With our busy lifestyles, snack bars have become a new way to supply a dose of energy while we’re on the go. Unfortunately, many snack bars on the market are laden with refined grains and refined sugars, yet empty of nutrients like protein, fiber, vitamins, and minerals. Add food allergies and sensitivities into the mix, and finding a nutritious and delicious snack bar seems nearly impossible…until now. We have found a few new snack bars that not only taste great, but are also made with whole grains and protein, without tons of sugar.
When choosing snack bars, look for ones with whole grains in the ingredients. Whole grains can include wheat, oats, rice, quinoa, amaranth, and barley. The addition of protein will help you stay satiated longer than carbohydrates alone, so aim for bars with 8-10 grams of protein per serving. Selecting a bar high in fiber and low in added sugars will also keep you from the quick surge of a “sugar high” and “sugar crash” that subsequently follows when consuming a typical snack bar. If you suffer from food allergies, sensitivities, or dietary restrictions, there are a number of bars free from the top eight allergens, as well as some vegetarian and vegan options.
Here are a few snack bars we tried:
Zing Bars: These bars are delicious! Created by registered dietitians, Zing bars are gluten-free and vegan. They have 12 flavors, ranging from chocolate-coated and cookie-filled to fruit and nut varieties. All bars contain protein, fiber, and monounsaturated fats. They are available in stores and online in normal and sample sizes.
Mediterra: This is a new twist on the snack bar — it’s savory! Based on the Mediterranean diet, these bars contain a combination of vegetables, grains, and seeds that pack a delicious and nutritious punch. Flavors include Bell Pepper and Green Olives, Sundried Tomato and Basil, and Kale and Pumpkin Seed. Mediterra bars also come in sweet varieties.
88 Acres: If you follow the Low FODMAP diet to treat irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) or small intestine bacterial overgrowth (SIBO), then there is a bar on the market for you! 88 Acres’ Dark Chocolate and Sea Salt snack bar is free from the fermentable carbohydrates that cause the digestive discomfort associated with IBS and SIBO. 88 Acres bars are also a safe choice for people who suffer from the top eight allergens (wheat, dairy, shellfish, nuts, tree nuts, soy, fish, and eggs), and they are certified gluten-free and vegan.
Fueling your body throughout the day is essential to optimal health. Nutrient-dense snacks in the form of trail mix, energy bites, fruits and cheeses, and now snack bars can provide you with more variety in your eating pattern to keep you on track for maintaining a healthy lifestyle. These are often better choices than a fast food or bakery outlet.
Shopping Guidelines - How to Read the Label and Make the Right Choices
Take a look at the ingredients to find a bar that has a whole grain as the first ingredient. Try to keep fiber up and sugar down.
There is no official guideline for sugar per bar, but the American Heart Association recommends that the limit be no more than 6 teaspoons a day for women and 9 teaspoons a day for men. The current guideline for sugar from the Dietary Guidelines is to keep added sugar to no more than 10% of your calories. If a bar is 200 calories then 10% is 4.5 grams, but if the bar is smaller, that would be lower, and that’s difficult for snacks. Consider your overall eating pattern and added sugars - because added sugars would most likely come from snacks rather than the whole foods found in meals. If you go a little higher for a snack bar, then keep an eye on the things you eat for the rest of the day so that you keep your added sugar intake to the recommended limit. This is easily accomplished by limiting bakery items and beverages with added sugars, the two greatest sources of added sugars in the American diet.
As for fiber, we should strive for 25 to 35 grams per day. If we are eating a diet rich in whole grains, fruits, and vegetables, then a snack bar would need to contain around 3 to 5 grams of fiber to add to that total number. Now this is not an official "fiber grams per snack" recommendation, but I think it's a good guideline.
By Beth Rosen, MS, RD, CDN
And here's a free handout that you can use however you'd like!
Stephanie Ronco has been editing for Food and Health Communications since 2011. She graduated from Colorado College magna cum laude with distinction in Comparative Literature. She was elected a member of Phi Beta Kappa in 2008.