The Snack Bar Has Invaded!

Are Your "Snack Bars" Healthy??

Walk through any grocery store and you’ll notice the increasing amount of shelf space committed to just snack bars. They’ve even invaded the good ol' grocery store, gas station, and vending machine. But as it turns out, most snack bars are not really that healthy. In some cases you would be better off eating a candy bar.

One of the most frequently asked question by my clients is "Is it Ok to eat a bar for breakfast or lunch?"  So I did a little research and was surprised to find that some bars (even those that are advertised with health claims) have more than 5 teaspoons of sugar per bar! 

This might not seem like a lot of sugar, but when you consider that the average American consumes 156 pounds of added sugar per year it really makes you think about where all of this sugar is coming from. Why would we want to waste calories on snack bars that, at best, taste like cardboard with a glaze? Why not save them up for something a whole lot tastier…like a chocolate croissant or a dark chocolate beet cake?

Don’t get me wrong, snacks are important and should be eaten throughout the day, and snack bars are super convenient. No one can argue that point.  They are the perfect size for tossing into your purse, throwing into a lunch box, or taking with you when traveling. I just happen to believe that snacks don’t always need to come from a package. A healthy snack should include a fruit or vegetable, some protein, and/or a whole grain. If a snack is advertised as having only 100 calories, you need to consider where those 100 calories are coming from. 

Selecting a “smart snack” that’s nutrient dense, is confusing (don't worry, you aren't the only one). Let’s face it, breaking down all the different bars can be overwhelming. A long list of ingredients that are hard to pronounce can almost make your eyes glaze over and send you into a brain fog. Then combine that with a food label that shows lots of vitamins and minerals, and has a super snazzy package it can make you second guess things. They’re healthy, right?  

Here is the skinny. I encourage people to take the time and effort to eat whole, real, food as much as possible. But I TOTALLY understand how busy things can be at times. So on occasion, go for it. I would rather people at a healthier snack bar for breakfast than skipping breakfast altogether.  There is different "healthy" for everyone and I encourage you to learn what that is for you.

Just remember, not all snack bars are created equal! 

Here are a few healthy snack examples:

  • Half a sandwich on whole grain bread with baby carrots
  • Organic Greek yogurt with berries and almonds
  • Bowl of high fiber cereal with an orange
  • Peanut butter and celery sticks
  • Veggies and hummus
  • Cheese and fruit
  • Small bowl of soup with whole grain crackers
  • Hard boiled egg 
  • Handful of nuts

Still want a snack bar? 


Things to look for when seeking a healthy bar:

  • Whole Grains
  • Nuts
  • Seeds
  • Dried Fruit (without added refined sugar)
  • 150-200 calories for a snack
  • Fiber 
  • Protein (close to one serving of protein = 7 grams) 
  • Sugar from natural sources like dried fruits. Avoid bars where the first ingredient is sugar in disguise like these code words…brown rice syrup, honey, agave nectar, molasses, evaporated cane juice, organic brown sugar, turbinado, fructose/glucose syrup, etc. Bottom line: aim for 12 grams or less, which is about 3 teaspoons – regardless of whether or not it is natural or organic. Sugar is still sugar.

 

PUT DOWN THAT BAR IF IT CONTAINS THESE INGREDIENTS:

  • Refined sugars – Including (but not be limited to) sugar, cane sugar, cane juice, brown sugar, barley malt, fructose, high fructose corn syrup, dextrose, maltodextrin, agave, and more. Basically anything that includes the word “malt,” “syrup,” or ends in an “-ose.” I give a nod to those products with naturally occurring sugars from dried fruit or more natural added sugars used in moderation (such as honey and maple syrup).
  • Highly processed additives you would not cook with in your own kitchen.
  • Added protein, fiber, or caffeine.  Added fiber can often come from synthetic fiber which can cause gas, cramping. I avoid added protein because this type of protein typically comes in the form of a processed isolated protein ingredient rather than a whole food ingredient (you see where I am going with this?)

Pros and Cons of Popular Snack Bars

  • LÄRABARs have long been a favorite bar. They contain minimal ingredients and no added sugars. They are readily available in many stores and are the perfect pick-me-up for adults and kids alike, offering sound, real nutrition.
  • Quest Bars have been touted as the #1 bar for athletes and others, and with claims of packing 20 grams of protein and 17 grams of fiber into a super sweet bar, I can see how they try to make that claim! But look a little closer at the ingredient list, and you’ll see very little that resembles anything found in your kitchen.
  • Raw Crunch Bars are made by a couple based in our beloved hometown of Charlotte, NC. The bars offer a tasty blend of seeds and nuts with just a touch of honey to bind the bar together. Growing in popularity, you can now find them easily at many health food stores.
  • Clif Bars were forever the choice of sustained nutrition for outdoor enthusiasts, but a closer look at their ingredient list may have you less enthusiastic. Beginning with organic brown rice syrup (aka refined sugar!), the list, unfortunately, goes downhill from there.
  • Created by Clif’s co-CEO, Kit’s Organic Bars are the world’s “better than their brother” bar (i.e., Clif) and are a far superior choice in my opinion. All ingredients are also organic – bonus!
  • Recently slammed by the FDA, Kind Bars give the appearance of being a better bar, boasting nuts and dried fruit, but don’t be fooled. The addition of other additives makes it questionable in my book. 

Not so Popular Snack Bars.. But Gaining popularity and Worth Checking Out

  • Elemental Superfood Seedbars have no additives, preservatives, fillers or anything artificial. They are made with ingredients that are organic and pesticide free, raw, gluten free and dairy free. They are high in naturally occurring protein and fiber, and loaded with Omega's. They are sweetened with raw honey. Snack Bar Comparison Chart
  • Epic Bars are 100% grass fed animal based protein bar. Paleo friendly, gluten free, and low in sugar.

Additional Pretty Good snack bars:

  • Kashi TLC (i.e. cherry dark chocolate, 120 calories, 2 grams fat, 4 grams fiber, 8 grams sugar, 5 grams protein)
  • Luna Bars (i.e. vanilla almond, 190 calories, 6 grams fat, 3 grams fiber, 11 grams sugar, 9 grams protein)

Some of the worst snack bars:

  • Cliff bar (i.e. chocolate chip, 230 calories, 4.5 grams fat, 4 grams fiber, 23 grams sugar, 10 grams protein)
  • Balance Bar (i.e. honey yogurt peanut, 200 calories, 7 grams fat, 1 gram fiber, 18 grams sugar, 15 grams protein)
  • Odwalla Bar (i.e. banana nut, 220 calories, 5 grams fat, 5 grams fiber, 17 grams sugar, 4 grams protein)

 

There are so many bars and so little time!! 

What’s your favorite real food snack bar? Or, if you can’t make up your mind, you could always make your own! :)