Updated: Sep 3, 2018
Once you know what to look for, shopping for the healthiest granola bar isn’t rocket science. The following tips should help you decide which granola bar is healthiest for you and your goals.
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, especially if you're trying to lose weight. The full-size bars may be too much for a snack, particularly if you aren’t going a long time between meals and your workouts are on the lighter side.
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. Note that it may be hard to figure out if a bar's sugar is added or comes from natural sources, like fruit, since added sugars are a voluntary listing on a food label. But if sugar (or brown rice syrup, agave, or another code for sugar) is the first ingredient, you're probably in the red zone.
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 bars are made from ingredients you can identify. I prefer bars that have mostly whole food ingredients. 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 bars, don’t overlook other foods. While bars are incredibly portable, so are other whole foods, like nuts and seeds, bananas, apples, and more. I like to keep bars handy, but I usually prefer other foods that nourish me and fill me up.
PRODUCT PICKS OF THE WEEK
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.
If your goal is to lose weight, you could consider having half the bar as a snack and saving the second half for tomorrow. Or you could try Lara Bar’s Bites, which have a similar label, but in bite-sized pieces that are easy to portion. I find the bites are a healthier and lighter way to satisfy a sweet tooth, 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.
Nutrition highlights: 150 calories, 3 g protein, 2 g fiber, 7 g added sugar (based on Peanut Butter Dark Chocolate variety)
These gluten free whole grain bars are a good choice for lunch boxes and between meal snacks. 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: 210 calories, 12 g protein, 5 g fiber, 0 g added sugar (based on Chocolate Sea Salt variety)
Similar to Lara Bars, these 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 killer workout when you’re looking to trigger muscle synthesis. 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: 240 calories, 15 g protein, 4 g fiber, 0 g added sugar (based on Pineapple Chia variety)
This gluten free, dairy free, soy free, bar is among the healthiest pick for vegans and those who have special diets. These substantial bars are great if you’re seeking plant protein. Since they pack 15 g of protein, you could have one paired with a piece of fruit as a breakfast on the go, or to keep you covered when you’re going a long stretch between meals or if your last meal was especially light. It’s another good pick to keep on you for travel days, when you might have to go longer between meals. And since Amrita bars are packed with protein, they’d also be appropriate after a tough workout to trigger muscle rebuilding. Just remember my note about eating and exercise, and balance out your later meals accordingly.