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Ask Dana: Are Granola, energy, and meal replacement bars really healthy?

QUESTION:

Dear Dana,

For a long time, I have wondered how healthy it is to eat granola bars, energy bars and the like. There are so many to choose from in the stores – I never really know if they are a good option or not.  Sometimes I think they might be like just eating a candy bar.  I would really like to have some guidance on how to find a good bar to have around the house – something that helps me manage my blood sugars and keeps me satisfied between meals would be great!

  • Alma Johnson, St. Paul, Minnesota

are granola bars healthy

ANSWER:

Alma,  This is such a great question.  Granola bars, energy bars, and meal replacement bars are all over and it is getting difficult to determine the healthy options from the “junk.” 

Food manufacturers do a good job of marking things “organic” or “nutritious” and it is hard to decipher if that is true.  Remarkedly, the meal replacement manufacturing business has grown to be over $5 billion in the past five years – that is a lot of bars to choose from!

While defining what is a healthy bar, we also need to determine the purpose of that bar:  is it a meal or a snack to help manage your hunger between meals?

A meal replacement bar typically has between 200-400 calories and includes a mix of carbohydrates, protein, and fat.  An energy or protein bar is designed for snacks between meals or around sports and exercise.  A snack bar typically has less than 200 calories and might have a higher percentage of carbohydrates or protein instead of a balanced mix of fat, protein, and carbohydrates.  It is important to use these categories when choosing a bar – a meal replacement bar might look harmless enough but eating several of them for snacks over time will lead to weight gain.

As for finding a healthy meal replacement bar, look for bars that have more than 5 grams of fiber and have close to 10 grams of protein.

It is great if the bar also has a good amount of healthy fats as well (If the bar has nuts in it, it will also have these healthy fats).

The combination of fiber, protein, and fat will keep you full longer and help you not overeat at the next meal.  These macronutrients also help manage blood sugars after eating them. In addition, I suggest looking at the added sugar grams on the nutrition label and try to limit that as much as possible, so you know you are eating a quality carbohydrate and not “junk food.”

Using meal replacement bars can be helpful to manage your weight and help with weight loss.

Bars can make it easier to count calories and choose good options when healthier food choices are limited.  It is, however, easy to overconsume these bars and forget to include them in your meal plan.  Remember, meal replacement bars do not have the same nutrition value as fresh fruits and vegetables and can often lack sufficient fiber and protein even if you are a diligent label reader.  If you are including them as a meal, oftentimes it is helpful to pair them with fresh fruit or protein-packed yogurt.

As is the case with any nutrition question or concern, IDS providers are always happy to help guide you in your quest for a healthy diet – whether it be for weight loss or diabetes management.  Give us a call if you need more individualize guidance!

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