The skinny on snack bars: What to look for on the nutrition label

WATCH ABOVE: Some tips on what to avoid and what to look for when choosing a snack bar.

TORONTO — Whether you need a little midday pick-me-up or pre-workout boost, snack bars can be a quick and easy way to fuel yourself. The key, though, is to pick the right one. And there’s certainly plenty to choose from: you’ve got your granola bars, fruit bars, and yes, even meat bars.

“It’s not until we really look at the nutrition label and the ingredient list, that’s when we find the truth about what’s in our snack bar,” said Lalitha Taylor, an Edmonton-based registered dietitian.

What to avoid

The unfortunate truth, according to dietitians, is that a lot of snack bars are processed and can contain a lot of fat, salt and sugar.

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“Really snack bars may not always be the best choice.  They are convenient but not always the healthiest,” said Dietitians of Canada spokesperson Laura MacLean.

For instance, chocolate and yogurt-covered bars can often have three teaspoons of sugar, according to Taylor.

“If you’re having a snack bar that has three teaspoons of sugar, that’s more of a treat-like food.”

READ MORE: How much sugar should you be eating? How to follow WHO’s guidelines

As for fruit bars, buyer beware, she warned. “Because it’s just sugar. It’s going to be immediately broken down. There’s no protein, there’s no healthy fat, there’s no fibre in those bars to keep you feeling fuller longer.”

The only time a fruit bar might be a good option, she said, is if you’re doing a high-intensity activity for over an hour that requires a quick source of energy.

What to aim for

Taylor’s advice is to try and find a snack bar that’s 100 per cent whole grain, with at least four grams of fibre and five grams of protein.

“That fibre and protein play such an important role in keeping us feeling fuller longer and giving us greater satiety.”

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Try to limit the sugar content to eight grams (about two teaspoons) or less, and the saturated fat content to no more than two to three grams.

READ MORE: ‘Healthy’ foods that aren’t really that healthy

“If the saturated fat content is over four grams, that could be a red flag,” Taylor said.

“If it’s coming from coconut oil, which is a natural source of that saturated fat, I’m not as alarmed because that tends to get metabolized and broken down faster by our liver.”

When it comes to the ingredients, if you can’t pronounce half of them that may also be reason for concern. Kashi, Elevate Me and Larabar are among the brands which use a lot of natural ingredients.

The other thing to consider is when you plan to eat the snack bar.

“Make sure the timing of your bar is matching the ingredients because that might change some of the nutrients you’re looking for on that label.”

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