March 24, 2015 11:39 am
Updated: March 26, 2015 9:31 am

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

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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.

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“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.

“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.”

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.”

snack-bar-infographic

Credit: Leo Kavanagh, Global News

Taylor’s snack bar analysis

The Edmonton-based registered dietitian came up with the following list after analyzing the nutritional content and ingredients of dozens of snack bars. Taylor states that choosing snacks, especially for pre-workout, are often determined through some trial and error as each individual has different rates of digestion and absorption.  Some of the options are:

Mid-day slump snack bars

  • Kashi Honey Almond and Flax
  • Kind — Dark Chocolate Nuts and Sea Salt
  • Bounce
  • Vega — Dark Chocolate Mixed Nuts and Sea Salt
  • LaraBar — These tend to be higher in sugar than Taylor would normally recommend and only have about three grams of fibre. But they’re made with simple, whole ingredients. For example, the LaraBar “Cashew” is made up of only two ingredients: cashews and dates.

Pre-workout snack bars

For strength-based workouts:

  • Elevate Me
  • Clif Bar — Chocolate Chip Peanut Crunch
  • PowerBar Harvest Crunch — Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip
  • Luna Bar — White Chocolate Macadamia
  • Nature Valley Crunchy Roasted Almond Granola Bars
  • Solo Energy Bar — Pineapple Coconut

For cardio workouts:

  • Vega — Dark Chocolate Mixed Nuts & Sea Salt
  • Nature Valley Crunchy Roasted Almond Granola Bars
  • Greens — Hip to be Healthy Squares
  • Elevate Me — two squares

Post-workout snack bars

  • Elevate Me
  • Solo Energy Bar
  • PowerBar Harvest Crunch — Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip
  • Clif Bar — Chocolate Chip Peanut Crunch

Healthy whole food alternatives

Here are some of Taylor’s suggestions for healthy whole food snacks, which she and other dietitians always recommend reaching for first.

READ MORE: Snack swap: tips for healthy and tasty treats

  • “One of my favourites is a banana rollup made with a small whole-wheat tortilla, peanut butter, and a banana in the middle.  Roll it up and you have quick, grab-and-go pre-workout snack.”
  • Cottage cheese or Greek yogurt with berries can be a nutritious source of protein and antioxidants.
  • An apple (for energy) and a quarter-cup of almonds (which are heart healthy and give you lots of protein). Combining the two will allow you to feel fuller longer and allow that energy to stay for a longer period of time — perfect for a midday slump.
  • Popcorn (a great source of fibre) and almonds also allow your energy boost to last longer.
  • “Even a cup of milk can be a nutritious snack. It’s giving you fluid, it’s giving you nine grams of protein and 12 grams of carbs, so you’re getting that energy from milk as well.”

Homemade snack bars

These low-fat breakfast bars take just 10 minutes to prep and 35 minutes to bake.

Cookspiration.com

If you’re a DIY-type person, you can also make your own healthy snack bars. MacLean recommends the recipes for Low-Fat Breakfast Bars and the Lentil Granola Bars.

© 2015 Shaw Media

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