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Food Court — Are Special K Meal Bars Healthy?

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*In ‘Food Court,’ Lean It UP examines one popular food/drink product and brings down the hammer on whether or not it deserves a place in a lean, nutritious diet.

 

The Kellogg’s Special K brand is synonymous with healthy eating, weight-loss, and dieting — but are their meal replacement bars really  a healthy option?

We put Special K’s popular 90 calorie cereal bars & protein meal bars under the microscope and took a closer look at the nutrition facts and ingredient profile. With under 100 calories in each cereal bar (a la 100 calorie packs) and the mythical beast protein headlining their meal bars, they’ve got to be phenomenal snack options, right?

 

The Facts — Special K Cereal Bars


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Vanilla Crisp

Ingredients

CEREAL (RICE, WHOLE GRAIN WHEAT, SUGAR, WHEAT BRAN, SOLUBLE WHEAT FIBER, SALT, MALT FLAVORING, MALTODEXTRIN, THIAMIN MONONITRATE [VITAMIN B1], RIBOFLAVIN [VITAMIN B2]), SOLUBLE CORN FIBER, FRUCTOSE, CORN SYRUP, SUGAR, VEGETABLE OIL (PARTIALLY HYDROGENATED PALM KERNEL AND SOYBEAN OIL, SOYBEAN AND PALM OIL WITH TBHQ FOR FRESHNESS)†, MALTODEXTRIN, CONTAINS TWO PERCENT OR LESS OF WHOLE GRAIN OATS, DEXTROSE, WHEAT FLOUR, SORBITOL, GLYCERIN, BROWN SUGAR (SUGAR, MOLASSES), APPLESAUCE (APPLES, WATER), NATURAL AND ARTIFICIAL VANILLA FLAVOR, NONFAT DRY MILK, SOY LECITHIN, NATURAL AND ARTIFICIAL FLAVOR, SALT, COLOR ADDED, NIACINAMIDE, PYRIDOXINE HYDROCHLORIDE (VITAMIN B6), BHT (PRESERVATIVE).1

 

The Facts — Special K Protein Meal Bars


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Chocolate Peanut Butter

Ingredients

COATING (SUGAR, PARTIALLY HYDROGENATED PALM KERNEL OIL†, COCOA PROCESSED WITH ALKALI, WHEY, NONFAT MILK, SOY LECITHIN, SORBITAN MONOSTEARATE, SALT, ARTIFICIAL FLAVOR, POLYSORBATE 60), SOY PROTEIN ISOLATE, PEANUT BUTTER (PEANUTS, HYDROGENATED RAPESEED AND COTTONSEED OIL, SALT), CORN SYRUP, INULIN, FRUCTOSE, SUGAR, RICE STARCH, POLYDEXTROSE, RICE CEREAL (RICE, WHEAT GLUTEN, SUGAR, DEFATTED WHEAT GERM, SALT, HIGH FRUCTOSE CORN SYRUP, WHEY, MALT FLAVORING, REDUCED IRON, NIACINAMIDE, PYRIDOXINE HYDROCHLORIDE [VITAMIN B6], RIBOFLAVIN [VITAMIN B2], THIAMIN HYDROCHLORIDE [VITAMIN B1], FOLIC ACID, VITAMIN B12), DEXTROSE, CONTAINS TWO PERCENT OR LESS OF CALCIUM CARBONATE, SOYBEAN AND PALM OIL WITH TBHQ FOR FRESHNESS, GLYCERIN, SALT, NATURAL AND ARTIFICIAL FLAVOR, ASCORBIC ACID (VITAMIN C), SOY LECITHIN, MONO- AND DIGLYCERIDES, XANTHAN GUM, POLYSORBATE 80, D-ALPHA TOCOPHEROL (VITAMIN E), NIACINAMIDE, ZINC OXIDE, REDUCED IRON, PYRIDOXINE HYDROCHLORIDE (VITAMIN B6), VITAMIN A PALMITATE, RIBOFLAVIN (VITAMIN B2), THIAMIN HYDROCHLORIDE (VITAMIN B1), ALMOND FLOUR, PARTIALLY DEFATTED PEANUT FLOUR, WHEAT STARCH, VITAMIN B12, FOLIC ACID, BHT FOR FRESHNESS, VITAMIN D.2

 

Special K Bars — The Good


  • Low Calorie — Calorie-wise they pack minimal damage. There are only 90 calories in Special K’s Cereal Bars, 180 calories in Special K’s Protein Meal Bars.
  • High Fiber — Special K’s Cereal Bar and Protein Meal Bar provide 10% and 21% of your DV for fiber, respectively, per serving. Fiber is absolutely critical for digestive health.
  • Vitamin and Minerals — Like most cereals and bars, the Special K varieties are fortified with a number of vitamins and minerals, including calcium, iron, and Vitamin C.

 

Special K Bars — The Very Bad


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Don’t be fooled by Special K’s deceptive “90 calories per bar” and “protein” labeling — they’re nothing but sugary, chemical-filled junk. The sheer number of artificial ingredients, chemicals, and preservatives in each bar is actually astonishing. Just look at the ingredients list — Special K’s Protein Meal Bar has over 50 different ingredients!

Special K’s “health” bars contain the triumvirate of horrible food additives — partially hydrogenated oils (AKA trans fats), HFCS, and added sugar. To make matters worst, both bars contain multiple different types of added sugars (sugar, corn syrup, fructose, dextrose, etc.) and up to three different types of partially hydrogenated oils. Health food NEVER contains ingredients like that, let alone commits a multi-layered offence.

Trans fats, in any amount, are never acceptable in the diet. That’s an immediate red flag and a reason on its own to lay the hammer ban on Special K bars altogether. Manufacturers can technically label food as “0 g trans fat” if it contains .49 g or less per serving. Because ANY amount — even .01 g — adds up and has major long-term healthy implications, any food made with partially hydrogenated oils automatically becomes a health hazard.

Other negatives —

  • Low Quality Protein — I respect Special K’s attempt at a protein bar, but soy protein doesn’t cut it. It’s MUCH lower quality than whey protein, which has a far superior Biological Value (BV). BV assesses how much, how well, and how fast a certain type of protein can be used by the body. Better protein = better recovery, better growth, and ultimately better results.3
  • Low Quality Carbs — Special K Bars are made predominantly from fast-digesting rice and corn, and an abundance of sugar. Fast-digesting carbs = higher propensity for the body to store fat. I’d love to see wheat, oats, or other whole grains as the primary carbohydrates.

 

The Verdict: Thumbs WAY down


Despite low-calorie claims, the trans fat content, added sugar, low-quality soy protein, and mile-long list of ingredients in Special K Bars make them a very poor snack option.



 

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References, Notes, Links

  1. http://www.specialk.com/cereal-bars/vanilla-crisp []
  2. http://www.specialk.com/meal-bars/chocolate-peanut-butter []
  3. Biological Value []

 

Bryan DiSanto

Bryan DiSanto

Founder & Editor-in-Chief at Lean It UP
ELLO ELLO I'm Bryan DiSanto. I'm the Founder & Editor-in-Chief of Lean It UP, a CPT/CSN/Fitness Coach, Chef trained at Le Cordon Bleu – Paris, NYU graduate, ex-fat kid, and all-around fitness junkie.

I also contribute to Men's Health Magazine.

When I'm not working on my abs (or somebody else’s), whipping up avocado roses and avocado toast, or running a Tough Mudder, I'm probably yelling at a Carolina Panthers game somewhere.

Come be friends with me on Instagram (@BRYDISANTO) & Snapchat (BRYDISANTO).
Bryan DiSanto