Most people think of granola bars as a healthy – or at least healthier – alternative to chocolate and candy bars. But are they really better for you than more obviously sugary treats?
Most granola bars that you buy at the supermarket come packed with sugar, high fructose corn syrup, and genetically modified ingredients – making them a snack food wolf in sheep’s clothing.
Looking At The Ingredients
Most health food savvy shoppers know to check the ingredients of any prepackaged food before buying it. But interpreting that list of ingredients can take a lot of specialized knowledge.
Looking at the box of Nature Valley’s “100% natural” Sweet And Salty Nut granola bars, you can see that they contain high maltose corn syrup, sugar, and fructose, as well as canola oil and soy lecithin. What exactly are those ingredients, and what to they mean for our health?
Clearly there’s a lot of sugar in these treats – sugar and fructose are both sugars, obviously, while high maltose corn syrup is a food additive made with the sugar maltose that is used as a sweetener and preservative(1). While high maltose corn syrup is not as sweet as its cousin, high fructose corn syrup, both contain large amounts of sugar and can exacerbate gluten sensitivities. Both are linked to hypertension and metabolic syndrome(2), which can have serious long-term health impacts and aren’t limited to obesity-pathway mechanisms – meaning you don’t have to be obese to experience these negative health effects.
Soy lecithin is associated with weight gain, but more disturbingly it’s also negatively affected brain development in animal models(3).
Clearly these ingredients aren’t harmless. The amount of sugar contained in most commercial granola bar products makes them essentially nothing but granola cookies, and many of them also contain harmful ingredients like soy lecithin.
Avoiding Store-Bought Granola Bars
If you just can’t get enough of the crunchy goodness of granola bars, you’re not alone, and there is something behind your cravings – granola is high in fiber, which is not only essential for digestive health but is also great for keeping hunger at bay, because it fills you up quickly.
Homemade granola bars can be a good alternative to store-bought granola bars; they can be easily made with honey instead of all that sugar and high-fructose corn syrup, and when you make them yourself you have the obvious advantage of knowing what all the ingredients are and, hopefully, where they come from. Try making granola bars with dried fruit like cranberries or blueberries and raw cacao nibs to add antioxidants to these treats, giving them an extra healthy boost.
Eating healthy requires some extra time and a few sacrifices in terms of making your own food instead of choosing the more convenient, store-bought option, but your body will thank you in the long-run.