Pressed for time and feeling in need of a quick, healthy bite to eat? A growing number of us are turning to snack bars — convenient, portable, and often better for you than chips or cookies — as meal replacements or go-betweens.
According to a recent report from the NPD Group, a global marketing research and information firm, snack bar sales have been growing by double-digits annually in recent years at supermarkets, convenience stories, hotels and other retail outlets. Among the biggest sellers: Cereal bars, granola and diet/health snack bars.
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“Bars fit into that hectic lifestyle consumers are facing these days,” said Darren Seifer, food and beverage industry analyst at NPD in a statement issued with the sales figures. “When they’re typing at their desk or commuting to work and they have only one free hand, it certainly helps out with their rushed and hurried lifestyles.”
But not all snack bars are created equal. Some are laden with sugar and additives, while others contain as many calories as a candy bar. Experts at Consumer Reports recently evaluated two dozen snack bars in an effort to identify the best and the worst on the market, from a taste and health standpoint.
Their key conclusion: It doesn’t matter whether they’re called a protein bar, a cereal bar, or a granola bar, thereare bigdifferences in flavor, nutrition and price, which makes it important to read labels of any snack products you buy.
“Our trained tasters tried 24 snack bars in chocolate, peanut, and strawberry flavors” said the editors of the magazine. “Four taste very good, two fair, the rest in between. We also rated the nutrition of each bar.”
The experts’ conclusions:
Don’t buy by brand. Although the two Nature Valley bars tested by Consumer reports were very good, two Clif bars varied widely — one was tasty; the other is bitter.
Don’t spend too much. The two bars rated “just fair” cost at least $1.15 per serving, more than twice as much as many others.
Read labels. Calories in the bars tested ranged from 90 to 270 per serving; fat, from 2 to 9 grams; sugars, from 2 to 20 grams; fiber, from less than 1 gram to 9 grams. If you’re looking for fiber, as many people do at breakfast time, pick a bar with “fiber” in its name.
What follows are Consumer Reports findings on the best and the worst of the bars tested.
- Clif Crunch Granola Chocolate Chip: Price: $3.11 per package; 62 cents per serving. Nutrition: Good. Calories: 190 calories. Fat: 8 grams fat. Sugars: 12 grams. Fiber: 3 grams fiber. Flavor: “It’s crispy and crunchy with a nice flavor of toasted grains and honey plus a few chocolate chips.”
- Market Pantry Peanut Sweet & Salty Granola Bars (Target). Price: $2.10 per package; 35 cents per serving. Nutrition: Fair. Calories: 170. Fat: 8 grams. Sugars: 11 grams. Fiber: 1 gram. Flavor: “This sweet store brand winner has a big roasted-peanut flavor with a nice hint of honey and toasted grains. But the bottom coating was a little waxy.”
- Nature Valley Crunchy Oats ’n Dark Chocolate. Price: $2.90 per package; 48 cents per serving. Nutrition: Fair. Calories: 190. Fat: 7 grams. Sugars: 12 grams. Fiber: 3 grams. Flavor: “Crunchy and not overly sweet, these bars have a tasty balance of flavors including toasted grains, honey, and cocoa.”
- Nature Valley Sweet & Salty Nut Peanut. Price: $2.93 per package; 49 cents per serving. Nutrtion: Fair. Calories: 170. Fat: 9 grams. Sugars: 12 grams. Fiber: 2 grams. Flavor: “A very tasty combination of sweet (honey) and salty (roasted peanut) flavors. But like the Target bar, its bottom coating was a tad waxy.”
Better for you:
- Kellogg’s Fiber Plus Antioxidants Chewy Bars Chocolate Chip. Price: $2.92 per package; 58 cents per serving. Calories: 120. Fat: 4 grams. Sugars: 7 grams. Fiber: 9 grams
- Flavor: “The big chocolatey flavor reminded testers of sweet, cheap, mass-produced chocolate—think store-bought chocolate cake mix vs. homemade chocolate cake.”
- Kellogg’s Nutri-Grain Cereal Bars Strawberry. Price: $2.86 per package; 36 cents per serving. Calories: 120. Fat: 3 grams. Sugars: 11 grams. Fiber: 3 grams. Flavor: “Though it wasn’t as candylike as the other strawberry bars we tasted, this cakelike bar’s jam filling was a bit pruney, and the bar had hints of baking-soda flavor.”
Not so hot:
- Protein: Consumer Reports rated the following two protein bars the most expensive taste-tested and only fair, at best, for flavor and nutrition: Clif Builder’s 20g Protein Bar Chocolate Peanut Butter (Flavor: “Crispy and nougat layers; bitter, chalky, chemical taste.”) and Pure Protein High Protein Bar Chocolate Peanut Butter (Flavor: Gritty, chalky, pasty, chemical taste).
- Chocolate: These snack bars rated poorly for things like stale flavors and gritty textures: Cascadian Farm Organic Chocolate Chip Chewy Granola Bars, Fiber One 90 Calorie Chewy Bars Chocolate, Kashi Dark Mocha Almond Chewy Granola Bars, Nice Oats & Chocolate Fiber Chewy Bar (Walgreens), Quaker Chewy 90 Calories Low Fat.
- Strawberry: These bars drew poor scores for poor taste and nutrition: 365 Everyday Value Strawberry Cereal Bars Low Fat (Whole Foods), Kashi Ripe Strawberry Soft-Baked Cereal Bars, Kellogg’s Special K Pastry Crisps Strawberry, and Market Pantry Strawberry Cereal Bars (Target).
- Peanut: These bars rate low for such qualities as artificial flavors and unpleasant mouthfeel: Fiber One Chewy Bars Oats & Peanut Butter, Great Value High Fiber Oats & Peanut Butter Chewy Bars (Walmart), Kashi Peanut Butter Chewy Granola Bars, Kellogg’s Special K Protein & Fiber Granola Bars Chocolatey Peanut Butter, Luna Nutz Over Chocolate Whole Nutrition Bar, Quaker Chewy Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Granola Bars, and Zone Perfect Nutrition Bars Chocolate Peanut Butter.
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