As incessantly busy Penn students, it can be hard to plan and make time for food—much less healthy food. In fact, much of the food that we rely on to quickly curb our hunger while on–the–go is unhealthy. Take granola bars, for example. In 2016, the New York Times reported that almost 70 percent of Americans considered granola bars to be healthy—meanwhile, less than 30 percent of nutritionists agreed. This is because the majority of snacks available on–the–go are highly processed, meaning sugar, artificial flavoring, and fat are all added to enhance taste. Or—and just as frequently—the foods are completely stripped of their nutrients to make costs cheaper and production easier. So, what’s a budget, time, and health–conscious Penn student to do? Stop eating granola bars? We don’t think so: here’s a compilation of nutritional criteria to look for the next time you reach for a health bar snack.
The most important thing to avoid is mass amounts of added sugar. A quick glance at the nutrition label will uncover some easy clues about sugar content. Many brands disguise sugar by listing it as "tapioca" or "brown rice syrup" on the nutrition label. This is very common in bars that claim to be “all natural” or “organic.” A glaring example of this deception is Clif Bar, whose first ingredient more often than not is some form of syrupy sugar. Not to rag too heavy on Clif Bars, but most of them contain more calories and just as much sugar as a regular Snickers bar (Ed note: this is insane). Long story short: you might as well eat a Snickers if you’re already planning on eating a Clif Bar—you'll probably have a better time anyway.
Overall, a good rule of thumb is: if the first ingredient is sugar, move on to the next bar! If you really are looking for a bar that will satiate your sweet tooth, turn to one that is naturally sweetened by fruits like dates and cherries—or, make sure that any added sugar is one of the last ingredients on the label. The American Heart Association recommends consuming no more than 25 grams of sugar a day for women and 38 grams for men, so keep this in mind when checking the nutrition facts. Look for Lärabars, which often contain just five or six ingredients. KIND bars are also a good option, although they often contain added sugar. At least, they're made of real food like nuts and fruits as opposed to the Luna Bar, for example, whose ingredients list is comprised of oats, at least five different oils and syrups, “natural flavors,” and palm kernel solids.
If you’re looking for a bar to stave off your hunger for a long period of time—like, you’ve got back to back to back classes that day—try to find a bar with higher levels of protein. But wait—not too much protein. We only need around 45–46 grams of protein on a day without exercise, and some snacks, such as PowerBar ProteinPlus, contain nearly an entire day’s worth of protein in just one bar. While protein is a necessary component of any healthy diet—and nutrition bars with higher levels certainly help to keep you fuller, consuming far more than you need is unnecessary and may have detrimental health effects.
Long story short: avoid sugar disguised as “healthy” and don’t consume more protein than a small horse would. Choose bars that contain mostly whole foods, like fruits and nuts. Eating on–the–go does not mean that we must sacrifice our health—we just have to know what to look for.