Food and Nutrition

‘I’m an RD, and This Is the 4-Step Formula for Finding Snack Bars That Are *Actually* Good for You’

Erin Bunch

Photo: Getty Images/Eva-Katalin
For years, I've made a solid attempt to choose to nosh on raw vegetables, nuts, fruit, and other such whole foods over snack bars, and I finally accomplished it... temporarily, while living in lockdown, relieved of the "so busy" rhythm of modern life. Now that things are a bit more hectic again post-vaccination, however, I've found myself reaching for wonderfully convenient snack bars once more. After all, it's truly difficult to beat a pre-packaged snack when you're on the go. Fortunately, there's no need to abstain from them altogether, because there are healthy snack bars out there—you just have to know how to best assess their nutritional makeup.

"When looking for a snack bar, there are certain criteria that I find important," says nutritionist Keri Gans, MS, RDN, and author of The Small Change Diet. Below, she and Whitney English Tabaie, MS, RDN, CPT, creator of Plant-Based Juniors, share the four things they say you should check out on a nutrition label before peeling back the packaging on your next snack bar. 

4 labels to read that will help you find the most healthy snack bars

1. The ingredients list 

The first ingredient in your snack bar should be a whole food, such as almonds, apple, or dates, says GansThe rest of the list should be short, and consist mostly of recognizable ingredients as well. "Whole foods can provide all the nutrition you need from a snack bar including protein, complex carbs, and fat—no need for a bunch of artificial or overly-processed filler ingredients," agrees Tabaie. 

2. The protein content 

Both experts say that they'd recommend a bar with at least five grams of protein, though Tabaie says she might even bump that up to six grams. "About fifty grams is the recommended 'daily value' for protein, and if you divide that by four—meaning three for meals, and half a meal times two snacks—you'd want six-point-five grams of protein at a snack."

If your bar of choice is an all-fruit bar, which would naturally be low in protein, Gans says you should pair it with protein-rich foods like cheese and nuts for a more complete snack.

Protein is important because it supports and strengthens your cartilage, bones, and muscles, boost your immune system, and regulates many bodily functions. It will also up the satisfaction and satiating factor of your snack.

Find the top vegan and vegetarian protein sources according to an RD in this video:

3. The fiber content

Along with protein, fiber helps with satiety, so the more your bar has, the more satisfied you will feel post-snack. Both experts say that three grams of fiber is a good amount to look for. Fiber also helps to regulate digestion, improve heart health, prevent type 2 diabetes, combat inflammation, and reduce your risk for cancer.

4. The sugar content 

When it comes to sugar content, however, less is more. Tabaie recommends looking for bars that have less than five grams of added sugar. This rec is based on the American Heart Association's recommendation that added sugars be limited to less than 25 grams per day for women. "Less than five grams of added sugar would be less than ten percent of the daily recommended value, which allows it to be categorized by the FDA as 'low in sugar'," she says. And if you can find a bar naturally sweetened with fruit, say both she and Gans, that's even better.

4 nutritionist-recommended healthy snack bars

rxbar-pumpkin-spice-bar
Photo: Amazon
Pumpkin Spice Rx Bar, 12-Pack — $25.00

Gans stans this RXBar, which boasts zero grams of added sugar, 12 grams of protein, and three grams of fiber—all for just 210 calories. “I love the addition of natural spices, cinnamon, and cloves,” she says.

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Photo: Amazon
That’s It Apple + Blueberry Fruit Bar, 12-Pack — $18.00

“An adult fruit roll-up doesn’t get any better than this,” Gans says. “With only apple and blueberry as ingredients, it’s hard not to include this in a roundup of snack bars when you get two whole servings of fruit [in each bar].” She suggests having this alongside a handful of nuts or a string cheese to add some protein into the mix.

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Photo: Amazon
KIND protein crunchy peanut butter, 12-count — $18.00

“I love this bar because its first ingredient is whole peanuts, and it contains six grams of heart-healthy fiber—which is hard to come by in a snack bar,” says Gans.

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Photo: Skout
Skout Organic Protein Bar Variety Pack, 12-Pack — $30.00

Tabaie, meanwhile, just has one GOAT pick: the snack and protein bars from Skout Organic. “They’re organic, plant-based, and made with minimal, whole-food ingredients like seeds, nuts, and fruit,” she says. “They contain no added sugars and are simply sweetened with fruit.”

The protein bars for adults, she says, contain ten grams of protein, six grams of fiber, and zero grams of added sugar. They also contain essential minerals like iron, magnesium, and potassium. “The kid’s bars are similarly awesome—zero added sugar and a good amount of protein and fiber,” she adds. “Plus, my son loves them, which is always a top criterion!”

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