total sugars and sodium.

The star rating is based on 100g or 100ml of the product. Different nutrient thresholds are used for beverages, dairy products, oils and spreads, and cheese products.

One of Consumer’s concerns about the system is that it’s voluntary and so won’t be used widely enough. Only four products in our survey (Sanitarium Up & Go Reduced Sugar, Sanitarium Up & Go, Uncle Tobys Oat Quick Sachets and Uncle Tobys Oats Gourmet Temptations) displayed the health star rating on their packaging. We’d like the system to be mandatory so it’s easier for consumers to make healthier choices.

Top tips for a quick healthy breakfast

Dietitian Gemma Dunkley’s tips for a quick healthy breakfast.

  • Prepare breakfast the night before. Make some bircher muesli or prepare a plate of sliced fruit and put in the fridge.
  • Whiz up a smoothie made from trim milk, fresh fruit and yoghurt. Drink on-the-go.
  • If you eat breakfast at work, have healthy options available to eat when you get there. Healthy choices include low-fat yoghurt with nuts and fruit, wholegrain bread with reduced fat cheese or avocado, or unflavoured porridge sachets.
  • Toast english muffins or crumpets and top with avocado and tomato.
  • Scramble some eggs in your microwave and serve on wholegrain toast with tomato.