Bars are a popular snack for all ages. They are convenient for busy adults, easy to pack in school lunches, or for childcare facilities to give out. One of the more popular snack bars served in childcare facilities and a popular choice at the supermarket are Nutri-Grain Cereal Bars. Check out the packaging of this Strawberry flavor bar and key words like “Made with Whole Grain”, “Good Source of Fiber”, “Made with Real Fruit”, but let’s see just how real it is.
I took a look through the ingredients, all 46 of them, and I saw many you do not want to eat or give to your family. Starting with enriched flour, on to artificial flavors, high fructose corn syrup, caramel color, and red-40. Not to mention several words I can’t pronounce. If Kellogg’s really meant “take care of you”, as they have on their website, they would consider taking out the additives.
Nutri-Grain bars are not the only offenders. Special K bars had partially hydrogenated oils, food dyes, and BHT. I had a good laugh while looking on their website where they describe the bars, “When you’re on a mission to look and feel great, you need a few secret weapons. Meet some of the best little snack bars around: Special K®Strawberry Cereal Bars!” I haven’t read anything yet that says having partially hydrogenated oils, and heavily processed products will make you look and feel great! Actually, they do just the opposite. Partially hydrogenated oils are related to obesity, rising cholesterol levels, and other health risks.
We need to get these ingredients out of our bodies so we can maintain a healthier life!
Here are some of the food additives in bars and the possible effects, and some other nutritional data I was checking for:
- TBHQ (Tertiary Butylhydroquinone) - This preservative is a petroleum derivative. Sounds yummy, huh? Even in small quantity this preservative has been known cause nausea, and ringing of the ears. There are also suggestions that it may lead to hyperactivity and asthma in children.
- Partially Hydrogenated Oils (trans fat) – Trans Fats are responsible for raising the LDL (bad cholesterol) and lowering the HDL (good cholesterol), and are linked to diabetes, coronary disease, obesity, and others. Don’t let zero trans fat fool you. Food companies are aloud to market 0g of trans fat as long as there is less than .5g per serving. That doesn’t mean they reduce the amount of trans fat to get below the .5g mark, they just change the serving size.
- High Fructose Corn Syrup – All sugars should be limited in our diets, and high fructose corn syrup is no exception. There is an on-going debate whether high fructose corn syrup is causing the obesity epidemic. Princeton proved it may be the cause during a recent study.
- Caramel Color - There are four types of caramel coloring that can be added to food. Two of the four are made with ammonia, and The Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) has asked the FDA to ban them. The term ‘caramel color’ is very misleading when it’s actually ammonia, not caramel at all! I avoid caramel coloring whenever I see it.
- Artificial Food Dyes – Not only are artificial food dyes linked to behavioral problems, diabetes, obesity, and asthma, the three most used food dyes (red-40, yellow-5, and yellow-6) contain cancer causing substances. Like TBHQ, most food dyes are also petroleum based. Get them out of your food!
- BHT (Butylated Hydroxytoluene) – A preservative that is added to keep fats from going rancid but is possibly linked to cancer. This preservative is also common in cereals, gum, make-up and lotions. There have not been enough studies to show whether this preservative is safe, so be safe and keep it out of your food.
- Sugar – Finding a store bought bar that does not have sugar listed as the first or second ingredient is next to impossible. Be aware if you are buying these, there is more sugar in many of these than any other ingredient. I tried to stick to bars that were lower in sugar or bars that contain natural sugar from dates.
- Fiber – Since many of us are eating bars as a snack to hold us over to the next meal, or in some cases as a meal replacement, fiber is very important. If a bar is high in fiber it will help you feel fuller longer, control blood sugar, and regulate your digestive system. I looked for bars to have at least 3g of fiber in them.
I set out to find the best snack bars that do not have any of the controversial ingredients listed above, and have good nutritional value also. Making the right choice on the grocery aisle can make a huge difference in your overall health! Say good-bye to the artificial ingredients at home and in your child’s school! I believe organic and / or homemade is the best option, so I have included links to recipes, and some organic options below. All organic bars are free from GMO’s and the artificial ingredients listed above.
- Clif Kids Organic Z Bars - they are organic, non-GMO, most kids enjoy them, and they are available in most stores. These bars have 3 grams of fiber, and 10 – 11grams of sugar. They are a good source of vitamin B, C, Calcium, Iron, and Folate. I found a box of 18 bars on amazon.com for $12.99!
- Cascadian Farm Organic Oatmeal Raisin Granola Bar (kids sized) - these are a smaller serving size than the other options but they still have 3 grams of fiber, and only 7 grams of sugar. They are organic, non-GMO, and available in most stores. I found a box of 8 granola bars for $3 at my local supermarket.
- Kashi Soft – Baked Cereal Bars - these bars all have 3 grams of fiber, and 9 – 10 grams of sugar per bar. Kashi has come under fire for the use of GMO’s in their product while claiming to be a natural company. These bars are not verified non-gmo but Kashi claims they are working to get rid of GMO’s. Hopefully I can update this to non-gmo one day soon, but for now be aware these likely contain GMO’s! I found these on amazon.com for as low as $.50 a bar!
- Enjoy Life Gluten-Free Bars - these are another good nut-free option for gluten-free diets. They are completely allergen-free, and non-gmo. The caramel apple bars have 3 grams of fiber and only 7 grams of sugar. You can buy these in bulk on amazon.com for $.71 a bar.
- Glutino Breakfast Bars - The apple breakfast bar has 3 grams of fiber and 11 grams of sugar and is a good gluten-free option. Not all of Glutino’s products are free from GMO’s.
- Larabar - when it comes to simple ingredients it doesn’t get any better than Lara Bars! Some of their bars have just two ingredients! The cashew cookie bar (made of cashews and dates), has 3 grams of fiber, 18 grams of sugar, none of which is added sugar, and is a good source of magnesium, and cooper. They are non-GMO, kosher, and gluten-free.
- KIND Bar - a favorite on the go snack of mine! These are very filling since they are mostly nut based. The upside is they hold up well in your purse, or at the pool, but obviously not good in nut-free environments. The Mango Macadamia bar has 4 grams of fiber, 10 grams of sugar, and a good source of calcium, folate, and Vitamin D3. They are non-GMO, kosher, and gluten-free.
- Pure Bar - a household favorite here, these are organic, non-GMO, gluten-free, vegan, filling, and have a simple list of ingredients. They are high in sugar compared to other bars but most of the sugar in these bars comes from dates, not refined sugars. Most of their bars have 4 grams of fiber, 6 grams of protein, but they are higher in sugar than other bars at 17 grams. If they are not available in your local supermarket you can find them online, check out their website or amazon.com.
While those are some the best options for bars, I don’t think bars are always the best options for snacks. Here are other options for snacks that are store bought or easy to make:
- Make your own trail mix – add a combination of nuts, seeds, and dried fruit to a bag and keep in your purse so you always have some on hand.
- Fruit – keep an apple, orange, blueberries, or grapes in a ziplock bag in your purse for a quick snack
- Revolution Foods Fruit Mashups
- Strawberry n’ Cream Smoothie – it has oats, coconut milk, strawberries, and a date. Sweet, filling, nutritious, and can be made in minutes.
- Green Smoothie
- Crackers and Hummus
- Rice Cake with a packet of Justin’s Peanut or Almond Butter
- Air-popped Popcorn
- Baby carrots, celery sticks, or ants-on-a-log
- Greek Yogurt
- Homemade Granola
- Quinoa Protein Bars – these need to stay in the freezer so they are not great for on the go snacks but perfect for at home. Make a double batch and keep them on hand for a last minute snack.
- Frozen Peanut Butter Banana Bites - like the quinoa protein bars, these are also kept in the freezer but they make a great afternoon snack.
- Trail Mix Muffins – these are a great gluten-free, nut-free, vegan option! They are sweetened naturally using maple syrup and dates.
- Homemade Larabar – I found this recipe in a search, only two ingredients, cashews and dates. I’ll have to give it a try!