Snack Bars: Real Food or Really Unhealthy?

By blog team member, Kiran. To learn more about Kiran, check out our team page!


Walk through any grocery store and you’ll notice the increasing amount of shelf space committed to snack bars. They’ve even invaded places like gas stations and have a decent retail presentation in stores such as Target and Walmart.

No one can argue that snack bars are not convenient. They are the perfect size for tossing into your purse, throwing into a lunch box, or taking with you when traveling. But if you buy those bars and pat yourself on the back for selecting a “smart snack” that’s nutrient dense, you may be confused like so many others. Because let’s face it, breaking down all the different bars can be just that – confusing. Laundry lists of ingredients that are hard to pronounce may make you falter, but when combined with a food label that shows lots of vitamins and minerals, it makes you second guess things. They’re healthy, right? Not so fast.

Snack Bars: Real Food or Really Unhealthy? on 100 Days of #RealFood

Pros and Cons of Popular Snack Bars

  • LÄRABARs have long been a favorite bar of ours. They contain minimal ingredients and no added sugars. They are readily available in many stores and are the perfect pick-me-up for adults and kids alike, offering sound, real nutrition.
  • Quest Bars have been touted as the #1 bar for athletes and others, and with claims of packing 20 grams of protein and 17 grams of fiber into a super sweet bar, I can see how they try to make that claim! But look a little closer at the ingredient list, and you’ll see very little that resembles anything found in your kitchen.
  • Raw Crunch Bars are made by a couple based in our beloved hometown of Charlotte, NC. The bars offer a tasty blend of seeds and nuts with just a touch of honey to bind the bar together. Growing in popularity, you can now find them easily at many health food stores.
  • Clif Bars were forever the choice of sustained nutrition for outdoor enthusiasts, but a closer look at their ingredient list may have you less enthusiastic. Beginning with organic brown rice syrup (aka refined sugar!), the list, unfortunately, goes downhill from there.
  • Created by Clif’s co-CEO, Kit’s Organic Bars are the world’s “better than their brother” bar (i.e., Clif) and are a far superior choice in my opinion. All ingredients are also organic – bonus!
  • Recently slammed by the FDA, Kind Bars give the appearance of being a better bar, boasting nuts and dried fruit, but don’t be fooled. The addition of other additives makes it a no-go in our book.

Snack Bar Comparison Chart

LÄRABAR Quest Bar Raw Crunch Clif Bar Kit’s Organic Kind
Cost Per Bar (prices will vary) $0.92 $2.39 $2.50 $0.99+ $2.08+ $1.19+
# of Ingredients 2 – 9 8 10 17* No more than 8 13+
Added Sugar? No Yes (sucralose) Yes (honey) Yes (brown rice syrup, cane sugar) No Yes (glucose, apple juice)
What We Like Minimal, non-processed ingredients Not much unfortunately Handmade in small batches, organic, non-processed ingredients Contains rolled oats, walnuts, & bananas* Minimal, organic ingredients Contains dried fruits and nuts
What We Don’t Like  Nada! Added protein & fiber, non-nutritive sweetener  Nada! Too many processed ingredients, added protein & fiber, natural flavors, refined sugar Nada! Added fiber, soy lecithin, vegetable glycerine, refined sugar
Extra Info Gluten, Dairy & Soy Free, non-GMO N/A Raw (contains living enzymes), paleo  N/A  N/A  N/A

*We looked at the Banana Nut Bread Bar

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Shopping Tips

Ingredients to look for when seeking a healthy bar:

  • Whole grains
  • Nuts
  • Seeds
  • Dried fruits (without added refined sugar)

Put down that bar if it contains these ingredients:

  • Refined sugars – Including (but not be limited to) sugar, cane sugar, cane juice, brown sugar, barley malt, fructose, high fructose corn syrup, dextrose, maltodextrin, agave, and more. Basically anything that includes the word “malt,” “syrup,” or ends in an “-ose.” We give a nod to those products with naturally occurring sugars from dried fruit or more natural added sugars used in moderation (such as honey and maple syrup).
  • Highly processed additives you would not cook with in your own kitchen.
  • Added protein, fiber, or caffeine.

What’s your favorite real food snack bar? Or, if you can’t make up your mind, you could always make your own! :)

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172 thoughts on “Snack Bars: Real Food or Really Unhealthy?”

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    1. Kiran Dodeja Smith

      I personally love the Cranberry Pecan Granola – love that it has organic ingredients including nuts and seeds and that it’s gluten free. It does have 7 g of sugar per serving, but that seems pretty normal for granola. The bars have quality (and not a lot of) ingredients and not too too much sugar for a packaged bar.

      Do you enjoy them?

    1. Amy Taylor (comment moderator)

      Hi there. I like Perfect Bars but they do have some more processed ingredients in their bars such as various powders and rice protein. Here’s an example: Peanut butter, organic honey, nonfat milk powder, organic rice protein, dried whole egg powder, organic flax seed oil, organic sunflower seed oil, organic olive oil, organic pumpkin seed oil, dried whole food powders (organic flax seed, organic rose-hip, organic orange, organic lemon, organic papaya, organic tomato, organic apple, cherry, red bell pepper, organic alfalfa, organic celery, organic kelp, organic dulse, organic carrot, organic spinach.

  1. Chrystal Foster

    I’m wondering if you have tried RX bars and if so, what are your thoughts. They are supposed to be fairly clean.

  2. Suggestions on bars that contain no nuts? I’d love to find one for my son who is allergic to peanut/tree nuts but is still minimally processed with no refind sugars/additives.

  3. my son takes a bar with him to school every morning but the center is nut-free…any suggestions for a great bar that DOESN’T contain nuts of any kind?? (or even made in a facility that does use nuts?)

  4. I use to workout a lot did cross fit for 3yrs and i was addicted to quest bars. I have had larabar but they seem to have a lot of sugar even tho there is no added sugar. And then i just came to my senses and just started eating fruits and nuts and real food. :)

  5. I just discovered That’s It bars at Kroger yesterday. They have two fruits in them and that’s it- no other ingredients at all. We grabbed a bunch of different flavored to try. So far they’re all kid and mom approved. I also like that they’re only about 100
    Calories instead of the 200 you so often see. My 4 year old doesn’t need a 200
    Calorie bar, especially since he usually wants something to go with it http://www.thatsitfruit.com/

  6. I get the whole “don’t eat added/refined sugars” matra (hard to live by sometimes, but I get it), but the chart leaves out the fact that Kind bars (at least, the ones I buy) are gluten-free, etc.
    Also, just curious as to why added protein and/or added fiber is bad in your book. I have a competitive athlete in the family (a swimmer that burns approx. 1500 cals per workout, depending on the day), so that added protein can be a lifesaver for me at times. This comment is not related to the Quest bars – we’ve never tried them (and I know this is not a forum for athletes) – I am just wondering about your theory on this – is it just the “added” word (ie, not naturally found in the ingredients) or something else? (Also, not a criticism to you…I love this site!) Thanks!

    1. Kiran Dodeja Smith

      Hi AJ,
      Thanks for your comment. Very valid points, and very well put. You are correct; we strive to obtain food by the original source, if you will. So fiber from it’s source, and protein the same, without “adding” it. With that being said, I do know that you are not the only one facing the challenges of your swimmer; many athletes are in the same boat. My suggestions would be:
      hard boiled eggs
      nuts
      nut butter sandwiches/on fruit (great for fiber + protein)
      chicken breast sandwich (or I’m sure you’ve done the plain chicken breasts + piece of fruit/vegetables)
      Not sure if that helps but I hope so!
      Kiran

  7. I’m looking for a bar that is low in sugar for my dad who has cancer. We’ve been advised to avoid sugar. The only ones we can find that use stevia also have a bunch of other weird stuff. I thought Larabars would be good but even though the sugar comes from dates, there is still a ton of concentrated sugar in them (and anything else I can find).

  8. Thanks for the list! Wondering what your thoughts are on That’s It bars!? Typically 2 ingredients…hence “that’s it”!! :-)

  9. My favorite bars are RXBARs. I like the peanut butter and my daughter loves the choc sea salt. We still only have them occasionally though.

  10. One ingredient that is a non-starter for me in snack bars or “health bars” is chickory root in any form. It causes intestinal issues in almost every single case. You end up extremely uncomfortable with horrific gas. Just not worth it.

  11. I heard Larabar is now owned by General Mills and contributed a lot of money to support Monsanto and support GMO use which is sad. Reason I stopped buying them.

  12. nice article! hope you get a chance to check out The YES Bar someday. i created it for my gluten and dairy free son precisely because everything else was so not healthy or not tasty! i never intended to start a company but there are a lot of us real foodies out there who need these quick portable real food snacks for real life with real kiddos! :) a super shout out to all the artisan companies helping reclaim our food system. and the customers who support us. we are all in this together!

  13. I have a Nut allergy too. I Make homade: 1 banana per 1 cup of oats, mix in whatever else you want. Raisins, chocolate, sunflower seeds, if you want a sweetener honey, your choice of sugar. Shapei into size and shape you want bake at 350 for 15 minutes for soft or longer until desired hardness..

  14. My problem is I am allergic to nuts – any suggestions on how to find healthy snacks/bars that are safe for me to eat?

  15. I’m wondering what you have against added protein in a bar? I am trying to get more protein into my diet, so opt for the higher protein bars. Unfortunately they are usually horribly sweet and high in sugar. I would love to find a not so sweet alternative that has about 20-25g of protein.

    1. Amy Taylor (comment moderator)

      Hi Jo. Added protein typically comes in the form of a processed isolated protein ingredient rather than a whole food ingredient.

  16. You missed a bar that is as tasty (not cardboard or powdery), but downright yummy! For outdoor enthusiasts and picky eating kids, the Tram Bar, Grizzly Bar, Tiki Bar, Handle Bar, and Stash Bar will please both. Would love it if someone would throw these organic bars into a test like this… Betting they’d win for health, nutrition, and taste!!

  17. I’m actually curious about sugar alcohol. I bought a protein bar called Think Thin and it claims 0g of sugar, but has sugar alcohol listed. i tried to do research but couldn’t really find anything about it. do you have any thoughts on it?

  18. I have been struggling with bars for a long time. In fact with any granola as well. My children have severe peanut and nut allergies. Are there any bars (or granola) that toucan recommend that don’t contain nuts or are processed near nuts?

    1. Make home made 1 banana per 1 cup of quick cooking oats. Mix in anything else that’s safe like raisins, honey, sunflower, pumpkin seeds, chocolate. Shape and bake at 350 at least 10 minutes then until desired hardness.

  19. Thank you for the great comparison chart! I add a little p’nut butter and flax meal to my breakfast larabar and often dip that into a dab of farm honey and raw seeds.
    Love Lara Bars!

  20. I realize the sugar in the Larabar comes from dates primarily so it is a natural sugar. However, when most of the bars are coming in at 18-20 g per bar, how can that be a good choice?
    The recommendation for children under 8 daily serving of sugar, in any form, is 12 grams or less.
    I’m interested to hear a low sugar, real food choice for bars. My kids love them and ask for them all the time. They are a travel treat only at this point in our lives due to price and ingredients.

  21. Most are not healthy. They’re high in calories and fat for the amount of food you’re eating, and often loaded with sugar. They’re just the product of good marketing campaigns (and yes, I’ve fallen for it in years past – not anymore though :)

  22. We travelled to the US a few years ago and I loved Lara bars! We can’t buy them here though, but I’ve noticed a proliferation of bars like them in the last year or so. I have stocked up on lots of date-based bars in the last year or so, but I find that I don’t end up eating them most of the time and they sit in my bag for what can’t be a healthy length of time!

  23. I’m new to this. could you explain why larabar 19 g sugar, cliff bar 23 g sugar, versus quest bar 2 g sugar are so different? thank you

    1. Kiran Dodeja Smith

      Hi Freddy,

      If you look closer at the Quest bar, it actually uses synthetic sweeteners. The sugar in LARABARS comes from the dates, which is a naturally occurring sugar. I hope that helps? Please let us know if you’d like more information on this!

    2. DONNA MASCI-BREDIN

      You say they have no added sugar, but thats not true.. The Larabar Peanut butter chocolate chip has added sugar…19 grams!!

  24. Larabars really mess with my blood sugar so I prefer something like the Raw Crunch that I make at home. Very few carbs, lots of nice healthy fat and protein. And, as others have pointed out, Larabar is now owned by the evil empire, so profits from them flow back to the parent company who fight GMO labeling….

    1. Here’s the last batch of Scott’s Divine Yum Yums that I made:
      ¼ cup sesame seeds
      ¼ cup hemp seeds
      ¼ cup raw cacao powder
      ¼ cup sunflower seeds
      ¼ cup of chopped almonds
      ¼ cup raisins
      ¼ cup cranberries
      ¼ cup currants
      ¾ cup almond butter
      Shredded coconut
      Mix all ingredients except coconut. Roll into balls. Roll balls in the coconut to cover.
      Lots of variations. Sometimes I use peanut butter, goji berries, more walnuts than almonds, some cinnamon – whatever I am inspired to throw in.
      Since it is mostly nuts and seeds, it’s high in protein and good fat, moderate in carbs, tastes great!

  25. I think it also depends on what kind of activity you are eating them during. For backpacking and climbing, the added sugar and protein in Clif bars provide additional energy while being light weight and requiring no cooking.

    On the other hand, so does homemade granola bars and trail mix, which we also put in our packs (Clif bars are for food/energy emergencies). :)

  26. Have you had the opportunity to try our IDLife His, Her, and Kids Bars? Certified Organic, Certified Gluten Free, Non GMO Verified, Kosher. Keyed to the needs of each individual group. Let me know if you’d like to try one. I love to share!

  27. Great post! Thanks for the information. Not all KIND bars have additives. I love the Strong variety that are savory rather than sweet. Really a great alternative to bars that taste like candy or dessert.

  28. This is a great share! I have women in my health and fitness group who swear by Quest Bars and are always sharing how good they are. I have tried to de-bunk that myth and point out that Sucralose is a no no, so I am grateful for your chart to help them choose more wisely in the future. Thank you!!