The Truth About Healthy Granola Bars
Long a staple in the hiker’s backpack and busy moms’ purses, the granola bar is a familiar part of our fast-paced lives. The need for convenience makes the pre-portioned, portable, and tasty granola bar a go-to snack.
Food that is convenient is always going to have an edge, and granola bars certainly have convenience on their side. New varieties of flavors and ingredients are contributing to a wider appeal. The addition of gluten-free and vegan options in many manufacturers’ lines are also increasing the number of options available for consumers to choose from. From kids at school to busy parents to on-the-go executives, granola bars are now a part of a regular diet for many people.
Whenever a trend starts, there are those that look to capitalize on it, even if their product doesn’t really fit the bill. This is certainly the case with granola bars. In an effort to appeal to the widest customer base, and keep costs low, some companies have released products that are packaged and branded to look like they fit the healthy snack niche. A look at the nutritional information or the ingredient list tells a different story. Some bars, including some very popular offerings, are barely better than a candy bar from a nutritional perspective.
Are all Granola Bars Healthy?
Because of their healthy reputation and high content of natural whole foods and healthy ingredients like oats, nuts, and fruit, it can be easy to think granola bars are always a healthy option. In many cases, this is true. As a nutritionally dense food that is typically low in carbs, and high in healthy fats and proteins, some bars are a great choice for a healthy snack. Bars from companies like rxbar, Larabar, Annie, and others are moving into the market alongside more established names such as Clif and Kind bars with a commitment to healthy ingredients.
Generally speaking, the simpler and more natural your food is, the healthier it is likely to be. Raw ingredients with minimal processing are going to carry the best nutritional content through to a healthy end product. For consumers this means selecting a bar that has a short ingredient list filled with items you can easily recognize and pronounce. As many people become more conscious of what they eat, they are discovering that not all bars are created equal.
Many granola bars on the market do contain healthy ingredients, but some popular options contain almost as much sugar as some candy bars. When you are evaluating how healthy a bar is, looking carefully at the nutritional information is very important. Considerations such as what type of protein is included or the amount of carbohydrates and fiber a bar contains are all things to consider when evaluating the health value of a granola bar.
Pay Attention to Sugar
Many of us have a sweet tooth, and a little extra sweetness can make a bar, or any other snack, a treat you look forward to. The American diet in particular is very high in sugar, and consumers have gotten used to high-sugar foods. Producers of many bars have taken to adding sugars or sugar substitutes to help make their products enticing.
Adding sweeteners can make producing a healthy bar challenging, as adding sugar or artificial sweeteners means products are less beneficial than some people might think. Some companies try to get around the high sugar numbers by using sugar substitutes in their products. This is not really a solution, as some people experience negative side effects from consuming artificial sweeteners.
Products that include aspartame, saccharin, and sucralose may have been cleared by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), but consuming them can still cause issues for some people. Individuals with issues managing blood sugar can sometimes have troubles with these ingredients. It is also possible for there to be negative impacts on your healthy gut bacteria from ingesting artificial sweeteners.
Even when natural or less processed forms of sugar are used, there can still be negative effects. Increasingly, research is showing that a high-sugar diet is closely linked with a wide range of conditions from diabetes to heart disease. Even cholesterol, once thought to be the enemy for the way it builds up inside blood vessels, is now understood to be a reaction to inflammation brought on by a variety of factors, including a diet high in sugar.
Currently the FDA does not break out the amount of sugar from additives and from healthy ingredients like fruit. Beginning in 2020 manufacturers are going to be required to split out added sugar in their labeling, which will help consumers understand what they are eating. This is also going to increase the importance of ensuring manufacturers are using quality ingredients in their products.
Fat is Not Your Enemy
Once feared by many, fat is no longer the source of concern many doctors and dietitians once thought it was. This does not mean, however, that you should just throw caution to the wind. The type of fat and where it comes from can have a significant effect on how healthy it is for you.
Unsaturated fats that are found in nuts, seeds, and other foods often provide healthy sources of fats in granola bars. Nut butters can also be a source of healthy fats, though these vary depending on the kind of nuts used. Peanut butter is the most common nut butter people are aware of by a large margin, but because of the increasing prevalence of dangerous peanut allergies, other nut butters are becoming more commonplace.
When evaluating a granola bar, the main thing to look out for is a surprisingly high amount of saturated fat. As opposed to the beneficial fats in nuts and seeds, there can be other ingredients that raise the level of saturated fats. Some bars, including supposedly healthy options, can contain as much as 15% of your daily value of saturated fats.
Knowing the specific amounts of fat, sugar, or fiber you want in your diet is one thing, but for some of us it is about keeping an eye on the raw calorie count. A strong benefit of the granola bar, especially for people who are attempting to lose weight or lower their body fat, is the easy portion control provided by individually wrapped bars.
Though the ingredients may be the same or similar to what you could simply pour into your morning bowl of granola, studies have found that pre-portioned food has a higher chance of helping people lose weight than a diet where you are responsible for controlling portion size. The calorie count printed clearly on the label can also make it easier to plan your dietary intake with foods like granola bars. With many companies offering bars containing less than 250 calories, there are plenty of options to choose from that are low in calories yet still relatively high in protein. Some common bars on the market have barely more than 100 calories, which can be very effective as a part of a weight loss diet.
The health content comes into play as you are counting calories because as you intake fewer calories, you need to be more careful in planning your diet to ensure you are still getting the nutrition you need. Nutritious granola bars can be helpful in this regard. Nutritionally dense foods, especially those higher in fiber and healthy fats, are valuable as you plan out a diet that has a reduced calorie count compared to what you have been used to.
For people who are on a longer program of weight management, granola bars can be an important part of a long-term nutrition plan. While these bars are relatively cheap to buy individually, they are even cheaper when bought in bulk from retailers such as Amazon. This can help you control both cost and calories as you plan your diet.
Can You Make Healthy Granola Bars?
Part of the allure of the granola bar, either for large companies or individuals making them at home, lies in their simplicity. With a short ingredient list and a little preparation, making simple, healthy granola bars that are also tasty is easy. The homemade granola bar recipe below is just one example of nutritious bars that avoid some of the health pitfalls other commercial granola bars drop into.
Another strength of the granola bar is that it can be tailored to various nutritional needs. Adding more protein, for example, is easily achieved by altering the mix of ingredients. Simply counting the grams of protein is not the full picture, though. Protein powder is easy to work with, and is often added to commercial granola bars, but there are some essential amino acids missing from natural sources of protein.
Often, the differences can be small between unhealthy and healthy granola bars. Simple changes in ingredients can make a big difference. Many bars contain chocolate, but dark chocolate can contain as little as half the sugar of a similar amount of milk chocolate. These small changes can mean a lot to individuals who are on calorically restricted diets where counting grams of fiber or carbs is important while still keeping an eye on sugar intake.
No-Bake Chewy Granola Bars
- 2 cups (312 grams) of traditional rolled oats
- 1 cup (220 grams) of packed dates
- 1 cup (200 grams) of mixed nuts such as almonds, walnuts, and pecans, (other nuts such as pistachios, etc.)
- 1/3 cup (~73 grams) of nut butter (such as almond butter)
- 1/4 cup (60 ml) of maple syrup or honey
- 1/4-1/2 cup (65–130 grams) of mix-in (optional)
- add your favorite dried vegetable or fruit ingredients to get added flavor and nutrition
To begin, pulse the dates in a food processor for one minute. Before adding the honey, maple syrup, and nut butter to the mix, warm them gently in a saucepan to soften them and make mixing easier.
Once all the ingredients are ready, combine everything in a large mixing bowl bowl.
Stir the ingredients together until well mixed. Transfer the mix to a loaf pan or baking dish lined with parchment paper. Place the pan in the freezer for 20–25 minutes to allow the mixture to solidify.
By changing up the mixins you add to a basic recipe such as this, you can make them your own by adding more dried fruit, coconut flakes, chia seeds, or dark chocolate chips. This can be used just to change the flavor, or to add more nutrients to the mix to suit your dietary needs with items like quinoa.
Making bars with a recipe like this is very easy, and the combinations of fruits, seeds, and nuts are nearly endless. Dried fruits such as blueberries are a popular choice. Cashews, dried cranberries, pumpkin seeds, and other ingredients can radically change the taste of your bars while still resulting in a healthy snack bar. Vanilla extract can be added in place of extra sweetener to give a more enticing flavor without adding to the sugar content of your bars. This is to say nothing of adding starches like dried potatoes or even vegetables to the mix.
Quality Ingredients are the Key to Quality Products
Consumers are getting more and more conscious of what they eat. As new players move into the market riding the wave of gluten-free, vegan and non-GMO interest, it is more important than ever to know where your products are coming from.
Dried fruits have long been staples of granola bar recipes, but now people are starting to take the search for healthy ingredients even further. The trend toward more plant-based diets is accelerating, and companies like Made Good are now making tasty, healthy granola bars that also contain a full serving of vegetables. At Silva, we produce a wide variety of highly nutritious dried vegetables that are packed with nutrients and can easily be added to appeal to the most conscientious eaters. Kale, spinach, and carrots are just a few of those often used in developing new products like healthy granola bars.
Taste is what will keep your customers coming back, but you have to hook them in the first place. That is going to take creating products that contain natural, healthy ingredients you can depend on. It is also going to demand a wide variety of base ingredients to satisfy the increasingly diverse tastes of educated consumers.
At Silva we work to ensure our products are the best they can be from field to finish. This will give you confidence your offerings will have what it takes to stand out from the crowd. You can request samples of our products to begin exploring what options are available.
Our sales team would also love to talk with you more about what we can offer to help you bolster the health credentials of your current offerings, and even expand your product line to keep pace with the changing tastes of consumers. Even a quick look through our product guide may give you some ideas of new ingredients you could be including that could help make the difference in your products.