Granola bars are a great on-the-go snack option for busy people, athletes, and lovers of the outdoors. The word granola may bring up thoughts of healthy oats, grains, and nuts all nicely molded into an easy to eat bar. But snackers beware— what lies behind the wrappers of these seemingly innocent bars may be an over-processed nutritional mess.
While brands like Quaker Oats and Nature Valley may be the kings of the granola bar aisle, they typically rank low in the hierarchy of good nutrition. Containing as many as 25 ingredients, 12 grams of sugar, and sugar-filled ingredients like a chocolate sheath, these babies can be almost as bad as eating a real candy bar (a Twix Bar contains around the same amount of calories and sugar as an average granola bar).
Similar to candy or cookies, many of the bars contain high fructose corn syrup, which has been linked to weight gain and insulin resistance; hydrogenated oils, which can raise cholesterol levels; and monosodium glutamate (MSG), which has been linked to obesity and type 2 diabetes.
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The number of granola bars on the market has exploded over the past few years, and with the focus shifting to healthier ingredients, it’s easier than ever to choose a healthy— or at least healthier— option.
Reading the nutritional information is key to making the best choices, and the more recognizable the ingredients, the better. Many granola bars are fortified with vitamins and minerals, and while fortification is not a replacement for eating a well-balanced diet, it can help to make up for lacking nutrients. Look for bars that are high in fiber (containing at least 5 of the 14 recommended grams per day), which can prolong that full feeling and possibly reduce “bad” LDL cholesterol, and options with less than 25% of the calories from sugar and 3 grams of fat or less.
While many pre-packaged granola bars can be nutritional land mines, choosing a simple granola bar packed with nutrients and fiber will be more satisfying than a bar loaded with fat and sugar. Ingredient lists full of easily identifiable choices— like oats, grains, fruits, and nuts— is a good sign. And make sure whole grains— not sugar— are the first ingredients listed. Calories should come in at 100-175 per serving (which for many bars is around 30-40 grams— about the size of two 9-volt batteries). When a bar has quality ingredients, it should easily pass the label test. And for the best hand-picked ingredients, homemade granola bars are an easy, cost effective way to go.
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