Fat-Free Fig Bars – A Healthy Snack Choice?

Mark G., a fooducate blog reader, writes:

I would love your opinion on Barbara’s Bakery Fat Free Whole Wheat Fig Bars. I love these cookies (as does my 4 year old) and they seem to be a relatively healthy dessert option. I would love to see what you say. Thanks.

Well Mark, the answer is “it’s relative”.

Relative to fresh figs – no. Relative to many other cookies out there – yes. Relative to a close competitor – Nabisco’s famous brand of fig Newtons – also yes.

Let’s take a deeper look inside the label…

What you need to know:

Here’s the ingredient list:

FIG FILLING (ORGANIC FIG PASTE, PINEAPPLE JUICE CONCENTRATE, CITRIC ACID), PINEAPPLE JUICE SYRUP, ORGANIC WHOLE WHEAT FLOUR, BARLEY FLOUR, DATE PASTE, ORGANIC FIG PASTE, RAISIN JUICE CONCENTRATE, EXPELLER PRESSED CANOLA OIL *. BAKING SODA, SOY LECITHIN, SALT. *PROVIDES A NEGLIGIBLE AMOUNT OF FAT.

Aside from the soy lecithin, everything else in the ingredient list is more or less understandable to humans. That means you know what your child is putting in her mouth. If you are into Organic, some of the ingredients are organic too. (Figs are usually not heavily sprayed in conventional agriculture either.)

Each “bar” is relatively small, weighing in less than an ounce and tallying up only 60 calories, so for portion control, this is good. Each bar has 8 grams / 2 tsp of sugar. The packaging boasts that the product is “fruit juice sweetened,” but to be honest, there is negligible nutritional difference between white sugar and the fruit juices. This is a marketing play.

Somewhat oxymoronic is the ingredient called “raisin juice concentrate”. Raisins, as any child knows, are dried grapes, all the water is gone. So how do you squeeze juice out of them. The answer of course is that there is still liquid in raisins, and it is very sweet.

The “fat free” claim is ridiculous. There is some fat in here despite it being labeled zero. And even if there was a gram or 2 of vegetable fat, it’s not the end of the world.

Comparing Barbara’s Bakery to Nabisco’s Fig Newtons, the former is a superior product. The latter contains more sugar as well as additives such as Sodium Benzoate, Sulfur Dioxide, and Artificial Flavor. If a product is made with good ingredients, it shouldn’t need a flavor boost.

What to do at the supermarket:

Overall, as fig cookies go, you chose well. When selecting fruit cookies and bars, make sure the flavor comes from real fruit, and that they appear first in the ingredient list, not after a list of unidentifiable additives. In any case, remember that these are treats, not food.

There’s nothing wrong with a cookie for dessert, if most of the times fruit is being served as a snack.

Here’s another suggestion if you like the fig flavor – Try to see if you can get fresh figs in season (summer and early fall). They’re a good source of fiber, calcium, potassium, and the B vitamins. Dried figs are OK too, but watch the amount as they are almost half sugar by weight!

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  • http://www.livingitupcornfree.com kc

    Mark G. should be told that citric acid is a GMO corn derivative. Canola oil and soy lecithin are also GMO derived with industrial food processing salt being a likely source of GMOs as well. However, if you aren’t going to make cookies from fresh figs at home, these are probably the lesser of the evils since Nabisco (like all processed food giant brand names) will contain many more sources of GMOs. The truly scary thing about this post is that it fully illustrates a parent trying to be conscientious about what he feeds his 4yo by reading labels. The problem is that even choosing the best possible option of all the various processed foods, that child will still ingest GM crops and rancid industrial oil instead of healthy fats. I also hope that parents are doing research before limiting all fats in the diet of small children. Many toddlers today don’t get enough healthy fat because they eat the same ridiculous low-fat crap their parents choose. If you don’t know which is better when faced with a decision between 1 tbsp. pastured raw butter vs. 1 tbsp. of soybean or canola oil, do more research.

  • http://www.theomep.com Wet Wolf

    Might be a little better than a candy bar. Parents think if something has the word “Fruit” or “fig” in it then it’s good for you.

  • carol

    “fresh figs … They’re a good source of fiber, calcium, potassium, and the B vitamins.” Well, not really, except for fiber, but they do have some. The defined serving of fresh figs (and most fresh fruit) is 140 grams, which is about 3 medium figs. They have about 16% of the DV for fiber, but closer to 4% (max) for B vitamins, 5% for calcium, and 9% for potassium (available from all fruits and veggies). Fresh figs have about 76% of calories from sugar — about the same as dried figs.

    Dried figs are great in baked goods as they provide sweetness and flavor along with the important fiber (generally lacking in sweet treats).