Digestive Health Food Industry Nutrition

Are Special K Granola Bars Healthy?

Are they in the original health halo we expect of a granola bar, or are they just another candy bar in oat-y clothing?

If Special K’s protein shakes are anything to go by (Read here: Are Special K Granola Bars Healthy?) then I’m not too optimistic speculating whether Special K’s granola bars are healthy or not.

For decades, the term ‘granola’ has carried undertones of health and good wellbeing. This all started because Dr James Caleb Jackson, a health spa extraordinaire, invented ‘granula’ from nothing more than a graham flour which was crumbled and then baked until crisp. And ‘granular’ remained this way as a genuinely healthy cereal, all throughout his time during the late 19th century and throughout the 1900s.


This all changed in the 60s when ‘granular’ came to be reinvented into something completely different and ‘of the times’. Whilst the main components remained the same, additions such as sweeteners, sugars, fruits, nuts, and syrups were added to appeal to the new flavour-mad generation of hippies and young children.

The first commercial granola came to fruition in 1972 by Pet Milk, called Heartland Natural Cereal which added cane juice, canola oil, brown rice syrup and natural flavourings to add a little more to the rolled oat recipe devised by Jackson.

The name changed from ‘granular’ to ‘granola’ when John Harvey Kellogg (of the brand Kellogg’s) developed a similar cereal, but for legality reasons gave his the name of ‘Granola’. And so granola was born.
Just a brief look at granola throughout history shows how little we really know about the stuff, and how warped our view of granola’s ‘health halo’ actually is.

Which brings us back to Kellogg’s Special K granola bars. Are they in the original health halo we expect of a granola bar, or are they just another candy bar in oat-y clothing?

Related: Why Breakfast Biscuits & Granola suck for IBS sufferers

Corn syrup is the 2nd ingredient (after rolled oats) in all of their fruit bars, with sugar, fructose, dextrose, glycerine, fruit concentrate, molasses, malt extract and fruit puree the main components that make the bar palatable.

Their dark chocolate granola bars do not use the healthy 85% or more dark choc we might expect either – with sugar the 1st ingredient in the dark coating, followed by palm oil, soy lecithin and salt). The only cocoa used is processed and barely noticeable in both ingredients list and taste.

You may be surprised to know that the worst Kellogg’s snack bar in terms of calories and sugar is Chocolate Caramel Protein Meal Bar (170 calories, 15g sugar)…

Closely followed by the Cranberry Almond Chewy Nut Bar (150 calories, 12g sugar).

To put it into perspective, this is around the same calories as a Mars bar and the same sugar as a Kit Kat. The amount of fibre is limited per bar as fibre-rich ingredients such as wholegrains, nuts and seeds fall to the bottom of the list.

If you’re so loyal to Kellogg’s that you know you could never part from them, I’d say their cereal bars are probably the healthiest way to go.

Although their cereals do contain a bit of sugar, there is wheat fibre, whole grain wheat and wheat bran added to these bars. They also have on average fewer calories and sugar than any of the other snack bars in Kellogg’s range.

Personally, I’d steer clear of Kellogg’s as their friendly branding and bold product names are largely misleading. Instead, make your own granola bars (recipe here for Buckwheat Cranberry Granola), or buy low-sugar granola products such as Diablo’s bars or The Food Doctor food bars.

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