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Are Granola Bars Healthy?

Health + Wellness
jenifoto / iStock / Getty Images

By Rachael Link, MS, RD

Many people consider granola bars a convenient and healthy snack and enjoy their flavor and versatility.


In some cases, granola bars can be a good source of fiber and protein to help curb cravings between meals.

However, some contain as much sugar, carbs and calories as candy bars.

This article reviews the benefits and downsides of granola bars, explaining whether they're healthy.

Granola Bar Nutrition

Granola bars are made from ingredients like oats, dried fruit, nuts, seeds, honey, coconut and chocolate chips.

The nutritional value of granola bars can vary greatly depending on the brand and ingredients used.

Though many varieties are loaded with extra sugar and calories, several healthier options are available as well.

Here's a comparison of the nutritional profiles of two popular granola bars (1):

While the second granola bar is lower in calories, it also contains significantly less fiber and protein, as well as double the amount of sugar as the first bar.

Most granola bars have around 100–300 calories, 1–10 grams of protein, and 1–7 grams of fiber in a single serving.

Many also contain micronutrients, including B vitamins, calcium, magnesium and iron, which are either found in the ingredients or added through fortification during manufacturing.

Summary

The nutritional value of granola bars varies widely, and certain brands may have more calories, protein, fiber and sugar than others.

Potential Benefits

Granola bars are not only convenient, budget-friendly, and portable but also preportioned, which makes it easier to avoid overeating.

In fact, some research suggests that preportioned foods could be beneficial when it comes to weight management.

For example, one 12-week study in 183 people found that following a meal plan that involved consuming preportioned foods led to greater weight and fat loss than a standard self-selected diet (2).

Not to mention, granola bars that contain healthy ingredients like oats, nuts, seeds and dried fruit can make a beneficial addition to any diet.

In particular, oats are a great source of beta-glucan, a type of fiber that can help decrease levels of total and LDL (bad) cholesterol, two risk factors for heart disease (3).

Meanwhile, nuts, seeds, and dried fruit have been shown to benefit blood sugar control and heart health (4, 5, 6).

Summary

Granola bars are convenient and preportioned, which could benefit weight control. They're also often made using oats, nuts, seeds and dried fruit, which can improve heart health and blood sugar control.

Possible Downsides

Granola bars are often considered a healthy snack, but despite these marketing claims, many are loaded with added sugar, calories, and artificial ingredients.

For example, Kellogg's Nutri-Grain Harvest granola bars can contain up to 15 grams of sugar per serving — mostly from added sugar. This equates to nearly 4 teaspoons (1).

For reference, the most recent Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend limiting daily calories from added sugar to 10% of total calories, or 12 teaspoons per day for someone following a 2,000-calorie diet (7).

Studies show that excess added sugar consumption may put you at a higher risk of several chronic conditions, including diabetes, obesity and heart disease (8).

While some granola bars opt to use sugar alcohols or artificial sweeteners to cut down on sugar content, these have been linked to health problems as well.

For instance, sugar alcohols like xylitol and sorbitol are not fully broken down in your body and may cause digestive issues in people sensitive to their effects (9).

Other artificial sweeteners like aspartame, sucralose and saccharin are approved for use by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

Still, research suggests that they may interfere with blood sugar control and could negatively affect your beneficial gut bacteria (10, 11).

What's more, many granola bars are highly processed and include ingredients like added sugars, vegetable oils, preservatives and artificial flavors.

Studies indicate that high consumption of processed and sugary foods can increase your risk of metabolic syndrome, which is a group of conditions that can lead to diabetes, stroke and heart disease (12).

Summary

Granola bars are often highly processed and contain added sugar, artificial sweeteners and sugar alcohols, which can negatively impact health.

How to Select a Healthy Granola Bar

When selecting a granola bar, it's important to check the ingredient label carefully and choose products made mostly from real foods, such as fruits, nuts and grains.

Additionally, look for a product with less than 10 grams of sugar, at least 5 grams of protein, and at least 3 grams of fiber to help keep you feeling full in between meals (13).

As a general rule of thumb, steer clear of granola bars that list sugar or other sweeteners within the first three ingredients. Note that ingredients are listed in descending order by weight.

Plus, choose products with limited ingredient lists (14).

If you're watching your weight, take a look at the calorie content and stick to bars with fewer than 250 calories per serving.

Alternatively, you can opt to make your own granola bars using just a few simple ingredients.

To get started, combine the following in a large bowl:

  • 2 cups (312 grams) of oats
  • 1 cup (200 grams) of nuts (almonds, walnuts, pecans, pistachios, etc.)
  • 1 cup (220 grams) of packed dates
  • 1/4–1/2 cup (65–130 grams) of nut butter
  • 1/4 cup (60 ml) of maple syrup or honey (optional)
  • mix-ins, such as dried fruit, coconut flakes, or chocolate chips

Be sure to pulse the dates in a food processor for about one minute and warm the nut butter and maple syrup or honey in a saucepan before adding them to the mixture.

Stir the ingredients together, add the mix to a lined baking dish or loaf pan, and allow it to set in the freezer for 20–25 minutes. Then slice, serve and enjoy.

Summary

Healthy granola bars should contain a good amount of protein and fiber with little added sugar and fewer calories. They're also easy to make at home and require just a few simple ingredients.

The Bottom Line

Granola bars are a convenient, flavorful, and portable snack.

Still, many prepackaged varieties are high in sugar, calories and ingredients that may harm your health.

Studying ingredient lists carefully or choosing to make your own granola bars can ensure that your snack is both nutritious and delicious.

Reposted with permission from our media associate Healthline.

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