Green Right Now Reports
We all know that we should be tossing nutrient-rich carrot sticks, strawberries, leafy salads and mango slices in our lunch bags. And so we do.
But what other treats can we include, without getting out of bounds nutritionally?
It’s not easy to know. Grocery aisles intoxicate us with options, and snack foods often come packed with artificial dyes, preservatives, fillers like corn and soy flour and sneaky additions of fat and sugar.
Here are a few healthier granola/snack bars that qualify as “wholesome” and which your taste buds might also find to be awesome.
Could improve: They’re a tad too sweet and we wish they didn’t contain palm oil.
These crunchy/chewy bars are about as good as it gets in the snack bar category. They’re tasty and made with carefully chosen organic ingredients.
The Bad: Not vegan. But if you’re not vegan, that’s not bad.
This is a new variety from KIND, known until now for its unadulterated nut and berry bars made from whole ingredients topped by tempting ribbons of dark chocolate. These granola bars stack up pretty well, if you’re striving for healthy ingredients.
KIND Healthy Grains Oats & Honey, for instance, is made with whole grain oats, brown rice, millet, buckwheat, amaranth and quinoa. It is satisfyingly sweet, as someone might say on a commercial, but without too many sugar calories. The secret sauce: Honey. Too bad for vegans, but others will likely love that smooth sweetness.
Like many granola bars crowding grocery shelves, these go for the chewy/crunchy “mouthfeel” which must poll well in focus groups. Perhaps because these products, though more upscale, at their core evoke Rice Krispie bars? That said, these are not that sticky sweet and offer more heft and protein. (Snobs that we are, we still prefer the original KIND bars, with the stout crunch of whole almonds, cashews and peanuts. But for the chewy granola aficionado, this one’s good.)
Total calories: 150
Total Fat: 4 grams (6% DV)
Sat Fat: 1.5 grams (8% DV)
Sugars: 7 grams
Protein: 3 grams
Fiber: 3 grams
Calcium: 2 percent
Iron: 6 percent
The Good: We’re talking serious whole grains — oats, quinoa, amaranth — with much less sugar than many granola treats, including EE’s own Baked Bars (see below).
The Bad: They are not GMO-Free verified or Organic, but the grains they use haven’t been genetically modified — yet.
We tried the Double Choco Espresso which like the other varieties, skips problem ingredients, like palm oil, leaving only pure food, the grains listed and Organic Whole Oats, Brown Rice Syrup, Almond Butter, Natural Dark Chocolate Chips (Dried Cane Syrup, Chocolate Liquor, Cocoa Butter, Vanilla), Oat Bran, Cocoa Powder, Pumpkin Seeds, Sunflower Seeds, Water, Walnuts, Dried Cane Syrup, Natural Vanilla Extract, Espresso Coffee Extract, Sea Salt and Baking Soda.
Calories 230, Fat Cal. 90, Total Fat 10g (15% DV), Sat. Fat 2g (10% DV), Trans Fat 0g, Cholest. 0mg (0% DV), Sodium 190mg (8% DV), Potassium 120mg (3% DV), Total Carb. 32g (11% DV), Dietary Fiber 4g (16% DV), Sugars 14g, Protein 6g (12% DV), Vit. A (0% DV), Vit. C (0% DV), Calcium (4% DV), Iron (8% DV). Percent Daily Values (DV) are based on a 2,000 calorie diet.
The Good: This is a really smart formula, using agave nectar, juice and cane syrup to sweeten the bar, so it’s sweet, but not too sweet. The grains, quinoa, brown rice, amaranth, flax and hemp, provide antioxidants and keep it gluten-free. Add more nuts, and cashew butter, and the protein edges up. This bar is also NonGMO verified, Organic and Kosher.
The Bad: Hmmm?
These are a little uptown for Junior’s lunchbox, retailing at $2.19 a bar, higher than everything else mentioned here. But, maybe there will be a sale or maybe you’re rich. Pure is aiming at a loftier niche than the one occupied by the everyday chewy granola bar, but let’s take a look at Pure’s new Ancient Grains Triple Berry Nut Bar anyway, because these are just too handsome and healthy to ignore.
Total Calories: 160
Total Fat: 9 grams (14% DV)
Sugars: 8 grams*
Protein: 5 grams
Fiber: 2 grams
Calcium 2% DV
Iron: 4% DV
* A note about sugar (that’s rather long, apologies).
Just about everyone agrees that Americans need to cut back on sugar, which is not just associated with diabetes, but a host of illnesses, including cancer and heart disease.
At the same time, some big food manufacturers who are promising “less sugar” in their products to their increasingly aware consumers, have come to rely on sucralose and other artificial and lab-concocted sweeteners and fiber-boosters.
Sucralose is a non-caloric sweetener that’s got a better reputation than its cousins, aspartame and saccharin, which were once tagged as carcinogenic though they’re now officially deemed to be safe (which is why you see them in ice cream, gum and cookies).
All three of these sweeteners represent miraculous possibilities to food makers because they add the sweetness we humans crave without adding calories.
But it’s no secret that sucralose and other artificial sweeteners come with a weird aftertaste. Stevia, a plant-derived sweetener that is extremely low calorie and popular in natural food stores, has that problem too.
Worse, though, researchers have recently raised questions about the safety of sucralose.
Earlier this year, an Italian study found it raised the risk of leukemia in lab mice and The Center for Science in the Public Interest put sucralose on the alert list, downgrading it from “safe” to “caution”.
“Lower sugar” products may also contain a raft of benign, but highly processed ingredients used to pump up the sweetness and fiber or both in snack foods, without adding calories. These include the synthetic polydextrose and the plant-derived inulin and oligofructose. These ingredients are lower glycemic (they’re absorbed more slowly by the body) and lower in calories than table sugar. They are widely used and considered to be safe.
Inulin and oligofructose are even believed to improve gut “flora,” and one study found that inulin could help diabetic women reduce their blood sugar levels.
But critics question whether this fiber provides all the benefits of fiber contained in unprocessed fruits and vegetables. The science is relatively new.
It would be impossible to cover all the pros- and cons of artificial and alternative sugars here. But here’s a thought: That impressively lower 5 grams of sugar in Quaker Chewy granola bars (with 25 percent less sugar) may be a good and helpful thing if you’re trying to cut back on sugar. Just know that this reduction is made possible by the addition of the zero-calorie sweeteners oligofructose, polydextrose and sucralose.
Eyes on the label.