It seems like there are thousands of options to choose from when looking at snacks for work or school. Muesli and nut bars are a popular choice because they are convenient and don’t require refrigeration, but don’t be fooled by names like “Mother Earth” or claims such as “no added sugar” – even the healthiest, most natural sounding bars can be filled with some sort of added sweetener and potentially have little to no nutritional value.
Ideally, a good snack bar should contain less than 10g of sugar per 100g, have no or minimal sweeteners added and contain at least 3g of fibre per serve, if possible delivered through nuts or wholegrains.
A good amount of protein would be an added bonus, otherwise a snack bar could be paired with a higher protein food (such as yoghurt) for a well rounded snack.
The table below compares some of the most popular lunchbox choices for both kids and adults, as well as some healthier sounding alternatives from the health food aisle:
Here are my top 3 choices for lower sugar snack bar options:
Well Naturally no added sugar superfood chia bar – this bar is sweetened with polydextrose (classified as a soluble fibre), meaning it is much lower in sugar and higher in fibre than most bars without compromising on taste. Nuts add healthy unsaturated fats for sustained energy and chia seeds provide a dose of omega-3’s.
Barley seven seeds bar – this bar is sweetened with a small amount of brown rice syrup and has a variety of seeds added for a sustained release of energy and omega-3’s. The bar uses the barley max grain which is higher in insoluble, soluble and resistant starch, making it a good source of prebiotics for a healthy gut.
The Bar Counter salted caramel and banana bar – again has no added sweeteners, so the sugar content mostly comes from dates and bananas.
It is worth mentioning that the Emma and Tom’s cacao and coconut life bar and Kez’s free and naked popcorn bar both had >40g of sugar per 100g. This is where most people would fall into the trap of clever marketing hype on packaging.
While those sugars do mostly come from dates and dried fruit, and are a better alternative to table sugar, it doesn’t diminish the fact that the bar itself still contains a large amount of sugar.
Incorporating a more natural bar with such a high sugar content might be a good idea before an intense training session. However, to provide lasting energy at work or school, in more sedentary environments, excess sugar intake (from any source) won’t provide a sustained release of energy.
Nut and muesli bars are a convenient snack option, but as you can see from the above list, there really aren’t too many that fit the set criteria. There are some options that should be avoided altogether – things like LCM bars and K-time twists are full of added sugars, low in fibre and don’t have any nutritional value (such as wholegrains, vitamins and minerals).
Where necessary the top 3 bars could occasionally be included as a snack option, while the Emma and Tom’s and Kez’s bars can be included as a less processed, higher carbohydrate pre-training snack.
Bottom line: your best bet will always be to eat the individual ingredients in their most natural form – have a handful of nuts instead of a nut bar or sprinkle some natural muesli on top of greek yoghurt for a more nutritious and sustaining snack option.