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:
- Serving size: 1 bar (40 grams)
- Serving size: 3 cookies (39 grams)
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