How to shop for the healthiest granola bars
Granola and protein bars can be convenient snacks, but they're also a leading source of added sugar in Americans' diets. That means that some are closer to candy bars than a wholesome snack. I've put together some tips to help you shop for the best granola bar. Plus, you can check out some of my favorite healthy granola bars below!
Find the right bar for the occasion. Some bars are more substantial than others so choose one that works for your needs and the meal occasion. Say you're grabbing a bar instead of breakfast; it should have more calories and protein than one you're eating as a mid-day snack. Don't overlook the kid-sized bars, either. They can be the right portion size when you're not as hungry and want something lighter between meals.
Keep an eye on added sugars. The healthiest granola bars are low in added sugars. I usually suggest sticking with bars that have under 8 g of added sugar (obviously the lower the better!), but this is no easy feat! However, this is equivalent to 2 teaspoons of added sugar and going much higher than this amount is not going to support your healthy eating goals.
Food labels might confuse you since there are columns for total sugar and added sugar. For the sake of monitoring your added sugar intake, you only need to be concerned with added sugars. Many bars are sweetened naturally with foods like dates, so the total sugars may seem high, but the added sugars can still be low.
Stick with whole grains. If your bar contains grains, a healthier choice is to make sure it has 100% whole grains, such as oats, brown rice, quinoa and sorghum.
Look for simple ingredients. The healthiest granola bars are made from ingredients you can identify. I prefer bars that have mostly whole food ingredients, such as nuts, dates, and oats. You may see a naturally-sourced gum or inulin (which is a form of manufactured fiber), but I definitely caution against soy protein isolate, which is an overly processed form of soy that I consider questionable. It’s an ingredient in many protein-rich bars so be on the lookout for it.
Don't over-rely on bars. Even if you’re shopping for the healthiest granola bars, don’t overlook other foods. While bars are incredibly portable, so are other whole foods, like nuts and seeds, bananas, apples, and more. Often, these foods are more filling--even if they have identical macros, like protein and carbohydrate--since they take longer to chew and digest. If you're working from home, mix it up and add some whole food snacks to your lineup. And bring them to the office, too. I like to keep bars handy, but I usually prefer other foods that nourish me and fill me up.
THE BEST GRANOLA BARS
Nutrition highlights: 210 calories, 12 g protein, 5 g fiber, 0 g added sugar (based on Chocolate Sea Salt variety)
Similar to Lara Bars, these healthy bars get their sweetness from dates rather than added sugars. They generally contain just a few ingredients: dates, nuts, egg whites, sea salt, and natural flavors. They have twice as much protein as a Lara Bar, and therefore, are a good choice after a workout when you’re looking to maximize your muscle gains. One note on this subject: Unless you’re an athlete or a serious exerciser, I caution against overthinking eating to meet your exercise needs. Getting sufficient protein after a workout doesn’t have to mean eating a bar, and I’ve seen this type of mentality prompt weight gain since exercise doesn’t burn as many calories as you think (or as your Apple watch says.)
For those looking for a smaller size bar with the same benefits, RXBAR Kids is for you!
Nutrition highlights: 210 calories, 10 g protein, 4 g fiber, 0 g added sugar (based on Peanut Butter variety)
One of the biggest complaints I hear about RXBARs is that the texture is too chewy. Enter RXBAR Plant! It's got a crumbly, soft texture, similar to a cookie. They've also swapped the egg whites for pea- and almond-based protein sources for plant-curious and plant-based eaters. This bar would be a great choice paired with a piece of fruit for a light breakfast or to tame hunger when you need a hearty snack between meals. It's also a good option after a workout if your next meal is hours away.
JUSTIN'S PLANT-BASED PROTEIN BAR
Nutrition highlights: 220 calories, 10 g protein, 0 g fiber, 5 g added sugar (based on Honey Almond variety)
This bar gets its protein from pea and almond sources, and it provides a meaningful amount of this macronutrient. So, even though the fiber is non-existant, I felt it deserved a spot on my healthiest bar list. If you're eating this as a meal replacement, add a piece of fiber-rich fruit.
Nutrition highlights: 220 calories, 6 g protein, 4 g fiber, 0 g added sugar (based on Peanut Butter Cookie variety)
Most Lara Bars are made with just a few whole food ingredients, in this case, peanuts, dates, and salt. The protein is a little light so I’d suggest this bar as a snack after a light lunch, or paired with a piece of fruit (such as a banana) and one or two boiled eggs as a meal on the go.
For less hungry days, consider having half the bar as a snack and saving the second half for another day. Or try Lara Bars Minis. They have a similar label but are about half the portion. Choosing a mini over a cookie or another treat can also satisfy your sweet tooth in a healthier way. And check out these other healthy sweet snacks, too!
Nutrition highlights: 200 calories, 6 g protein, 7 g fiber, 4 g added sugar (based on Dark Chocolate Nuts & Sea Salt variety)
These lower sugar bars would be a good choice for those days when you need a big snack to fuel your afternoon or to replace a meal (partnered with other foods, including fruit). Bars like this are also good for travel days when your meal schedule might be off.
And don’t forget the minis! KIND Minis are smaller versions of the original so they may be a better size for snacking. And if you're having a candy craving, try one of these instead. It's a healthier alternative that will also give you some steady energy. While it's common to think that candy gives you an energy boost, the reality is that it will leave you tired and less focused shortly after eating.
Nutrition highlights: 150 calories, 3 g protein, 2 g fiber, 5 g added sugar (based on Double Dark Chocolate variety)
These gluten-free whole grain bars are a good choice for lunchboxes and between-meal snacks. The whole grains mean they provide slow burning energy, which is helpful when you want to be productive. If you’re someone who has a sweet tooth, you may find that a bar like this satisfies your craving in a healthier way.
Nutrition highlights: 195 calories, 7 g protein, 4 g fiber, 0 g added sugar (based on Pineapple Chia variety)
This gluten-free, dairy-free, soy-free, bar is a best bar pick for vegans and those who have special diets. You could have one paired with a piece of fruit as a breakfast on the go or enjoy it when you’re going a long stretch between meals.
Nutrition highlights: 200 calories, 10 g protein, 4 g fiber, 0 g added sugar (based on Peanut Butter variety)
Here's another pick for plant-based eaters who seek a higher protein option. Not only do these bars pack protein, but they also pack nutrients, like magnesium. I appreciate the all-natural ingredients in this pick!
Nutrition highlights: 200 calories, 12 g protein, 2 g fiber, 6 g added sugar (based on Zesty Lemon variety)
The first ingredient in this bar is sprouted watermelon seeds. Watermelon seeds are a notable source of fiber, protein, and antioxidants, according to one study.
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