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

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  • 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

 LÄRABARQuest BarRaw CrunchClif BarKit’s OrganicKind
Cost Per Bar (prices will vary)$0.92$2.39$2.50$0.99+$2.08+$1.19+
# of Ingredients2 – 981017*No more than 813+
Added Sugar?NoYes (sucralose)Yes (honey)Yes (brown rice syrup, cane sugar)NoYes (glucose, apple juice)
What We LikeMinimal, non-processed ingredientsNot much unfortunatelyHandmade in small batches, organic, non-processed ingredientsContains rolled oats, walnuts, & bananas*Minimal, organic ingredientsContains 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 sugarNada!Added fiber, soy lecithin, vegetable glycerine, refined sugar
Extra InfoGluten, Dairy & Soy Free, non-GMON/ARaw (contains living enzymes), paleo N/A N/A N/A

*We looked at the Banana Nut Bread Bar


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! Or, try these Healthy Snack Ideas!

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

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  1. 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).

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

  3. 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.

  4. 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.

  5. 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.

  6. 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!

  7. 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..

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

  9. 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.

  10. 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!!

  11. 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?

  12. 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.

  13. 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!

  14. 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.

  15. 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 :)

  16. 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!

  17. 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!


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

  18. 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!

  19. 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). :)

  20. 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!

  21. 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.

  22. 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!!

  23. Critical Reader

    Hi Kiran,

    The ingredient list on the Raw Crunch Bar does not match their nutritional information. Honey is listed on the 10th position, but the bars are supposed to have 18 % sugar. None of the other ingredients can account for that sugar amount. It seems like someone was creative with the ingredient list. Also, the first four ingredients are sesame seeds, sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds and cashew – all pretty cheap, but the 28 g bar costs USD 2.50 – that equals USD 40 for one pound. Together with the outrageous claims (“protein, if eaten raw from plant food is better absorbed and less is needed”, “living enzymes”) that bar should be put on the deceptive products list.
    It is just amazing how a few buzz words (minimally processed, raw, organic, etc.) make people spend 40 bucks per pound of sunflower seeds.

    1. Thanks for your concern and attention to detail. The sugar content in our bars is composed of the honey as well as the fruit and/or dark chocolate added. Please keep in mind that all of our ingredients are high quality and organic. We encourage people to make their own health bars, however our goal is to let food be food and provide the convenience, and well as the quality ingredients that you would use in your own kitchen. Our process does not differ much either, we have been hand-mixing, forming and dehydrating our bars in very small batches since 2003. Most of our customers are repeat buyers because they appreciate quality and they can tell the difference in our product. When foods are cooked at high temperatures much of their vitamins and minerals are damaged, or destroyed by heat. Our bars are dehydrated at very low temperatures for a long duration, rather than cooked at high temperatures on an assembly line in a matter of minutes. Our process ensure that the protein is not denatured and all the vitamins, mineral and enzymes are intact. This in turn makes it easy for your body to recognize and absorb. Have a beautiful day.

      1. Critical Reader

        Could you please tell us how much % honey you are using? I cannot get your ingredient list in line with your nutritional information. How do you explain that every single of your bars has the exact nutritional make-up although different ingredients are used?
        According to the nutrition facts on your packages your bars are a major source of Vitamin E. Vitamin E is heat stable. And also minerals are not destroyed by heat. Could you please correct that information on your web page or provide evidence on how minerals can be destroyed by heat? Could you also provide information on how an intact (active?) enzyme would be beneficial when ingested. Which enzymes are you exactly referring to? Did you perform any tests showing that the nutrients in your bars are better absorbed than nutrients in bars heated at a higher temperature?
        Many people consider European food regulation superior to the US American one. I do not 100 % agree with that, but there are a few nice features in Europe. For instance, random health claims are not allowed and manufacturers have to provide scientific proof.

      2. Yes, I am happy to provide information on how intact enzymes are beneficial when ingested. According to the pioneer of enzyme research, Dr. Edward Howell, Raw foods (foods heated under 118 degrees) are enzymatically alive which means these foods have active enzymes within them to help digest 40 to 60% of that particular food. Since cooking destroys enzymes, cooked and processed foods are enzymatically dead which means there are no live enzymes within that food to help with digestion. These dead foods place a lot of stress on the digestive system, the pancreas, the immune system, the whole body.
        Drs. Reginald Garrett and Charles Grisham in their book “Biochemistry.” You depend upon digestive enzymes to help you break down the carbohydrates, proteins and fats that you eat into smaller chemical particles that your intestine can absorb into your bloodstream.
        According to Dr. Edward Howell, we are all born with a ‘bank account’ full of enzymes. Every time we eat raw foods, we put enzymes in our bank account. Every time we eat cooked or processed food, or food with no enzymes, we must pull enzymes out of our bank account to help us digest the food.
        It is important to eat about 50% or more of raw plant food with each cooked meal when possible. There are approx. 1,800,000 species that eat raw food, yet only one that eats cooked.
        As far as your question on cooking and mineral loss in foods, According to Vanderbilt University, a 1990 study published in the “Journal of Nutritional Science and Vitaminology” found that cooked foods contained about 60 to 70 percent of the minerals calcium, copper, iron, magnesium, manganese, phosphorus, potassium, sodium and zinc found in uncooked foods. Boiled, soaked, parched, fried and stewed vegetables lost the most minerals. Water-soluble nutrients, such as thiamin, folic acid and vitamins B6 and C, are especially affected by excessive cooking, according to the University of Kentucky and Harvard Medical School.
        Lastly, our ingredient proportions are confidential and the FDA recognizes that food manufacturers do not need sacrifice their trade secrets by disclosing exact proportions. Our company has, however, taken the proper steps for all of our calculations. Thank you and I hope this answers your questions.

      3. I agree with you that heat destroys enzymes, but equally does the digestive system. Enzymes present in food are not relevant for digestion. The human body continuously produces enzymes and is not dependent on enzymes provided by food.

        Minerals are not destroyed by heat. Actually, in solid foods, the mineral content is determined from the ash – that means the sample gets literally burnt. The losses in mineral content with food preparation are due to washing out the minerals with water, etc. If you take a nut and just roast it you are not losing any minerals.

        I agree with you, many vitamins are heat sensitive, but some are not. Vitamin E is not heat sensitive and that is the only vitamin which is present in significant amounts in your snack bars.

        I am not asking you for a full disclosure of the percentage composition of your bars, I am only asking you for the percentage amount of honey used. The FDA proposed a change of the nutrition facts label that would require manufacturers to list the amount of added sugar. Lisa Leake has actually written about it here: and expressed frustration over the current label that does not allow customers to distinguish between naturally occurring and added sugars. In light of the FDA proposal the amount of honey used can hardly be consider highly confidential.

      4. Kathy:
        It’s like pulling teeth. Don’t we have a right to know what is in our food? Even the FDA acknowledges that consumers should be informed about the amount of added sugars. In your case, that is the 9th out of 10 ingredients. And you as the owner of the company can freely decide which information to disclose. Unless you have something to hide, I don’t understand why you would make such a big secret out of the honey content.

      5. The sugar content in our bar comes from either the naturally occurring sugar in the organic fruit or the raw honey (or the organic sugar from the dark chocolate and raw honey in the dark chocolate variety). Yes as the owner, I do have something to hide, that would be our trade secrets. The fact that it took us 5 years to get our proportions of ingredients just right to make a great tasting convenient product. If you do not like these sugar sources you should probably make you own. Thanks.

      6. Critical Reader

        I have no problem with the sugar sources, but I have a problem with your ingredient list. Telling me the percentage amount of a minor ingredient which you will anyways have to disclose by law in near future is not giving away a trade secret. I am not buying your crunch bars, because I consider them as highly overpriced and I don’t like your misleading advertisement.

      7. Critical Reader

        Hi Kathy, my I remind you about my last post. I asked you about the percentage amount of honey you use for your bars. Could you please answer that question.

  24. Good to know. I would love to see a follow up with good recipes for homemade granola bars. I have yet to find one that does not fall apart. Thanks! I love your posts.

  25. Wow this is such an informative post! I tend to only do LaraBars when I absolutely need to have a snack bar (or I usually make my own). But this list is helpful! It’s amazing how many granola/protein/snack bars are toted as healthy and all-natural but they are anything but. I’ll have to try some of the others you gave the stamp of approval!

  26. we love Lara bars! Also, we recently found an energy bar made by an Austin based company called Bearded Brothers. Their coconut Mango bar is yummy and filled with healthy ingredients! One more fav for us is That’s it bars….just two ingredients…that’s it lol :).

  27. I thought Kind bars were recommended by you somewhere previously? In a post? Cookbook? I’m so disappointed- we’ve been buying them at Costco and my kids love them. I thought they would’ve made the good list :/

    1. Kiran Dodeja Smith

      So sorry, Ashley. They are under Amy’s Pantry Real Food Rule Benders which means that they don’t completely fall under Lisa’s rules. Sorry for the confusion!

      1. Ok thanks, so I’m not completely imagining things :). I guess if they’re a rule bender than they’re better than a lot of other brands, just not the #1 choice. I’ll have to keep my eye out for the other recommended brands at the stores I currently shop at (Wegmans, Costco, Giant). Thanks for the reply!

  28. This is a great overview for snacks. , especially snacks for kids. But what I dont think is clear enough in this post, especially looking at the comments here, is that limiting audience. For me (a competitive triathlete), I need different nutrition than many people. So Quest or ALT or another bar with added sugar, protein, fiber is exactly what I need.

    Also – my favorite Kind variety (almond coconut) has minimal ingredients – almonds, coconut, honey, sugar, crisp rice, and chicory root fiber. Please give credit where credit is due!