A Dietitian Shares Her Tips for Reading a Nutrition Bar Label
Guest Author: Amy Shapiro MS, RD, CDN
It might almost be 2020 but guess what? Nutrition bars are still a hot product and yes, picking a healthy one is still confusing to most people! With a laundry list of ingredients, from superfoods to hidden sugars, how can anyone be sure they aren’t actually just eating a glorified candy bar?
Have no fear, I’m here to help you navigate the colorful aisle one ingredient at a time because nutrition bars can be a healthy addition to your diet. In fact, I often recommend them to my clients for a variety of reasons from travel hacks to energy boosts and even breakfast on the run. What do I look for on the nutrition label? Let’s get to it!
Start with your macros (aka: protein, fats and carbs):
For satisfaction from a snack to a meal, having all your macros present is important to help you feel satisfied and to keep your energy up.
- Carbohydrates are important for fast energy, but sugars should be < 10g per bar. Fiber is also an important player and should come from whole foods rather than fillers such as inulin or chicory root. Aim for a minimum of 3 grams of fiber per bar.
- Fat is an important nutrient that helps us absorb fat soluble vitamins while keeping hunger at bay. However, too much fat can go the wrong way. Keep fat between 3 and 11 grams per bar.
- Protein is the nutrient that our body takes the longest to digest so look for a bar that contains more protein than sugar. It’s also important to find protein from sources you recognize. Egg whites, pea or hemp protein, nuts and seeds are all great sources. Remember you want to keep your food as close to “whole” as it can get, even when in a wrapper.
Zoom in on ingredients:
You always want to be able to recognize and pronounce the items that are making up your food. From protein to fat to sugar to vitamins, if you can’t read it, you shouldn’t eat it.
Sugars/sweeteners: My favorites include monk fruit, stevia and plain old sugar (organic is ideal). These taste the best and don’t have any nasty side effects such as gas, bloating, headaches or further cravings.
Superfoods: If you are going to eat a bar, why not also elevate your diet? Bars are great vehicles to help you consume healthy ingredients you don’t know what to do with otherwise. This category includes healing herbs such as adaptogens and mushrooms, antioxidant rich matcha and goji berries, ancient grains, probiotics for gut health along with anti inflammatory spices such as turmeric, cinnamon and ginger. Of course a bar made from straight up nuts, seeds, honey and spices work, too.
I hope you take this information with you the next time you shop for a healthy snack or bar. The aisles are crowded and mistakes can be made. So your first job is to flip the package and scan that list and label. We can’t promise you’ll have a ton of items to pick from once you filter out the bad stuff but we can promise you great results once you do. Eat well to feel well, you can thank us later!
Amy Shapiro MS, RD, CDN, is the founder and director of Real Nutrition, a NYC-based private practice dedicated to healthfully and successfully guiding clients to their optimal nutrition, weight, and overall wellness. She is internationally recognized for her individualized, lifestyle-focused approach, which integrates realistic food plans, smart eating habits, and active living. Through encouragement, education, and the right “tricks of the trade”, Amy believes that anyone can achieve their nutritional goals while still enjoying the foods and flavors they crave.