Granola bars are the Swiss Army knife of snacks: they’re small, portable, napkin-free eats that can tackle a variety of situations. But not all bars are created equal, and unfortunately these tasty bites can be loaded with more sugar than a Pumpkin Spice Latté and so low in fiber and protein that hunger will come knocking before you’ve even tossed the wrapper.
So when faced with the ever-growing granola bar selection, how do you pick a smart snack over a smartly marketed candy bar? Here’s what dietitian Jessica Garay Redmond says are the top three things to check before you chow down:
- Keep sugar in check. When you’re looking for a snack, choose a bar with less than eight grams of sugar. Need to replace a meal? Opt for versions that have a similar amount of sugar and protein gram for gram. And don’t forget that “natural” sugars (brown rice syrup, tapioca syrup, honey, maple syrup) can still contribute to sugar crashes and lead to weight gain and a host of other health issues
Consumption of added sugars and indicators of cardiovascular disease risk among US adolescents. Welsh J.A., Sharma A., Cunningham S.A.,et. al., Nutrition and Health Science Program, Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta, Atlanta, GA, Circulation. 2011 Jan 25;123(3) High-fructose corn syrup.
- Make fiber and protein your friends. They’ll keep you feeling fuller longer
Dietary fiber and body weight. Slavin, J.L. Department of Food Science and Nutrition, University of Minnesota, St. Paul, Minnesota. Nutrition, 2005 Mar;21(3) Effects of a high protein diet on body weight and comorbidities associated with obesity. Clifton, P. Baker IDI Heart and Diabetes Institute, University of South Australia, Adelaide, SA, Australia. The British Journal of Nutrition, 2012 Aug;108 Suppl 2and ensure you don’t chow down on everything in sight later.
- Investigate the ingredients list: Look for ingredients you recognize. (What are you, soy protein isolate?) And a good rule of thumb is to hold the ingredient list to fewer than 10 items—but less is always more.
Ready to grab a bar and go? Check out our lineup of 15 bars that are actually healthy below. Every snack bar clocks in at or below 200 calories and seven grams of sugar, packs at least three grams of fiber, and is made with totally pronounceable ingredients. And when you need a more substantial bar, our top meal-replacement picks are all between 200 and 300 calories and have at least three grams of fiber. Since they’re replacing a meal, these guys are slightly higher in sugar than their snacky counterparts, but we hold them at 14 grams or below and—important—keep the protein around that same number to prevent sugar crashes.
Raise the Bar
This 100-calorie bar packs a lot of punch in a small package. It’s vegan friendly, gluten-free, and has a base of antioxidant-packed chia seeds. Plus, the flavor comes from real apples and cinnamon. Bar type: snack Calories: 100 Fiber: 4g Protein: 3g Sugar: 5g
These little bars are packed with enough chocolate chips to satisfy a major sweets craving—without the sugar crash. Made with whole-grain oats, they’re like a guilt-free chocolate chip cookie. Pair it with a yogurt to up the protein count.Bar type: snack Calories: 110 Fiber: 3g Protein: 1g Sugar: 7g
A little sweet, a little spicy—no, we’re not describing your ideal OKCupid date. This bar hits all the right flavor notes, includes oft-ignored cashews, and throws in inflammation-reducing ginger for an extra immunity boost. Bar type: snack Calories: 200 Fiber: 5g Protein: 6g Sugar: 4g
Ginnybakes Karma, Love, and Apricot Ginnybar
This bar has more going for it than its name. Luscious apricots and nuts blend with a dash of sea salt and vanilla for a gluten-free/vegan/Paleo bar that’s nothing but good karma.Bar type: snack Calories: 190 Fiber: 4g Protein: 4gSugar: 7g
This sassy little bar is full of kick. Three types of chilis (oh hey, habanero) are mixed with chocolatey nuts for a bar that’ll leave you wanting more—but later in the day, because it’s got enough fiber and protein to keep you satisfied for hours. Bar type: snack Calories: 200 Fiber: 7g Protein: 6g Sugar: 5g
Who can resist an oatmeal cookie? Annie’s version includes organic cinnamon and raisins to give this bar an authentic cookie taste without weird preservatives, colors, or even gluten. The calories are low enough to make it the perfect companion to a handful of almonds to bump up the protein and feel fuller longer.Bar type: snack Calories: 110 Fiber: 3g Protein: 1g Sugar: 7g
Dreaming of a beachy locale while parked at your desk? Larabar’s Cocoa Coconut might add a little reality to that head trip. A variety of nuts—almonds, pecans, and cashews, to be exact—get tossed with cocoa nibs, pumpkin seeds, and toasted coconut for a sweet taste with the right amount of crunch. Bar type: snack Calories: 200 Fiber: 3g Protein: 5g Sugar: 5g
Nuts for nuts? This is the bar for you. A blend of almonds, peanuts, and walnuts are drizzled with chocolate and topped with sea salt for a snack that feels like dessert. But it’s low in calories and high in fiber—and satisfaction. Bar type: snack Calories: 200 Fiber: 7g Protein: 6g Sugar: 5g
Almond butter, dark chocolate, and coconut—three of nature’s best ingredients (and arguably three of the best things in life) meet in this high-protein, gluten-free bar. Big fiber and protein counts truly make this a pocket-sized meal. Bar type: meal replacement Calories: 210Fiber: 6g Protein: 10g Sugar: 13g
If you’re the type to go straight for the caramel turtles in any chocolate sampler, meet your favorite new bar. Pecans are smothered in dark chocolate for a sweet-and-nutty granola bar version of the classic confection. Bar type: meal replacement Calories: 220 Fiber: 3g Protein: 5g Sugar: 8g
Why should your morning mug get all the fun? Coffee beans meet and mingle with cashews, almonds, and coconut in this winning bar. And the seven whole-food ingredients are raw and Paleo friendly.Bar type: meal replacement Calories: 230Fiber: 3g Protein: 6g Sugar: 9g
Nut-butter fiends, take note: This bar gives you a super dose of sunflower seed and cashew butters. Walnuts, hemp protein, and almonds also join the party with a thin veil of chocolate covering the whole shebang. Bar type: meal replacement Calories: 230 Fiber: 5g Protein: 10g Sugar: 11g
Nibbling on a lemon pound cake—oh, you fancy, huh? Make your high tea a high protein one by adding this bar. A grand 10 grams of protein will help you flex those biceps while also curling your pinky. Bar type: meal replacement Calories: 210 Fiber: 3g Protein: 10g Sugar: 14g
No need to carve a jack-o’-lantern to get your pumpkin seed fix. This bar has you covered. And there’s enough protein and fiber here to keep you full and satisfied, even if Halloween candy is calling your name. Bar type: meal replacement Calories: 250 Fiber: 5g Protein: 11g Sugar: 9g
Despite having just three ingredients, this bar is no slacker. It’s got a whopping 20 grams of protein to keep you trucking through a long workout, and the almond-honey combo has just the right amount of sweetness. Bar type: meal replacement Calories: 280 Fiber: 4g Protein: 20g Sugar: 13g