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. 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

  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
      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!