One of the most common mistakes that people make when they start following a healthy diet is to replace “bad” foods such as chocolate or biscuits with “healthy” cereal bars. It’s easy to understand why people make this mistake. These bars have wholesome-looking pictures on them, are marketed as containing fewer calories than a chocolate bar and contain healthy-sounding ingredients such as nuts, fruit, oats or granola. Sadly, if you take a closer look at the full ingredients list, you will see that those cereal bars are not as healthy as they first sound.

Healthy Ingredients Stuck Together with Junk Most granola bars contain lots of sugar, as well as a layer of chocolate and a lot of artificial sweeteners, preservatives and gelling agents that are far from natural or healthy. While it’s true that a single cereal bar may contain fewer calories than a chocolate bar, that’s only because the chocolate bars are usually bigger. If you eat a 45-gram cereal bar, you could be consuming more than ten grams of sugar and fat as well as 150g of sodium in a single sitting and you won’t feel satiated afterwards. Why eat something that you don’t enjoy if it’s barely any better for you than the food you’re depriving yourself of?

Some “healthy bars” such as the Nutri-Grain bar, contain soy, corn starch and corn syrup ? all things that the Paleo diet advises against. Other brands contain almost as much chocolate as the sweets and biscuits that they are marketed to replace.

The Dangers of Cereal Bars

The grains and soy in these bars can cause lots of digestive problems. They are high in phytates and trypsin inhibitors, which can interfere with your ability to absorb protein, iron, zinc and calcium. The phytoestrogens in soy can disrupt your body’s oestrogen levels, causing fertility problems and increasing your risk of breast cancer. In addition, the way that your body breaks down soy proteins can result in the formation of lysinoalanine, which can be toxic in large quantities.

The sheer quantity of sugars in a cereal bar can adversely affect your insulin levels, causing you to feel hungrier after eating them. In many cases, this leads to binge-eating, so you end up consuming several cereal bars instead of just one filling, low-sugar snack. It’s all too easy to fool yourself into thinking that eating a lot of health-food bars is not a bad thing, because they “contain natural ingredients”.

Paleo Alternatives to Cereal Bars

If you want to snack on something between meals, there are plenty of Paleo diet approved snacks to choose from. Nuts and fruit are good choices, as long as you choose in-season fruits with minimal sugar content.

Another option is to make your own gluten-free cereal bars using almond flour instead of traditional grains. Home-made bars contain less sugar and salt and more protein and fibre. In addition, you can be confident that all of the ingredients are “real food”, instead of something that belongs in a lab.