GSS: Are all snack bars created equal?

When Shea and I first started dating, I quickly became aware of his love for the outdoors – hiking, camping, rappelling – he loves it all.  After our dinner dates, we would often go walk around REI, his favorite store (Home Depot is probably a close second in this stage of our lives!).  But if you’ve spent any time with me, you know that I’m pretty girly.  Don’t get me wrong, I like a good hike or camping trip (As long as there is an air mattress in the tent and some wine, I’m game!), but that’s pretty much the extent of it.

Couldn't resist posting a pic of us on our first camping trip (2007).

But when I go into REI, a funny thing happens.  All of the sudden, I want to throw all my purple accessories to the wind, grow out my armpit hair, deck out in hiking pants and Life is Good t-shirts and go forth into the wild!  I feel an intense need to buy all these things I don’t need, like back packs, outdoor cooking equipment, brightly colored bungee chords and kayaks.  One time I bought some really expensive (and unflattering) hiking shoes in preparation of our trip to Denver.  I’ve worn those shoes exactly two times since I bought them!  Of course, as soon as I leave the store, I’m jolted back to reality and immediately lose my granola-eating urges and go about my girly-girl ways (and shaving my armpits!).

When I’m in REI, I always spend a lot of time on the aisle with the energy bars, you know, thinking about what I would take to sustain me on all the adventures I’m going to take!  There are tons of brands to choose from, from Larabar to Luna to Clif, and everything in between.  You see even more variety of snack bars at the grocery store.  There are dozens of brands, each boasting that they pack all the protein, carbohydrates and energy one would ever need.

I had a request from a reader to compare some of the popular bars and determine which ones are the best choice.  With all the clever packaging, it’s hard to tell which ones are more like candy bars and which ones really do make a healthy on-the-go snack or pre/post workout sustenance.

As a rule with any product you’re thinking of buying, the fewer ingredients the better.  For example, here are the ingredients in the PowerBar Nut Naturals energy bar:

DRY ROASTED ALMONDS AND PEANUTS, BROWN RICE SYRUP, SOY CRISPS (SOY PROTEIN ISOLATE, TAPIOCA STARCH, SALT), RAISINS, EVAPORATED CANE JUICE SYRUP, RICE CRISPS (RICE FLOUR, RICE BRAN, ROSEMARY EXTRACT), WHOLE OATS, HIGH OLEIC CANOLA OIL, VEGETABLE GLYCERIN, DARK CHOCOLATE CHIPS (SUGAR, CHOCOLATE, MILK FAT, COCOA BUTTER, SOY LECITHIN, VANILLA EXTRACT), AND LESS THAN 1.5% OF INULIN (FROM CHICORY), SALT, SOY LECITHIN. MINERALS: CALCIUM PHOSPHATE, POTASSIUM PHOSPHATE, FERROUS FUMARATE (IRON). VITAMINS: ASCORBIC ACID (VITAMIN C), VITAMIN B6 HYDROCHLORIDE, RIBOFLAVIN (VITAMIN B2), THIAMINE HYDROCHLORIDE (VITAMIN B1).

With that many ingredients, I can't believe they can make the claim that this is natural!

That is a TON of ingredients, many of which I want to avoid, such as sugar, soy, canola oil, and a few words I can’t even pronounce!  To my surprise, Clif and Luna bars also contain a LOT of unnecessary ingredients and soy, but at least they don’t contain the poor-quality canola oil like the PowerBar.

Here are the ingredients in a Larabar (Pecan Pie flavor):

DATES, PECANS, ALMONDS.

With three natural ingredients, this makes a great snack!

Now that’s more like it!  With three all-natural ingredients, I think a Larabar is a much more whole and healthy snack. The PranaBar is another great option with very few all-natural ingredients (We carry these at Longevity, along with a variety of other healthy brands).

Here is a list of some of the worst offenders when it comes to popular cereal/energy/nutrition bars.  Containing excessive ingredients, soy, hydrogenated oils and chemicals like high fructose corn syrup, we should stay away from these brands and avoid feeding them to our kids!  Click on them to view their ingredients.

Nutri-Grain Bars

Special K Bars

Fiber Plus Bars

Fiber One Bars

Kashi Bars

I say it all the time, but I just can’t preach this enough – make sure you’re reading those labels!  No matter how much protein, fiber, energy and carbs the company claims to provide, that doesn’t make up for the damage done by unnecessary chemicals and additives.  Also, don’t be fooled by the “all-natural” or “safe for kids” or “whole grain” claims on the packaging.  We’ve got to raise the bar (no pun intended) on the ingredients we’re putting into our bodies.

Also, when you’re reading the labels on bars, be aware of the high amounts of calories, fats, proteins, and sugars.  Some shouldn’t be used merely as snacks, but are designed to be more like a meal replacement or for use during extreme physical exertion (Like hiking the Appalachian Trail, not sitting by a campfire drinking Two Buck Chuck!).  Even the most natural bars can make you pack on the pounds if you’re taking in more calories than you can burn.

A bar can make a great snack, whether you’re into outdoor adventures or just on the go, but make sure you choose wisely!  I learned a lot by looking at all these ingredient lists side by side, and I was pretty surprised at how unhealthy some of these bars that I’ve eaten for years really are!

Happy Trails!

2 Comments

Filed under Grocery Store Spotlights

2 responses to “GSS: Are all snack bars created equal?

  1. JoAnna, I’m so glad you wrote this post (and decided to shave those armpits again). I used to eat Power Bars non-stop in the 90’s until I read the label. Dug Luna Bars like candy until I realized the same about them. Now Lara Bars are the only ones I eat, and they come in some super yummy flavors. Thanks for the enlightenment!

  2. Shira, you are a nutritionist’s dream! I’m so glad you take the time to read labels and determine the best choice. So many people are just mindlessly filling themselves with junk and they think they are being healthy! I love Larabars too…especially the coconut one! You gotta stock up at Kroger when they put them on sale 10 for $10! The contents of the Clif/Luna bars really surprised me…I guess I’m guilty of letting the outdoorsy looking packaging fool me into thinking they were more whole than they really are!

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