Snack bars are a convenient option for a grab-and-go bite, whether you’re running late in the morning and don’t have time for breakfast or need a light, no-fuss snack on the road. Not all bars are created equal, however. Here is what to look for–and what to avoid–to get the most nutritional bang for your buck:
Whole Food Ingredients
When reading the ingredient label, look for whole food options such as nuts, seeds, whole grains like oats, dried fruits, or shredded coconut. Nuts and seeds offer satiating healthy fats and protein, while whole grains provide fiber and vitamins and minerals. Dried fruits bring natural sweetness and tartness to the mix, and coconut can add a pop of flavor.
Low (or No) Added Sugars
If possible, try to avoid bars that have added sugars in the first five ingredients. Remember, ingredients are listed in order by weight, so the first listed are what primarily make up the product. There are many names for sugar out there, but you can consult this list if you’re unsure. Depending on your dietary preferences and intolerances, it may also be beneficial to avoid artificial sweeteners and sugar alcohols which can cause gastrointestinal upset and do not offer nutritional value.
Thankfully, the new food label that is phasing in requires that added sugars be listed separately from the naturally occurring sugars. Soon you’ll be able to tell how much sugar is coming from the dates and fruit in your snack bar compared to the maple syrup and other sweeteners. Some companies have already made the switch, and we’d recommend choosing a bar with less than 6 grams of added sugar. For bars using the old food label, look for bars with less than 12 grams of total sugars and avoid those with sweeteners listed in the first five ingredients.
Calories, Saturated Fat, Protein & Fiber
You’ll also want to look at a bar’s total calories, saturated fat, protein, and fiber content. Here are some guidelines to aim for:
- Calories: 100-300 calories depending on whether you need a light snack or something more substantial
- Saturated fat: 3 grams or less
- Protein: 4 grams or more
- Dietary Fiber: 4 grams or more, or at least a 10:1 ratio of total carbohydrates: fiber ( i.e., 30 grams of carbs: 3 grams of fiber)
There are tons of snack bars out there to choose from, but we hope these guidelines make it easier to select the best ones for you.