Behind Bars: The Truth About Granola Bars
Bars — energy bars, protein bars, breakfast bars and more — have never been hotter, whether for a meal replacement, a snack on the go, or a pre- or post-workout energy boost. However, they are not necessarily health food. If a bar is your choice, pick carefully to get one that meets your needs, but don’t believe that it’s the same as a balanced combination of fruits, vegetables and low-fat protein foods full of vitamins and natural protective compounds.
But not all bars are bad. Many, in fact, include a healthy dose of fiber as well as natural ingredients like nuts and oats. Bars can also be a great afternoon snack idea because they are convenient, compact and individually wrapped – great for portion control. And they’re definitely easy to eat on the go. Here are our recommendations on the best (and worst) bars out there.
Calories – Eaten as an afternoon snack, a bar should ideally be less than 200 calories. And interestingly, often the bars that are higher in calories are also higher in sugar and/or saturated fat.
Fiber – Since fiber helps keep you full and satisfied (since it takes longer to digest), bars should have some fiber to fill you up. Aim for a bar with 3 or more grams of fiber.
Protein – Protein is another key ingredient to help keep you feeling full in the afternoon. Try to reach for a bar with at least 7 grams of protein.
Sodium – Who would have thought that many bars contain a lot of sodium?! Often, when bars are low in fat, salt is needed to replace the flavor lost when fat is removed. Go for bars with less than 60mg of sodium.
Sugar – Most bars out there are loaded with sugar to help improve their taste. Compare the grams of sugar to the grams of fiber in a bar and aim for a ratio of no more than 3 to 1. For instance, if a bar has 4 grams of fiber, it should have no more than 12 grams of sugar.
Unfortunately, it’s quite difficult to find bars that meet all of our requirements. So the bottom line is choose the bars that keep you the most satisfied without making you crave more. And even the best bars don’t hold a candle to fruits, vegetables and yogurt. So choose bars when you’re on the go and don’t have access to fresh produce and low-fat dairy products
Are All Bars Created Equal?
Granola bars: These usually contain a greater combination of ingredients than other bars, like nuts, dried fruit, and, of course, granola. In general, granola bars can be higher in calories and protein than other bars, so they are often marketed as high-energy foods for athletes or campers, or even as meal replacements.
Cereal bars: As their name implies, cereal bars contain mostly grains (think Cheerios). They tend to be lower in calories and are less dense compared to granola bars. They are “light” in terms of taste, which makes them an ideal choice for breakfast on the go or paired with a piece of fruit.
Snack bars: Both of the above types of bars can be considered “snack” bars, i.e., they can be eaten at any time of day. However, there are also specific bars that are promoted as in-between-meal “snack bars.” These snack bars may be promoted to help curb appetite and thus promote weight loss. These types of snack bars are usually higher in fiber and slightly higher in calories than cereal bars.
Bars Designed for Snacks or Breakfast:
Special K Breakfast Bar, Vanilla Crisp: 90 kcals, 2 grams protein, 0.5 grams fiber
Nature Valley Granola Bar – Crunchy, Oats ‘N Honey: 90 kcals, 2 grams protein, 1 gram fiber
Kashi Diet Bar, Pumpkin Pie: 120 kcals, 4 grams protein, 4 grams fiber
Quaker’s Chewy, 25% Less Sugar, Peanut Butter & Chocolate: 100 kcals, 1.5 grams protein, 3 grams fiber
Powerbar Pria, Mint Chocolate Cookie: 110 kcals, 5 grams protein, 1 gram fiber
Bars with Higher Calories and Protein:
Luna Protein Bar: 180 kcals, 12 grams protein, 3 grams fiber
Bear Naked Pure & Natural Granola Bar: 240 kcals, 4 grams protein, 4 grams fiber
Clif Bar, Black Cherry Almond: 250 kcals, 10 grams protein, 5 grams fiber
Powerbar Protein Plus, Chocolate Brownie: 360 kcals, 30 grams protein, <1 gram fiber
The Bottom Line
Whether you are trying to lose weight, increase the fiber in your diet, or have a light dessert, there are plenty of snack, cereal, and granola bar choices available to meet your needs. Your taste and texture preference will most likely be the biggest deciding factors for the one you choose. But also look closely at the nutrition facts label to determine which bar is best suited to your own nutrition needs.
- Regular – Luna Bar in Caramel Nut Brownie
- Raw – Organic Fiber Bar in Chocolate Dream or Apple Apple
- Regular– Kind Bar in Almond & Apricot
- Raw – Wild Bar in Mayan Spice
- Regular – TLC Kashi Bar in Pumpkin Spice Flax
- Raw- Larabar’s in Peanut Butter & Jelly