Granola bars are by no means the ideal food — most nutritionists agree that it’s best to snack on less processed food like a piece of fruit or handful of nuts instead.
But for those times when you really want to grab a bar on the go, we asked two registered dietitians for some advice about how to pick a relatively healthy option.
Torey Armul, a spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, and Sharon Palmer, the author of Plant-Powered for Life, suggested a few simple rules to follow.
Here’s what they recommend, and how seven popular bars stack up.
Healthier bars generally have whole grains, nuts, seeds, and fruit at the top of the ingredient list. They also should have about 4-5 grams of protein and plenty of fiber.
“Granola and nutrition bars are much better than they used to be, when they were often just glorified candy bars.” Palmer said. “Look for real food ingredients, such as dried berries, apples, almonds, pistachios, oats, quinoa, chia, hemp.”
Whole grains and nuts help keep you full and aid digestion. The naturally-occurring protein from those ingredients also helps satiate hunger and keep your appetite in control.
“Snacks shouldn’t necessarily fill you up, but rather keep you feeling comfortable until your next meal,” Armul said.
Too much protein listed on a bar, however, likely means it has added ingredients like powders and supplements.
For fiber content, dietitians say 3 grams is a good benchmark for a granola bar. High-fiber diets are associated with a host of benefits, including weight loss and reduced instances of diabetes, arthritis, and even death.
Three things to avoid: added sugars, high calorie counts, and too much saturated fat.
If sugars, syrups, or refined grains are among the first ingredients listed on a bar, that’s a red flag.
Nutrition labels aren’t currently required to differentiate between naturally occurring and added sugars in products. But by 2021, all food labels in the US will be redesigned to note added sugars, so you’ll eventually be able to see how much white sugar, honey, caramel, corn syrup, and other sweeteners are mixed in.
Palmer said that anyone who’s trying to watch their weight should also keep their total calorie count in the neighborhood of 150 per bar.
Nobody needs much more than 210 calories in a bar, anyway, since it’s just a snack, Armul said.
When picking a bar, also glance at the saturated fat content. Ingredients like nuts contain a lot of good saturated fat, but nutritionists generally agree the total should stay below 3 grams per serving.
We put some of our favorite bars to the nutritionists’ test. First up, a crunchy household classic: the Nature Valley Oats n’ Honey bar.
The first ingredient is whole grain oats — a promising start.
But the second ingredient is sugar. These golden, crunchy nuggets pack 11 grams per package, more than a fifth of your daily recommended intake.
What’s more, the bar duo only delivers 2 grams of fiber and 3 grams of protein, amounts below the ideal benchmarks.
Still, there’s only 1 gram of saturated fat and 190 calories.
Next up: the popular Quaker Chewy granola bar
Like the Nature Valley bar, whole grain oats are the first ingredient listed.
But again, the second ingredient is brown sugar — the bar has 7 grams.
With just 1 gram each of fiber and protein, this bar probably won’t keep you satiated for long.
Clif bars are often marketed as fuel for hikers and bikers, but they’re high in sugar, too.
The chocolate-chip Clif Bar bears the brand’s well-known image of a rock climber on the front.
But the very first ingredient listed is “organic brown rice syrup” — essentially sugar.
The 250 calories in a Clif bar are more than most people need for a quick snack. But the bar does have decent amounts of fiber (4 grams) and protein (9 grams), with just 1.5 grams of saturated fat.
Kind bars, which look like a combo of nuts glued together with honey, pack a lot of fat.
Aly Weisman/Business Insider
The ingredient list of Kind’s Caramel Almond & Sea Salt starts with almonds and chicory root fiber, a solid base.
But Kind bars got in some trouble with the US Food and Drug Administration in 2015 because a few of their bars contain more than 15% of a person’s recommended daily saturated fat total.
The Caramel Almond & Sea Salt variety packs exactly 15% of a person’s daily portion of saturated fat.
Experts have linked diets high in saturated fat to high cholesterol and type 2 diabetes. But many diet experts also point out that some nutritious whole foods have a sizeable amount of saturated fat, too. For example, a cup of avocado has around 15% of the daily recommended dose of saturated fat, and a cup of walnuts has 24%.
Despite the high fat content, the Kind bar boasts 7 grams of fiber and 6 grams of protein, so it’s not the worst on this list.
Nutrigrain breakfast bars have been a popular on-the-go choice since the mid-1990s.
The blueberry-flavored bar may have a thin “crust” of whole grain oats around the outside, but the rest of the bar is made of enriched wheat flour, which is refined, not whole-grain.
Vegetable oil, corn fiber, and sugar are the next three ingredients on the list.
The good news is that the bar has 3 grams of fiber and just 120 calories. But with 12 grams of sugar per bar and just 2 grams of protein, you could easily find a more nutrient-rich snack.
Some newer nutrition bars that have entered the market boast more varied ingredients at the top of their lists. The Cherry Pie Larabar is gluten-free and has just three ingredients.
It’s made of dates, almonds, and unsweetened cherries.
The bar packs in an impressive 5 grams of protein and 4 grams of fiber.
The sugar content in this snack is high, though, at 23 grams. Still, that’s not added sugar. Instead, these snacks are naturally sweetened by fiber-rich cherries and dates, so you’ll digest the snack more slowly and won’t crash.
Considering it delivers 200 calories per bar, however, the Larabar is probably best thought of as a sweet treat for times when you’re in a rush.
Many of these new products, such as the RXBar, emphasize fruits, nuts, seeds, and grains.
The chocolate sea-salt flavor of RXBar is made from a base of dates, egg whites, almonds and cashews.
The bar has 5 grams of fiber, 12 grams of protein, and 10% of one’s daily saturated fat total. Plus, it has no added sugar.
That makes this bar the healthiest on our list, but the downside is that a box of 12 costs $22.09, making this one of the pricier granola bar options.
Overall, if you’re looking for a tasty snack, you probably don’t need a granola bar.
When you can, it’s better to eat less processed foods at snack time, like nuts, fruit, or veggies. But granola bars, when chosen wisely and used sparingly, can do people a great service when they’re eating on-the-run.
“You can throw one in your purse, gym bag or travel bag, and they are great, shelf-stable snacks for times when you can’t eat the real thing,” Palmer wrote.
Powered by WPeMatico