Mars bar sugar lev­els are out of this world

Calo­rie-dense treat is al­most 60% sugar and EU does not con­sider it a choco­late bar

The Irish Times - Tuesday - Health - - Health Nutrition - Rose Costello

Un­less you are an as­tronomer or Elon Musk, if I say Mars you prob­a­bly think of the choco­latey treat with nougat and caramel. The bars have been around so long, it’s al­most as if they are part of Ir­ish cul­ture. But they are not. Mars bars were cre­ated in the United States where Mars Inc is now one of the big­gest pri­vately held com­pa­nies. The Mars fam­ily busi­ness sells ev­ery­thing from Dolmio sauces to dog food. On this side of the At­lantic, Mars bars have been made in Slough, Eng­land, since 1932. There’s a tiny stamp and a Union flag to say that on the packet.

Next to that and just above the words “Suit­able for veg­e­tar­i­ans”, you will see the let­ters “K-lbd-d” un­der what looks like a lit­tle roof. This logo refers to the Kashrut di­vi­sion of the Lon­don Beth Din (LBD), which is the lead­ing UK au­thor­ity on Jewish di­etary

The im­pli­ca­tion is that any­thing nat­u­ral is bet­ter. But is it? Sugar is nat­u­ral but it’s not a good idea to get too much of it. So is fat

laws. Kashrut is a He­brew word re­fer­ring to the body of Jewish re­li­gious laws con­cern­ing food. Such laws pro­hibit eat­ing some foods such as pork and shell­fish. Foods that are ac­cept­able, such as this bar, are deemed kosher.

The logo in­di­cates each in­gre­di­ent and food ad­di­tive has been checked to en­sure it is not from a non-kosher source. The or­gan­i­sa­tion points out that prod­ucts such as yo­ghurt may have gelatin, spices may con­tain stearic acid salts and break­fast cereal may con­tain glyc­er­ine, all of an­i­mal ori­gin. (Stearic acid is a fatty acid that can also come from veg­etable sources.)

On the side of the bar, it says, “Free from ar­ti­fi­cial colours, flavours and preser­va­tives”. These words are pop­ping up on more and more prod­ucts. The im­pli­ca­tion is that any­thing nat­u­ral is bet­ter. But is it? Sugar is nat­u­ral but it’s not a good idea to get too much of it. So is fat. So while it is en­cour­ag­ing, it doesn’t you get a free pass.

Read the in­gre­di­ents and you will see the first listed is sugar, be­cause there is more of that than any other prod­uct. Keep read­ing, though, and you will find fur­ther sweet­ness added with glu­cose syrup, lac­tose (milk sugar) and bar­ley malt ex­tract.

Cross check that with the nu­tri­tion in­for­ma­tion panel and you will see there is 59.9g of sugar in ev­ery 100g. So each bar is al­most 60 per cent sugar. Sur­pris­ingly, that’s not an aw­ful lot more than you would find in a bar of Dairy Milk, which is 56 per cent sugar.

But is a Mars bar choco­late? I don’t think so, nor does Euro­pean Union. To be con­sid­ered choco­late in the EU a bar must be at least 30 per cent co­coa. Ire­land and the United King­dom have a dero­ga­tion from that di­rec­tive so it needs to be just 20 per cent co­coa here.

This mat­ters be­cause when re­ports say that choco­late is good for you thanks to its flavonoids, they aren’t talk­ing about Mars bars and other sim­i­lar con­fec­tionery. They are talk­ing about choco­late with plenty of co­coa. Milk choco­late is fine. Dark choco­late is best.

How much co­coa they con­tain

Mars bars list in the in­gre­di­ents co­coa but­ter, co­coa mass and fat-re­duced co­coa. The bars don’t say how much co­coa they con­tain, how­ever. If it is a good amount, why does the com­pany not high­light it on the pack­ag­ing given the health ben­e­fits? So what else is in there? Oils and pow­ders mainly. There is sun­flower oil, palm fat and milk fat, which is also known as but­ter fat.

Soya lecithin pops up as an emul­si­fier, which means it is there just to help make the mix of fatty and non-fatty in­gre­di­ents into an emul­sion.

There are lots of pow­ders in the form of skimmed milk pow­der, whey pow­der (from milk), egg white pow­der and hy­drol­ysed milk pro­tein.

That last in­gre­di­ent is used as a foam­ing agent, mean­ing it helps to pro­duce the foam and to sta­bilise it. This is found in some choco­late, caramel and bis­cuits. One man­u­fac­turer boasts on its lit­er­a­ture that it is very use­ful but “has very lit­tle im­pact on cost, com­pared with tra­di­tional in­gre­di­ents”. So now we know. Fi­nally, there is also a lit­tle bit of the sim­ple stuff in salt and nat­u­ral vanilla ex­tract.

A stan­dard Mars bar is 51g, down from 65g in the 1990s. It is still high in calo­ries at 228kcal per bar, which is equiv­a­lent to at least four ap­ples. It is also more than dou­ble the 100 calo­ries Pub­lic Health Eng­land sug­gests par­ents im­pose on their kids’ snacks.

Even for adults, a Mars a day just isn’t a good idea.

PHO­TO­GRAPH: ISTOCK

Read the in­gre­di­ents and you will see the first listed is sugar, be­cause there is more of that than any other prod­uct.

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