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