Exactly What the U.S. Army’s Nutritionist Looks for in a Snack Bar

Photo: Stocksy/Jeff Wasserman
The process of selecting a nutritious energy bar can be a dizzying task. New brands pop up on the market each day with more flavors than you can find at Baskin-Robbins. But when it comes to finding the most wholesome option to throw into my gym bag, I have to admit I usually just panic, grab one at random before swiftly exiting the convenience store to make it to class. That is, until now. Stand at attention, reader, because I'm about to report back exactly what matters on the label of an energy bar.

Maj. Brenda Bustillos, PhD, a nutritionist with the U.S. Army, told me exactly how to scan the nutrition label to find a packaged snack that will deliver in energy and satiety. In an interview, Dr. Bustillos shared hows to decode the shelf of whey-based, vegan, and nutty power bars.

How to choose the healthiest granola bar, according to the U.S. Army's nutritionist:

1. Check out the serving size

While most bars will contain only one serving, that's not the case with each and every one. "Numbers on the Nutrition Facts label can be deceiving if you don’t look at the full picture," warns Dr. Bustillos. So before you move on, make sure you know whether you'll need to multiply the other nutritional values to accurately calculate the calories, fats, carbs, fiber, and more.

2. Note the fat content

"If a bar contains more than 20 percent of your Daily Value of saturated fat, I recommend looking for a better option," says the nutritionist. "Don’t be afraid of total grams of fat, as many sources of fat are heart healthy and can help with satiety."

3. Choose a bar with less than 10 grams of sugar

While the aforementioned fats are oh-so-filling, one with too much sugar may heighten your blood sugar levels. In general, a bar with less than 10 grams of sugar fits the bill. Dr. Bustillos has one caveat. "Keep in mind, there are some great bars that have zero additives and are made mostly of whole grains, real dried fruit, and nuts. These bars will have more than 10 grams of total sugar per serving, so make the best decision for you," she says.

4. Find a bar that packs at least 8 grams of protein

Since the whole part of eating a protein bar is to, um, eat protein, make sure you're getting a good amount in your afternoon snack.

5. Pick an option with more than 4 grams of fiber

Women need about 25 grams of fiber per day for good digestion and satiety. So a bar that checks off four or more of them is a score, says the nutritionist.

Dr. Bustillos doesn't name the bars that meet these criteria, but I did a little bit of nutrition label snooping to identify them myself. Now that you know your stuff, you can do the same—but you can go ahead and stock up on the following options right now:

  1. KIND Protein Bars, Almond Butter Dark Chocolate: 18 percent of your daily value of saturated fat, 14 grams of sugar, 12 grams of protein, 5 grams of fiber
  2. RXBAR, Pumpkin Spice, Protein Bar: 5 percent of your daily value of saturated fat, 13 grams of natural sugar, 12 grams of protein, 5 grams of fiber

Here's the how to fold your shirts like they do in the U.S. Army. And here's how to train for the fitness test

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