Ideally, we’ll get the vast majority of our nutrients from real, whole foods that come from nature. Realistically, this isn’t always possible; and sometimes we need a healthy snack alternative to get us to our next meal. Nutrition bars are a go-to for many, and there is a wide variety to choose from. Some are hands-down better than others, so knowing which ones to choose and which to avoid is key for making the healthiest decision.
Unfortunately, a lot of popular nutrition bars on the market today are packed full of added sugars, artificial flavoring, and coloring agents, along with binders, preservatives, etc. Knowing how to read ingredient labels is important (this actually goes for any processed food), and always keep in mind that the shorter the ingredient list, the better. If you see a long list of words you don’t recognize and can’t pronounce, this is usually a bad sign.
Without further ado, here are top five on-the-go nutrition bars:
Lara Bars are widely sold not only at health-food stores (Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s, etc.), but often at conventional grocery stores as well. They have a very short ingredient list and combine tasty and satisfying flavors like almonds, walnuts, coconut, dates, and blueberries. These bars have no added sugars, although they are high in natural sugars from dried fruit; so eat them in moderation. Lara Bars aren’t particularly high in protein but are made of 100% whole food ingredients, so they definitely make the list.
The ever-popular Clif Bar brand has finally added a whole foods product with their Kit’s Organic Fruit and Nut Bar. Similar to a Lara Bar, Kit’s Organic Bars are made from nuts and dried fruits and contain less than 250 calories each. They also don’t offer much protein and are fairly high in sugar, but don’t include any added sugars or artificial ingredients, which is a huge plus.
Raw Revolution Bars are more likely specific to health food stores,but are an excellent option if you can find them. The founder of the company is a natural food chef and nurse, and her bars are lower in sugar than Lara and Kit Bars. They also contain nuts and dried fruit, but provide extra booster foods like spirulina and sprouted flax seeds. All in all, these bars offer more nutrition, but they do use agave nectar, which can be hard on the liver.
Quest bars are significantly higher in protein (around 20 grams), which makes them a better choice for a pre- or post-workout bar. They are also high in fiber and have a sweet taste, so they aren’t a bad option as a healthy dessert alternative (or as a snack to ward off sugar or candy binges). Certain flavors of the Quest Bars do contain the artificial sweetener sucralose, but others don’t: Opt for cinnamon roll, coconut cashew, strawberry cheesecake, or chocolate peanut butter. All in all, Quest Bars are better than the above options since they’re higher in protein and fiber and lower in carbs and sugar; they do however contain artificial ingredients.
Kind bars are the least healthy of these five options, but probably the healthiest of the nutrition bars that you can find just about anywhere (including airport mini-marts). What’s not so great is that these bars do contain quite a few artificial ingredients (soy lecithin and glucose syrup, for example), but the dark chocolate nuts and sea salt variety is surprisingly low in sugar, coming in at just five grams. These bars are also pretty low in protein and do contain added sugars, but are not a bad option in a pinch. Just be sure to avoid the flavors that have over seven or eight grams of sugar.
How to Make Your Own Nutrition Bars
Why not make your own nutrition bars? Instead of wondering if the endless store-bought versions are healthy or not, you can actually make them quite easily in the comfort of your own kitchen, and they keep well. These can make a great snack for the adults and kids in your family and can satisfy a sweet craving almost as well as those boxed cookies you might have hidden in the cupboard. Inspired by well-known nutritionist and author Nora Gedgaudas, this Chocolate Energy Ball recipe is surprisingly simple and healthier than your average, packaged nutrition bar.
Chocolate Energy Balls
1 cup peanut or almond butter (no added sugars, preferably)
1 cup of nuts or seeds (your choice, can be walnuts, pecans, almonds, pumpkin seeds, etc.)
2-3 tablespoons of ground chia or flax seeds
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa or raw cacao powder
3/4 cup unsweetened, shredded coconut flakes
5 tablespoons softened coconut oil or butter (also sold as coconut manna)
Optional: 1/2 cup of your favorite protein powder
- First, grind your nuts and/or seeds using either a food processor or coffee grinder.
- Next, simply mix everything together in a big bowl, adjusting your quantities if needed. It’s pretty hard to mess these up, so if the consistency is too dry, add more coconut oil; if too wet, add more shredded coconut or ground nuts.
- Once everything is combined, form them into balls and layer in a Tupperware or any other container using parchment paper in between your levels. No cooking is necessary; you’ll just need to refrigerate them for about an hour or place them in the freezer for 20 minutes.
- They’re ready to go! Store in the fridge for about a week, or in the freezer for a few months.
While store-bought or homemade nutrition bars should never replace a diet consisting of real, whole, and nutrient-dense foods, they can be part of a healthy diet every now and then. Because most bars are relatively high in sugar, it’s best not to make them a habit; but for a once-in-a-while snack, opt for the top five we’ve discussed here.