Everyday shopping: Snack bars

We show you what to look for when it comes to choosing a healthy snack bar.

Choosing a healthy snack bar can be a bit like walking across a minefield: most of them present themselves as healthy, but in the back of your mind you know all is not what it seems. There are, however, some better bars on the shelves. Here’s what to look for when you read the snack bar label.

We recommend a snack bar which has a high percentage of whole grains, nuts, seeds and fruit – these ingredients add fibre, contain healthy fats, and dried fruit adds sweetness so the amount of any added sugar is minimal. The snack bars we trialled, with the exception of Weight Watchers cereal bars and K-Time Twists, were made up of more than 50% whole grains, nuts, seeds or fruit.

Some baked cereal bars are a good option if you want a bar lower in energy. Unless the bar is a lot smaller, bars with a high content of nuts and seeds are going to be higher in energy because nuts and seeds are around 50% fat – albeit good fat.

Two baked cereal bars which seem to have a good balance of low-energy, low-saturated fats and sugars, and are higher in fibre are K-Time Twists (2.4g fibre) and Weight Watchers’ bars (5.7g fibre per bar). The latter has added polydextrose, a soluble fibre which also adds sweetness.

Kiwis still have one of the highest rates of heart disease in the world, and saturated fats are one of the reasons why. So for a healthy snack, avoid snack bars which have a high percentage of saturated fat and added sugars. These resemble cake-like treats and chocolate-enrobed indulgences. If you are going to have chocolate, keep the amount small and savour it.

Fibre is important for our health but it also makes food more filling. If a snack bar has a low fibre content, you may not find it very satisfying. Some of the bars do add fibre, which is fine, but those snack bars with a good proportion of whole grains, nuts, seeds and fruit will naturally be higher in fibre.

Fibre doesn’t have to be listed on the nutrition information panel. For snack bars, however, fibre is important so we recommend avoiding bars that don’t include a fibre listing on the nutrition information panel.

For anyone watching their weight, go for a bar with less than 600kJ. The Be Natural trail bars based on five whole grains are only 490kJ each. If you are active and need a higher-energy snack, the higher-energy nuts bars are a convenient option and good food.

If you keep snack bars on hand in the car or office drawer, make sure you don’t reach for them when a cup of tea or drink of water may do the trick. An extra 500-600kJ every now and then will add up pretty quickly.

Any examples of better choices for snack bars we have used in the attached download were correct at time of publication, however  it’s important to remember to check the ingredient formulation and nutrition information of your favourite snack bars every so often, as manufactures sometimes change ingredient formulations which can affect the overall nutrition makeup of the product.


First published: Jan 2009

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