health bars vs chocolate bars compared

Photo: Envato Elements

Health bars vs their not so healthy counterparts: Read before you eat

Just because it says health bar on the packaging, doesn’t mean it’s all that good for you. We compared some popular healthy snack bars to the common chocolates.

health bars vs chocolate bars compared

Photo: Envato Elements

We took a look at some popular health bars and see how healthy they really were based on the data on their labels versus the quirky buzzword on the packaging

And to make it more interesting, we compared them to three of South Africa’s most popular chocolates.

The Macmillan Dictionary defines the term “Health Halo” as the perception that a particular food is good for you even when there is little or no evidence to confirm this is true.

Think “gluten-free”, “low fat”, “natural’, “raw”.

We reach for healthier alternatives like organic, free trade, locally produced dark chocolate because we think it is healthier than the milk chocolate.

And of course, sweet potato and beetroot vegetable crisps are much better for us than the chips that Simba has been peddling us. Right?

Not necessarily.

Setting the bar: What should I be looking for?

The main things to consider on the back of the label is calorie count, sugar content, fibre, sodium as well as the amount and type of fat.

Calorie count

According to Chloe McLeod, accredited practising dietitian and sports dietitian a perfect snack should range from 100 to 150 calories.


Health24 states that ingredients are listed in order of weight. So a red flag should raise if refined grains, sugar or syrups are listed first.


You want as little sugar as possible, according to McLeod you should aim for five to ten grams. This equals about one to two teaspoons of sugar.


Fibre keeps us fuller for longer. Aim for 3g or more.


Good fat can keep you fuller for longer but be sure to look at where the fat is coming from. Nuts and seeds provide a good source of saturated fat. Aim for less than two grams per 100g.

Preference should be given to products which contain more unsaturated vs. saturated fats, within the context of the total fat the product provides.



McLeod suggests that you should look for less than 120 mg per 100g.

Crunch time: Weighing in on the different bars

TREK Cocoa Oat, Protein FlapJack (50g)

High in calories and sugar, this bar contains rice syrup as the second ingredient on the list.

Rice syrup is refined sugar and no healthier than sugar.

“One tablespoon of rice syrup has 55 to 75 calories, depending on the brand; sugar has 48 calories per tablespoon. Brown-rice syrup also has a high glycemic index (98), meaning it causes your blood sugar to spike quickly. (White sugar, or sucrose, has a glycemic index of 65.)”

If you were watching your calorie intake for weight loss and not the ingredients for health, this bar has more calories than a Cadbury Dairy Milk chocolate.

Cadbury does have a glass and a half of milk in it…

Approximate calories in Trek is 227 versus  216 calories in Cadbury.

Kellog’s Crunchy Nut Cereal Breakfast Bars (33g)

The majority of the bars we have looked at a weight between 45 – 55g so we need to take into account the nutritional value of this breakfast bar which is smaller.

Marketed as a breakfast bar, we can assure you the sugar high you may get will have you craving your elevenses sooner than needed.

Pound for pound this bar would rival a Bar One in terms of calorie load and sugar content.

The 3 main ingredients are peanuts, Rice Krispies and Chocolate coating. Not your ideal breakfast ingredients.  

66g of Kellog’s Crunchy Nut Cereal Breakfast Bar calorie count is 322 versus a 55g of Bar One at  231 calories.

Natures Valley Crunchy (42g)

Wholegrain oats and real honey! All from a valley that belongs to Nature herself!

Unfortunately, the real honey only comes up after the oats, sugar, sunflower oil and almonds. The red flag here is that sugar is the second ingredient which makes sense considering that the bar contains 11g of the stuff!

The sweetness comes from the sugar, not the honey.

The majority of the fat comes from the sunflower oil and not the almonds which would be a preferable fat source.

So it’s not as healthy as the brand would like us to think it is. High sugar, high sodium and sitting at 192 calories whilst a 45g Cadbury Dairy Milk bar has 216.

So if you are looking at weight loss from pure calories in versus calories out, this isn’t doing you any favours.

Future Life, Whole Grain Granola Bar:

“FUTURELIFE® Whole Grain Granola Bars are SA’s 1st* certified Gluten Free Whole Grain Bars with added sterols and sterolins.”

Sold. Sterols and sterolins, whatever they may be, must be good for you. Unfortunately, since being last on the ingredient list, we doubt there are enough in there to make an impact on your health.

But it does have real berries!

Get ready for this….5% real berries – there is more brown sugar in this bar than berries.

It packs quite a bit of carbohydrate due to the oats and oat flour and is an approx 200 calories per bar.

Nakd (35g)
Vegan-friendly and gluten, wheat and dairy free! Nakd bars also contain no added sugar bar what it found in the fruit. This does add up to a hefty 17.5g of carbs though.

The bar is made up of dates, coconuts, raisins, cashews, cocoa and a hint of natural flavourings.

Well, at least the flavourings are natural right? Well not really…

According to Gary Reineccius, a professor in the department of food science and nutrition at the University of Minnesota natural flavourings are no better in quality, nor are they safer, than artificial flavourings.

This bar packs quite the calorie load given its size but the fibre content and natural sugars mean it keeps you fuller for longer and less likely to have a sugar crash.

Jungle Oats Peanut Butter Energy Bar (47g)

Containing oats, sugar and peanut paste this “healthy alternative” has almost as many calories as a Lunch Bar.

The fat content of this bar is very high at 16g per serving and we are confident it isn’t the good kind of fat that the Banting folk harp on about.

This bar is also very high in sodium with 166mg/100g.

This bar has about 242 calories compared to the 256 of a Lunch Bar.

ProNutro Protein Bars (35g)

Basically chocolate and sugar.

The first 3 ingredients listed are chocolate, glucose syrup and humectants. Humectants are substances that keep things moist.

“Some common humectants used in food are honey and glucose syrup both for their water absorption and sweet flavour.”
Sounds like more sugar.

Calorie wise, it sits at 110cals and 4g of protein.

For a protein bar that amount is pretty negligible. We would go with the Future Life Protein Crunch (40g) instead.

Future Life Protein Crunch (40g)

Compared to the Pronutro Protein bar, it has double the protein, the same amount of carbs but less sugar. The first 3 ingredients are a protein blend, peanuts and chocolate coating.

Unfortunately, the sodium here is a whopping 436mg per 100g (we are looking for 120g or less).

It does have more calories due to the higher fat content.

Kellogg’s Special K® Red Berries Cereal Breakfast Bars (33g)

More sugar than berries. In fact, we aren’t sure what red berries these are, as they contain ingredients as well.

The cranberries in this bar are made of cranberries, sugar and vegetable oil and only make up 6% of the bar.  

The saving grace here is that it has one of the lower sodium totals out of all the other bars.

Milo Cereal BAR (23g)

Another breakfast cereal bar but this one has milk, making it a great breakfast on the go.

Again this bar is half the size of the others so nutrient wise it weighs in at approximately 190 calories,   30g of carbohydrates and 15g of sugar.

The three main ingredients that the bar is made up of are cereal grains (34%),  confectionary coating and vegetable fat.

Don’t be fooled by the enticing splash of milk on the packaging. There is more sugar in there than milk.

The variants of sugary substances found in this bar are sugar, sugar syrup, glucose syrup and sweetened condensed milk. Talk about variety.

The lesson

Considering that many of us look to these convenience items for a quick snack when life is busy, these little bite-sized meals in your pocket could ultimately make or break your health routine depending on how often you rely on them.

I’m not saying that if I found out that the gluten free, wheat free organic bar I was about to eat had the same nutritional profile of a Kit Kat, I would chuck it in a bin and eat the Kit Kat…

I just want to know that a Kit Kat could be an option, you know?

Take some time to read the labels and make informed decisions about your health.