Your grocery store snack aisle is jam-packed with “power” bars, fortified granola bars and other high-fiber bars thanks to the recent marketing explosion of these products. Based on their labels, they seem like healthy snacks for your kids — but are they?
Many snack bar boxes barely have enough room to tout all the ingredients. Consider a “fiber-filled, high-protein, chocolatey-peanut butter granola energy bar.” It almost sounds too good to be true. Turns out, it probably is.
“Many snack bars tend to be highly processed and lacking any real nutrition,” says Tara Todd, RD, LD, a registered pediatric dietitian at St. Louis Children’s Hospital. “Also, not all fiber is created equally. Some ‘fake fibers’ can be added to foods that make us think these products contain a lot of heart healthy fiber but they don’t.”
Understanding the Fiber Factor
Fake fibers? Todd explains that the FDA is now allowing ingredients such as polydextrose, inulin and maltodextrin to be considered “fiber” for labeling purposes, though none of these has been shown to have any of the health benefits of traditional fiber. These same ingredients are being added to a range of foods that don’t normally contain fiber, such as ice cream, yogurt and even some cereals.
“For healthy fiber, rely on fruits, vegetables and whole grains,” Todd advises.
Cereal bars marketed to kids aren’t a good choice either, she adds. “That white stuff in the middle is not milk! The gold standard for breakfast is a bowl of whole grain cereal, milk and a piece of fruit.”
So-called energy bars are not any better. “An energy bar is not the first thing a child should reach for as a snack or before an athletic event,” Todd says. “A better choice would be combining a carbohydrate and protein. For example, trail mix made with whole grain cereal, nuts and dried fruit.”
She advises that kids eat snack bars sparingly and only when in a real crunch for time. “We never want anyone to skip breakfast so if a bar is your child’s best bet for breakfast, then choose wisely!”
How to Choose Wisely
While non-processed foods are always a better choice, Todd does have some tips on how to choose a healthier snack bar:
- Always avoid trans fat. If the words “partially hydrogenated” are on the ingredient list, the product contains trans fat.
- Assess the nutritional value by looking at the percentage of daily value (% DV) on the label. Five percent is considered low; 20 percent is high. Fat, cholesterol and sodium should be on the low side; protein, fiber and vitamins should be on the high side.
- If sugar is the first thing on the ingredient list, it’s not a nutritious bar. Ingredients are typically listed in descending order, meaning the first ingredient is the most prevalent in the product.
Now for a healthy reality check, compare the complex list of snack bar ingredients, some natural, some not so natural, to the simple apple, which is also a fiber-filled, low-calorie, no-cholesterol, no-sodium portable snack, and a good source of vitamin C and anti-oxidants.
Power to the apple!