Is It Healthier Than a Cookie? Granola Bars Carry Hidden Sugars 

Shandra Martinez

| 3 min read

Cookies vs granola bars
Talk to any parent of elementary school-aged children and they can tell you how many boxes of granola bars are in rotation in their kitchen pantry or cupboards. These packaged food bars are tucked into lunchboxes, handed out as after-sports treats and have generally become an easy grab-and-go snack for the current generation. Most are made with oats, nuts, some chocolate or maybe a little peanut butter. But how healthy are they? And are they really healthier than eating a cookie or two? Let’s dig a little deeper into this question.
To start, we should acknowledge there are lots of different types of granola bars. Some brands list whole ingredients like rolled oats, nuts and agave nectar or honey. Others focus on providing protein and offering low-sugar and low-fat options.
But then there are the others whose ingredients list reads more like a candy bar. They might have added chocolate chips. They might have a layer of caramel filling or be dipped in milk chocolate.

How to read a label

That’s why it pays to be a label detective when you’re trying to determine how much sugar and fat are in your snack foods, and if the granola bars in your cupboard are really any healthier than cookies. The next time you’re in the store, take a few minutes to read the nutrition facts listed on the packaging. Look at the serving size – usually one bar – then skim the label to find the saturated fat, fiber, protein and sugar. Having a bar with a nice amount of protein and fiber is good, but it’s important to be weary of the saturated fat and sugar content. For reference, The American Heart Association recommends aiming for a dietary pattern with no more than 6% of calories from saturated fat, and the same limit for added sugar.

Cookies vs granola bar

Let’s look at an example. Here’s how a brand-name chocolate and peanut butter granola bar from a grocery store stacks up against a similar serving size peanut butter and chocolate chip brand-name cookies:
Granola Bar
  • Serving size: 1 bar (40 grams)
  • Calories: 120
  • Total fat: 14 grams
  • Sodium: 35 milligrams
  • Dietary fiber: 3 grams
  • Total sugars: 9 grams
  • Protein: 8 grams
  • Serving size: 3 cookies (39 grams)
  • Calories: 195
  • Total fat: 10.5 grams
  • Sodium: 127.5 milligrams
  • Dietary fiber: 1.5 grams
  • Total sugars: 10.5 grams
  • Protein: 3 grams

The breakdown

Looking at this breakdown, the granola bar and cookies have similar amounts of total sugar. While the granola option has more fat, it’s clear a lot of the fat in the granola bar is coming directly from whole peanuts, which are listed first on the ingredients roundup. The cookies, meanwhile, pack more than three times the amount of sodium as compared to the granola bar.
The takeaway? Be a good label-reader in the stores before you buy. The granola bars you are purchasing might be higher in fat and even sugars but read the ingredients list so you understand where all those extra percentages are coming from.
Photo credit: BCBSM

A Healthier Michigan is sponsored by Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan, a nonprofit, independent licensee of the Blue Cross Blue Shield Association.
No Personal Healthcare Advice or Other Advice
This Web site provides general educational information on health-related issues and provides access to health-related resources for the convenience of our users. This site and its health-related information and resources are not a substitute for professional medical advice or for the care that patients receive from their physicians or other health care providers.
This site and its health-related information resources are not meant to be the practice of medicine, the practice of nursing, or to carry out any professional health care advice or service in the state where you live. Nothing in this Web site is to be used for medical or nursing diagnosis or professional treatment.
Always seek the advice of your physician or other licensed health care provider. Always consult your health care provider before beginning any new treatment, or if you have any questions regarding a health condition. You should not disregard medical advice, or delay seeking medical advice, because of something you read in this site.