Updated: Jun 6
There are so many rice bubble bars on supermarket shelves, heavily marketed as a great school lunchbox snack for children. There is also a new LCM on the shelves marketed as '25% less sugar and 100% yum'. So let's take a closer look at the ingredients, so you can decide how often and if you serve these to your child. Whilst I don't like labeling foods as 'good' or 'bad' or using 'good or 'bad' as a way to describe foods to children (as this attributes a moral value to foods), it is important to look at the nutritional quality of foods that are specifically marketed towards children and families so you can make an informed decision. Food packaging and marketing can be confusing and lead consumers to believe that a product is more nutritious than it is.
The front of the LCMs has some catchy phrases like "made with rice bubbles' and 'no artificial colours or flavours', so let's take a closer look.
Rice bubbles make up only about 30% of the total product
Chocolate chips in (this version) make up 14%
Over 50% of the product is then the remaining ingredients, which are added to make the bar palatable and shelf-stable, including emulsifiers, natural flavours, additives, and preservatives.
Sugar contributes about 2.15 teaspoons per bar (9g). That is a large amount of sugar at 40g of added sugar per 100g, over 4 x the recommended level for added sugar in cereal products. It is also a mix of sugars/syrups/glucose and fructose.
Fat contributes 11.3g per 100g the majority coming from unspecified vegetable oils, contributing 4.7g of saturated fat per 100g. Unspecified vegetable oils typically mean the product contains palm oil.
Although on the front of the pack, it says no artificial colors or flavors it does contain a variety of ‘natural’ colors including 120 and 160, preservatives, glazing agents, and emulsifiers. Some children may be sensitive to these compounds.
LCM's also contain no fibre and very little protein, making it difficult to keep children full and nourished between meals.
25% Less Sugar LCMs
A newer version was recently released to supermarket shelves, just in time for back to school. Big statement on the front with '25% less sugar'. So let's take a look at the ingredients.
White rice (30%), glucose, strawberry flavoured choc chips (14%) (sugar, vegetable fat, milk solids, emulsifier [soy lecithin], natural colour , natural flavour), glucose solids, invert syrup, vegetable oil (sunflower oil, antioxidant [tocopherols]), sugar, humectants (glycerol, sorbitol), soluble corn fibre, cocoa (1.5%), milk solids, dextrose, gelatin, salt, emulsifiers (soy lecithin, canola lecithin, 472e), barley malt extract, natural flavour, antioxidant (rosemary extract)
Some points to consider
Yes, there is 25% less sugar, however, there is still a very high amount of added sugar at 26.7g of added sugar per 100g, over 5.3g per serve, and more sugar than the recommended amount of added sugar for a cereal product.
Fat content is similar to the original LCMs coming from vegetable oils which contribute more saturated fat at 6.8g per 100g than the original LCM. Less sugar but more saturated fat.
Over 50% of the product is then the remaining ingredients, which are added to make the bar palatable and shelf-stable, including emulsifiers, natural flavours (120), additives, and preservatives.
LCM's contain no fibre and very little protein again making it difficult to keep children full and nourished between meals.
Coles Fairy Bread Puffed Rice Bar
Puffed Rice (36%) (Rice, Sugar, Salt, Golden Syrup, Emulsifier (471)), Glucose Syrup (23%), Polydextrose, Sugar, Natural Sprinkles (5%) (Sugar, Maize Starch, Vegetable Fat, Glucose Syrup, Emulsifier (322 (Soy)), Natural Colours (Turmeric, Beet Red, Paprika Oleoresin, Copper Chlorophyll), Gardenia, Spirulina), Vegetable Shortening [Vegetable Fats and Oils (Palm**), Emulsifier (471), Antioxidant (307b)], Humectant (422), Maltodextrin, Gelatine, Inulin, Natural Flavours, Invert Syrup, Emulsifier (Sunflower Lecithin), Salt.
Coles has also released a home-brand puffed rice bar at half the price of the LCM's at $3.00 per packet. Nutritionally some points to consider:
23.6g of added sugar per 100g and 4.72g of sugar per serve actually less sugar than the 25% less sugar LCMS. However, this is still a large amount of added sugar for a cereal product.
There is the added benefit of some fibre at 8.5g of fibre per 100g or 1.7g fibre per serve (not high fibre) Fibre is always best eaten from whole food sources as opposed to sugary treats.
There is less total fat in the Coles puffed rice bar than either of the LCMs, at 8.6g per 100g, the fat however is specified to come from Palm Oil.
The majority of the product (over 60%) is made of added sugars, emulsifiers, fats, additives and added flavours (similar to the LCMs)
If I had to choose between the LCMs, Low Sugar LCMs, and Coles Puffed Rice Bars, I would choose the Coles Puffed Rice.
Freedom: Messy Monkey Chocolate Rice Puff Bars
Puffed Rice (40%) (Rice Flour, Resistant Dextrin [Maize], Emulsifier [Sunflower Lecithin], Salt), Glucose, Chicory Root Fibre, Dark Compound Chocolate (10%) (Sugar, Vegetable Fat, Cocoa Powder, Emulsifier [Sunflower Lecithin], Salt, Natural Flavours, Milk), Humectant (Glycerine [Plant Derived]), Canola Oil, Chickpeas, Sunflower Seeds, Cocoa Powder (2%), Puffed Sorghum, Emulsifier (Sunflower Lecithin), Natural Flavour, Antioxidant (Vitamin E).
Nutritionally the Messy Monkeys rice bubble bar has less sugar than both the types of LCMs , and the added benefit of some fibre
There is added sugar in this product 13.9g/100g or 2.9g per serve WAY less than the LCM's
There is fibre added (soluble corn fibre, chicory fibre, chick peas and sunflower seeds) so the fibre content is 17.3g per 100g or around 3g per serve (making this high in fibre)
Fat content is from Canola Oil, not Palm Oil but is still high in fat for a cereal bar at 11.5g per 100g
There are no food colours present, still added flavours.
Might Bellies : Brown Rice Crispy Vanilla Bars
Crisp Puffed Wholegrain Brown Rice (60%), Brown Rice Syrup, Chicory Fibre, Humectant (Glycerol), High Oleic Sunflower Oil, Sustainable Palm Oil, Invert Sugar Syrup, Cane Sugar, Rice Protein, Natural Flavour, Thickener (Agar), Salt, Rosemary Extract.
Okay things are looking a little better here.
60% Rice, finally the main ingredient makes up more than 50% of the product
Contains a small amount of fibre 1.5g per serving from chicory fibre
Lower in total fat content compared to all the other bars at 7.5 g/100g and lowest in saturated fat 1.8g/100g from High Oleic Sunflower Oil, Sustainable Palm Oil
Sugar is 20g/100g which is around half the sugar that is in an LCM but still considered a high-sugar product with double the recommended amount for a cereal product.
This product has the least amount of additives and no food colours of any of the store-bought rice bubble bars; however natural flavours are still present
So rice bubble bars even if marketed as low sugar are more confectionery than nourishing school snack.
I hate to see companies market a product as 25% less sugar, but actually, it is still one of the highest added sugar cereal bars on the shelves. Now, this does not mean you can never serve a puffed rice bar, but if you are buying them because you think they are healthy cereal bars then I would look at other options.
My homemade rice bubble bar
Ingredients (makes 16 bars) :
3 x cups of wholegrain puffed rice
25g of butter
1/3 cup of Almond butter or Tahini (40g)
4x table spoons of rice malt syrup or honey.
In a pan add the butter, almond butter and rice malt syrup, cook over a low heat stirring constantly until all ingredients are combined and 'melted'.
Add the mix to the three cups of wholegrain rice and mix well so that each grain of rice is coated. Line a try with baking paper and press the ricebubble mix into the tray (press down firmly)
Leave to set in the fridge for atleast 2 hours.
Slice and serve, makes 16 x bars
Notes: if your child has a nut allergy or to make these school safe, you can replace the almond butter with Tahini (sesame seed paste) or any other seed paste such as sunflower.
If you don't have almond butter at home you can replace with peanut butter.
Tip: cashew butter tastes amazing as well.
This bar contains 3.75g sugar per serve (less than a teaspoon per bar).
and contains protein from the almond butter, fibre from the whole grain rice bubbles and, lots of healthy fats from the almond butter.