Rating snack bars: the nutritional lowdown

March 18, 1998|By Eating Well magazine

Stamped with vaguely nutritious-sounding labels such as "low-fat," "fat-free" or "granola," snack bars appear to be a healthy choice. But are they?

To find out, we evaluated the nutritional value of 13 snack bars by assessing the ingredient lists. (Because ingredients are listed by weight, you get a much clearer picture of product quality than by using the Nutrition Facts alone.) What we'd hoped to find high on the list were ingredients like fruit, nuts, oils that are not hydrogenated, and whole grains, such as rolled oats and whole wheat. (Don't be fooled -- "wheat flour" on the ingredient list means white flour; if a product contains whole wheat, it will say "whole wheat.") Instead, we found that on many lists, the first ingredient is high-fructose syrup, with the more wholesome ingredients appearing farther down.

Worse still, most of the bars contain cholesterol-raising partially hydrogenated oils -- and some snack bars labeled "low-fat" may not be as healthy as the full-fat counterparts that use mono-unsaturated liquid vegetable oils.

In taste tests, the bars also scored poorly: 12 out of 13 ranged from mediocre to thumbs down. They were declared "too sweet" almost unanimously.

The panel's overall favorite was the Nature Valley Crunchy granola bar (which contains heart-healthy canola oil). Check out the summaries below for the rest of the results.

How the bars stack up:

"Classic" granola bars: Described by tasters as "crunchy" and "yummy," the Nature Valley Crunchy granola bar was the winner. It also scored highest in nutrition, thanks to rolled oats and canola oil (rather than refined flour and partially hydrogenated oils). Clif Kicks bars were nutrition winners, too, but mediocre in taste. Other bars tested: Quaker Chewy chocolate chip; Nature Valley Chewy raisin; Clif Kicks apple cinnamon, peanut-butter chocolate-chip, and strawberry.

Fruit/cereal bars: The term "fruit" is used loosely here: Only one of the three bars we tasted -- Betty Crocker's Sweet Rewards -- listed fruit as the first ingredient. Because of their overwhelming sweetness, all three rated low in terms of taste. SnackWell's, rated fair, was the high scorer in this category; its 3 grams of fat gave it the edge over fat-free Sweet Rewards. Other bars tested: SnackWell's Fruit'n Grain mixed berry; Nutri-Grain mixed berry.

Chocolaty granola bars: If you want a cookie- or candy-like indulgence, our advice is to eat the real thing. Cookies and candy bars are no less nutritious, and they taste better. Instead of an Oreo granola bar, which our tasters likened to "asphalt," have three real, intact Oreos (just 1.5 more grams of fat).

Pub Date: 3/18/98

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