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Friday, March 18, 2016

Choosing a Smart Granola Bar

Ranging from borderline-candy-bar to super high in nutrition, granola bars can be a tricky choice at the supermarket.  Factor in you’re family’s personal tastes, and you might think it’s impossible to find the right granola bar.  Here are a few tips to shop smarter when it comes to granola bars. 

Look past the name or label.  Granola bars, snack bars, energy bars, cereal bars, breakfast and power bars may all run together in one's mind and while a lot of the naming is driven by marketing, there are a few differences:  Granola bars are generally composed of oats, snack bars more often contain more fruit and nuts and other grains, energy bars are generally higher in calories and are more processed.  For example breakfast bars generally are in the 200-220 calorie range while traditional granola bars tend to have about 100-140.  Don’t let things like “cookie” or “organic” make you think it is a more nutritious choice. 

Short Label.  Ingredient list should be your first stop when choosing any food and granola bars are no exception.  Whole grain should top the list and looking for a list as short and understandable as possible will reduce the degree of processing and unnecessary fillers.  

Fiber Dilemma.  Since American’s get about 50% of the recommended daily fiber intake, looking for a good source of fiber is helpful.  Fiber keeps not only helps with regulating digestion, but it keeps your fuller longer.  But beware – there is another side to unusually high fiber granola bars.  Often the isolated fibers that are added can bring unwanted side effects.  Chicory root or chicory root fiber is a source of inulin - an undigestible fiber that can help feed the bacteria in our colon - but it can also cause a lot more gas and bloating in certain individuals.  It is commonly used in  granola bars and other low-calorie foods since it is a calorie free filler that adds bulk.  If you tend to have similar digestive problems, you might want to stay away from the high fiber granola bars. 

Protein pros and cons. Americans are far from deficient in protein, so protein doesn’t need to be a driving force in shopping for a granola bar.  However, if you are looking for a little extra protein at snack time, then make sure that your proteins are coming from understandable food sources (nuts for example).  Keep in mind that the high protein granola bars are generally higher in calories (usually the fat from nuts) and often fall into the chicory root fiber trap.  

Don’t overlook the option of making your own.  You could involve your kids in the process which not only gives them some cooking skills, but it also puts them more in control of healthful eating.

Simple No-bake Granola bar:
1 cup dates – chopped to a paste in food processor
¼ cup nut butter
¼ cup honey
1 cup nuts chopped (I love cashews and almonds)
1 ½ cups rolled oats – toasted
½ cup dried fruit (I love dried cherries and blueberries)

Melt the nut butter and honey together in the microwave for a minute until soft and easily combined. Mix all ingredients together in a bowl, then press into an 8x8 baking dish that is lined with parchment or plastic wrap.  Chill in the refrigerator for about 30 minutes.  Cut into 12 bars and store in air tight container – can individually wrap and freeze for longer storage. 

1 bar: 195 calories, 26 g carbohydrates, 4 g fiber, 6 g protein

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