Ask the Expert

Are nutrition bars really all that healthy?

Alexis Madej, N08, a clinical dietitian at the Frances Stern Nutrition Center at Tufts Medical Center, gives the facts
nutrition bars
It is easy to become overwhelmed by the multiple varieties of nutrition bars available, with their wide range of calories and ingredients. Photo: Kelvin Ma
July 30, 2012

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Nutrition bars conveniently slip into purses, backpacks or briefcases and can just as easily be part of a healthy lifestyle. The key is to use nutrition bars as supplements to balance a diet of whole foods, rather than as a replacement for sensible eating.

Nutrition bars fit best as snacks, rather than meals, where you should balance your plate with vegetables, fruits, lean protein, whole grains and healthy fats. Still, snacks can fill long gaps between meals, or provide an energy boost for a daily workout.

A great combination for a satisfying snack is a mix of protein and fiber, such as low-fat yogurt swirled with fresh berries, almond butter spread on pear slices or a carefully selected nutrition bar.

It is easy to become overwhelmed by the multiple varieties of nutrition bars available, with their wide range of calories and ingredients, but a bit of investigation can steer you away from glorified candy bars. Look for a nutrition bar that meets the following criteria.

In the ingredients, look for:

—A short list of whole-food ingredients that are recognizable
—More oats, whole grains, nuts and dried fruit
—Less sugar and syrups
—No partially hydrogenated oils

In the nutrition facts, look for:

—Total calories: about 120 to 250
—Protein: 5 to 10 grams
—Fiber: at least 3 grams
—Sodium: less than 250 milligrams
—Fat: less than 2 grams saturated fat, and 0 grams trans fat
—Sugar: less than 10 grams

If you are always on the go, keep a bar stashed in your desk drawer, glove compartment or gym bag to ensure you always have a sensible snack on hand.

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