Stacking Up Nutrition Bars

What could be better for you than a nutrition bar, right? Their labels boast sources of protein, fiber, energy, and much more. Plus they’re non-perishable, making them ideal for grab-and-go meals and snacks. Here’s how you can tell if they’re the nutrient-packed meal-replacement or snack they claim to be and not just a candy bar with a few vitamins and minerals tossed in.

When nutrition bars first appeared on grocery shelves many were high in sugar but not much else. While you’ll still find those that are more like a sweet treat than a nutritious snack, there also are several packed with nuts, fruits and whole grains—all things good for you—and are good sources of a variety of nutrients, without the added sugar.

Helpful hints. Here are some tips to help you pick the best bar for your needs.

  • Why? To help you pick the right bars, think about why and when you eat them. If you’re looking for a quick post- or pre-workout source of carbs and protein or a between-meal snack, look for bars in the 200-calorie range. If you eat bars as an occasional meal replacement on hectic days, those in the 300- to 400-calorie range may be your better choice, paired with some fresh fruit and perhaps a yogurt.
  • Sweetness. While many lower-sugar bars are available, plenty of nutrition bars still contain high amounts of sugar. Since 4 grams of sugar is the equivalent of a teaspoon of table sugar—eating a bar with 26 grams of sugar is almost like eating 6-1/2 teaspoons of sugar. Keep in mind, however, that nutrient facts labels include natural sugars found in fruits on the label—those are sugars that you don’t have to worry about. So, check the ingredient list for sources of added sugars, such as cane sugar, brown rice syrup, or high fructose corn syrup.
  • Look for fiber. In addition to its health benefits, fiber can help satisfy you and keep you feeling full longer.

—Heidi McIndoo, MS, RD

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