Friday, 12 December 2008

Boxes and boxes on the wall, who's the fairest of them all?

If you have visited the granola bar section of you local grocery store recently, there is no doubt you have been a little more than confused. Chewy, crunchy, sweet n' salty, yogurt or chocolate dipped? The choices are endless, taste-wise at least, but what about health-wise?

Rather than naming names, it is more useful to learn what makes a healthy granola bar by reading the nutrition label. Here are the facts:

1. Check out the bad fat (Saturated and trans fats combined) content: aim for 10% or less.
2. Fiber is your friend: aim for 2g or more per serving.
3. Mind the sugar: there are not specific values but aim for the lowest amount. The general healthy range you will find is 6-10g of sugar.

REMEMBER- Certain healthy ingredients can increase the amount of sugar in your bar. For example, any dried fruit like cranberries, dates or apple will add to the amount of sugar indicated on the label. So if you are debating between two bars that have similar fiber and bad fat content but different sugar content, think about where the sugar is coming from- dried fruit or chocolate chips?

Same thing can be said for the fat content. A healthy granola bar does not have to contain zero fat- the type of fat makes a big difference. For instance, if the bar contains high fat but healthy ingredients such as flax seeds or nuts, the fat content may be higher than one that does not contain these ingredients. For example, Kashi makes a granola bar called Honey Almond Flax granola bar. It contains 5g of total fat and 3% bad fat. Compare that bar with their Cherry Dark Chocolate bar, which contains 2g of fat and 3% bad fat. The Honey almond bar may contain more fat BUT the "extra" fat is good fat since both contain the same amount of bad fat. The flax seeds and the almonds add to the fat content.
What about those 100 calorie bars? are they better for us because they are only 100 calories? Lets compare: 100 calorie Leclerc Chewy bar contains 2.5g of total fat, 8% of which is bad fat, only 1g of fiber and 10g of sugar. Nature Valley's Oats n' Honey crunch bar (both pieces) contains 6g of fat but only 3% of the fat is bad, 2g of fiber and 11g of sugar. As a result the Nature Valley bars are high in calories but the calories are of much higher quality.
One last note to make is obvious- keep your selection simple. The more stuffing or dipping means more bad fat and sugar. Leclerc's famous Chocomax nougat bar contains 5g of fat, 13% bad fat, 0g of fiber and 18g of sugar. Compare that to Leclerc's other brand of granola bar- Vital (4g of fat, 2% bad fat, 5g of fiber and 10g of sugar) and we are talking about 6 1/2 times more bad fat, almost double the sugar and no fiber. It is a better choice than a chocolate bar but most definitely not for an everyday snack. Even the seemingly harmless yogurt dipping generally increases the sugar and and fat content.
Bottom line- read the labels with the focus on fat, bad fat and fiber content, not calories.
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