How To Choose a Healthy Snack Bar

woman eating snack bar

One of the fastest growing food categories of the last decade has been the “bar”. Add your own prefix:

  • snack bar
  • energy bar
  • protein bar
  • breakfast bar
  • meal replacement bar
  • ___________ bar

There are many reasons for the success of bars:

  • Bars are very convenient foods. Individually wrapped, they can be throw into your bag, in the glove compartment, in the office desk drawer, etc.
  • They taste good. That usually has to do with their high sugar content, which we’ll get to in a minute.
  • It’s relatively easy to manufacture bars. The ingredients mix well together, and the machinery required to produce rectangular shaped glop is fairly standard.

The problem with most bars is that they more closely resemble a Snickers candy bar than they do a healthy fruit or nut combo. Here are some helpful suggestions.

What should I look for in a snack bar?

  • A short ingredient list. It can be as short as: Almonds, dates, bananas. But some products list over 40 ingredients. Stay away from those.
  • Sugars from fruit. Many bars add 3 or more teaspoons worth of sugars in the form of  evaporated cane juice, high fructose corn syrup, rice syrup, and honey. A little bit of added sugar is not the end of the world, but you need to be watchful.
  • Nuts and seeds. They are a great source of protein and healthy fats.
  • Whole grains. Bars made with oats, for example.

What about protein?

Americans get more than enough protein in their diet, so buying a bar that has been pumped up with soy and whey protein isolates makes no sense.

Is a bar with 200 calories too much?

Many dieters are enamored with the concept of 100 calorie snacks. Bar manufacturers have catered to this notion in several ways:

  • shrinking the bar size
  • using artificial sweeteners
  • limiting the use of healthy nuts and seeds because of their fat content

While a bar with 200 calories may seem excessive for a snack, what you should consider is the ingredient list. If the bar contains a mix of nuts and fruit, chances are it will keep you satiated for a longer period of time and help you avoid noshing again after 45 minutes.

What bars does Fooducate recommend?

A good bar is really a trail mix that has been pulverized to some degree. Making your own trail mix is really easy and saves money. So if you have some time on your hand, we recommend buying bulk quantities of your favorite nuts, seeds, and dried fruit and mixing them up. Pack them into individual Ziploc bags and you’re set!

OK, but when I’m in a rush, what bar should I buy?

You can browse the bar category using the free Fooducate app (Android, iPhone) to see which bars we rate the highest.

Get Fooducated

  • Carb Loaded

    I have two that I would recommend : The Yawp bar (yawpeats.com) and the BEEF EPIC bar (epicbar.com). Neither of them have ANY added sugar. The sweetness comes from other ingredients.

  • Clay

    quest is best

    • Rawfoodie

      Sorry to break it to you, but quest bars are highly processed and are terrible for you. I recommend larabars or kind bars, for they are not highly processed. FYI whey protein is terrible, switch to a vegan source of protein

  • Mark Welch

    First, you promise info but then tell me that I can only get it using your app. Then Google Play tells me that my Android tablet (Acer Iconia) isn’t compatible with this app.

  • Cluu

    I heard the rule of thumb on a good bar is when the sum of protein + fiber equal to or are greater the amount of sugar.

  • Carol H

    1. Number of ingredients isn’t a measure of quality/health. Recipes with more flavor and variety of nutrients often have more ingredients (e.g., a variety of different fruits, nuts, herbs, etc.)… doesn’t mean the ingredients or the bar itself is less healthy (in fact, it might be MORE healthy). 2. “Evaporated cane juice” should either be in quotes (with an explanation) or called what it legally/technically is — sugar. FDA frowns on such misleading terms (and gives warning letters to manufacturers using them), so we shouldn’t encourage their use.

  • Lizz

    Carol. I think it’s obvious that they mean when a product has a lot of artificial and unhealthy preservatives, color, and sweetners, those are the bars everyone should stay away from.

    • Carol H

      Then “quality of ingredients” should be the operative criteria, not “number of ingredients,” because they actually mean two different things. I’m not impressed with companies that tout products with “only 3 ingredients” or such similar pitches. They are missing the big picture — variety of good ingredients trumps paucity — and are locking themselves (and those who buy into the “fewer ingredients is better” mantra) into a nutritionally inferior product than something with more (good) ingredients.

      • http://www.fooducate.com/ Fooducate

        Carol – good point. There is a high correlation between number of ingredients and inferior nutritional value of a product. But that is not always the case.

  • Goat

    Stay away from any bars. Wanna lose fat and keep it off. Stop eating sugar and sodium. It’s that simple. Of course you will get it naturally via fruits and veggies.

  • Booty

    When it comes to store bought bars fewer ingredients is better. A snickers bar has 22 ingredients as a Larabar cashew cookie has 2. I don’t know about you but I don’t remember the last time I made anything with 22 ingredients.