Shopping with Michelle - Muesli Bars
Welcome to our first outing of our summer project, I am calling this one Shopping with Michelle.
For those of you who don't know me, hello, my name is Michelle, I am the founder and producer of all the recipes on the Cookie House website, I have been a chef for thirty years, I specialise in recipe development for people with food intolerances, I have a Diploma of Health Sciences, Certification in Food as Medicine and I am undertaking a Nutrition Degree.
So it came to my attention recently that although a lot of people want to make better food choices they don't know where to start. One way is to go back to basics, make everything from scratch, even your nut milk, your snacks, your stock, I have done this, it is wonderful and rewarding, and hard and time consuming and an awful lot of work, so as a summer project (and honestly, for my kids really) I decided that I am going to take you with me when I go shopping and we are going to look at some common convenience foods and see if we can pick some out that are better choices, within the guidelines of what is affordable, available and convenient.
How are we going to do this? Well, for this first outing I wandered into my local supermarket, all blythe and wooly brained, thinking, this will be a doddle, I chose muesli bars as this is a product with a health halo, this means that people think they are healthy, even if they aren't (this was actually prompted by one of the Cookie House tadpoles bringing home something called a salted caramel and chocolate protein bar and saying to me, it is healthy Mum, it is a muesli bar and it says 'protein' on it).
So I walked into my local store and this is what I was confronted with.
And I went, whoa! Oh. Okay, even with as much food training as I have, this is a daunting thing. So I had a little shuffle through and it must be admitted, a couple of these items did make it into my physical trolley to come home with me, I will show you which ones later, and then I came home to set some parameters and do some research.
Before we go any further please let me be very clear, this is my opinion based on the following parameters, I have no affiliations with anyone, and remember, when it comes to nutrition, one size fits one, so you have to do what is best for YOU, not what is best for me, or for the lady at the checkout or that nice man you follow on instagram.
These were my muesli bar parameters.
- maximum of 2 teaspoons of sugar per bar (this includes refined and non-refined sugars, one of the bars that did not make it had a whopping amount of sugar, but no sugar in the ingredients panel, the sugar was in the dates that were the primary ingredient, you must look at the nutritional information, it will say - sugars, anything over 8g per serve did not make it onto the list as a teaspoon of sugar is 4g.
- decent amount of fibre per bar, remember, we are looking at muesli bars here, we want FIBRE! (I always want fibre, but that is just me).
- low in saturated fat (a lot of these sorts of bars are high in nuts and seeds, these things are high in fat, but good fats, and we need good fats to absorb fat soluble vitamins and make our body work properly, we just need to moderate them, Australian Guidelines recommend our diet be 20-35% fat, but no more than 10% saturated fat)
Not making it into my trolley, anything with chocolate or caramel or 'yogurt' as the yogurts seem to be compounds of sugar, vegetable fats, yogurt powder, emulsifiers and stabilisers. Also on the taboo list anything with marshmallows or little lollies or sprinkles or anything with a great long list of ingredients full of numbers, we are wanting whole foods here.
A special mention of something that did not make it into my trolley, a bar that had all the right looking packaging, a very official, professional sounding creator, lots of buzzwords, and the first ingredient (so this means this is the largest contributing ingredient) was a type of sugar.
This was such an interesting exercise for me, because with all my training, it was harder than I thought it would be, and I also had to battle with my own prejudices. I have lived with my own food intolerances for a long time, and Mr T is both gluten and lactose intolerant, so I have shopped within those restrictions for a long time, and I don't tend to buy processed foods, so it was quite eye opening. I also have, as do most people, likes and dislikes, I do not like to see soy in products that are not traditional soy products like tofu or tempeh, I do not like things that I consider deceptive, for example four different kinds of sugar with different names that are listed as separate entities, which if bundled together as 'sugar' would put it a lot further up the ingredients list.
Anyway, you get the gist - no affiliates, work within your own dietary needs and remember, these are a discretionary item, so a treat.
So which ones earned the Michelle tick?
Well, the plainer Carman's bars did really well. As do a lot of manufacturers, they had plainer bars and more indulgent bars (none of which made it into the trolley), but the following bars did.
These bars all had under two teaspoons of sugar per bar, good amounts of fibre and low saturated fat. The big surprise here for me was the Almond Hazelnut and Vanilla bar, which had just over one teaspoon of sugar, excellent fibre and protein and low saturated fat (and is so yummy it tastes like a lolly bar)
Next into the trolley, Sam's Pantry Honey Salted Macadamia bar, also low in sugar and saturated fat, it is a little higher in sodium than some, but it does say 'salted' in the title, so you can't say you were not warned.
Nice and Natural Protein Whole Seed bars - these were a tricky one for me, as they do have a significant soy component, which I am not keen on, but that said, they do fall within our boundaries and actually are doing really well in the sugar (less than one teaspoon), fibre (4g!) and saturated fat areas.
Uncle Toby's oats Breakfast Bakes - the apple, cinnamon variety, the classic peanut butter variety and the honey almond variety. These do have a couple of ingredients I am not thrilled with, like preservative 223 and soy lecithin, but they do have an excellent amount of fibre, are low in saturated fats and come in under our sugar limits. I have actually told my tadpoles if you are in a terrible rush and don't have time for breakfast, this is the bar you go to.
This last one is not a muesli bar, but I thought a good alternative, provided you can eat wheat and you don't mind artificial sweeteners (which I do, but this is not about me).
This is a biscuit, it is low in saturated fat, has almost no sugar, good amounts of fibre and acceptable levels of sodium.
Now this is by no means a comprehensive list, this is what was available to me, in my supermarket at the time, but I think by just looking at the front of these packages you can see a bit of a theme emerging.
I want to show you a couple now that didn't make it into my trolley, but that almost did.
Nature Valley Crunchy Canadian Maple Syrup and Nature Valley Crunchy Peanut Butter bars. I wanted for these to go in, but they exceeded our sugar parameters, I think they are a better choice than most of those that were left on the shelf, but if you buy them, do remember, treat.
Carman's Peanut Butter Protein Bar - in the interests of full disclosure, this one actually did make it into my physical trolley as it falls within my food intolerances (the other one that made it in was Carman's Fruit Free Muesli Bars for Mr T, I can't eat that one as it has oats). This one has no added sugar, but the primary ingredient is dates, and the final sugar count is over 3 teaspoons per bar.
And finally, the Made Simple bars in the Forest Fruits and Lamington flavours. I have bought these before, and I will again, but again, the dates being the main component means they tip well over the scale we have allowed for sugar.
As I said, this is by no means a comprehensive list, it is what I consider to be the better choices for muesli bars, available in my area at the supermarket I go to, within a defined set of guidelines. I urge you all to make up your own minds, but hopefully, this might give you a place to start.
Phew, that was indeed harder than I thought it would be. We might do an easier one next week, maybe tinned soup?