Photos by Amanda Sabga, Words by James Odum
Picture this: You find yourself between classes and you are absolutely starving. You walk into the closest City Convenience store and begin the quest for a healthy, on-the-go snack. You need something substantial; an apple or banana just won’t cut it. Aha! A cereal bar! Perfect. As you browse through the myriad of snack bars, your senses are assaulted by the fluorescent, plastic-wrapped healthy goodness: Protein! Fiber! All Natural! Sounds great, right? Think again. When it comes to processed foods, you really can’t get more “processed” than a snack bar. Frankly, 80% of the time you might as well eat a Snickers. However, all is not lost. Here's a quick and dirty snack bar survival guide, so you can control that hunger with confidence.
- Steer clear of yogurt and chocolate coatings. “Yogurt” and “chocolate” coatings pretty much translate to added sugars. While the sweetness from dried fruits should be enough, a chocolate craving is better fulfilled by a bar with mini-chocolate chips.
- Avoid “protein” bars. Those work-out geared protein bars usually pack a heavy caloric load and a bunch of artificial sugars and added protein supplements (think Clif bars). Unless you’re a professional athlete, you probably don’t need 10% of your daily protein in bar form.
- Read the ingredients. Before you look at the nutritional information, read the ingredients list. Make sure it’s short and made up of things you can pronounce. Bars with whole grains, nuts, and fruit are usually your best bets. This is especially important with some of the lower calorie bars, like the Special K varieties: they might be low in calories, but they have no nutritional value.
- Read the nutritional information. Now you can move on to the nutritional panel. Think about how hungry you are and when you plan on having a meal. Some of these bars, even the healthy ones, run up to 240 calories.
Honestly, there are only two brands of snack bars I even look at: Lärabar ($1.59) and KIND ($1.69). Both brands have a huge range of flavors and are made (mostly) with good stuff. Unfortunately for the student wallet, snack bars are an item where price reflects the quality of ingredients. I recommend going online and buying in bulk to see some substantial savings.
Lärabar is by far the least processed snack bar out there, with ingredients ranging from 5 to 6 items, mostly made of puréed fruits and nuts. KIND’s bars offer a lot more sweetness and texture than Lärabar’s offerings, but they tend to have one or two additives (usually binders and sweeteners) that some might not be comfortable with. If you can’t make up your mind, why not go for a pack of almonds or pistachios? Then you really don’t have to worry about any crazy ingredients.