Senior nutritionist Rose Carr helps us choose the healthier options when it comes to these portable snacks.
It’s not unusual to have a stash of snack bars in the pantry, car or office drawer – depending on what we use them for. The more wholesome muesli bars can help keep us going when we are on the run, while others are more a sweet treat.
Types of bars
Some snack bars are genuine muesli bars – mainly oats or muesli. Many bars have chocolate or yoghurt-based coatings. There are nut bars, fruit and nut bars, those based on puffed rice and bars with a more cake-like texture.
If you’re looking for a healthy snack to keep you going, we recommend muesli bars with more than 50 per cent of their ingredients a combination of whole grains, nuts, seeds and fruit. These ingredients contain good fats and add fibre, and dried fruit is a good source of sweetness. For a sweet treat, we recommend looking for a low-energy snack bar which still meets our other criteria.
Keep in mind not everything you find on the supermarket shelf is designed to be a snack. ‘One Square Meal’ might look like two muesli bars in one pack, but as the name suggests, together these provide 2900kJ, one-third of average daily energy needs. And just four of their ‘bites’ amounts to 2900kJ. It pays to check the nutrition information panel.
The kilojoules in muesli bars vary widely. Once you’ve decided what type of bar you’re looking for, check the energy content. If you’re watching your weight, go for a snack with less than 600kJ. Others may need a higher-energy bar to help keep them going. Bars with nuts and seeds are a good choice for higher-energy bars, as nuts and seeds are around 50 per cent fat – good fats, not saturated fat.
Most of us get more than enough saturated fat in our diets, which is not good for heart health. We recommend you look for bars with less than 2g saturated fat per bar – lower is better.
Dried fruit will add natural sugars, along with fibre and nutrients from the fruit, whereas added sugars are pure sweetness and energy without any nutrients. We all like sweet things, but the trick is to not overdo it. We prefer snack bars with less than 10g sugars per bar.
Fibre is good for us and on average we don’t get nearly as much as we need for optimal health. Fibre also makes food more filling by slowing the rate of digestion. Bars containing more than 50 per cent whole grains, nuts, seeds and fruit will naturally be higher in fibre. Some bars have added fibre like inulin (which also adds sweetness) and polydextrose (which adds bulk for little energy). Look for bars with more than 1.5g fibre so you feel satisfied and don’t reach for another straight away!
Just because it’s a ‘muesli bar’, it doesn’t necessarily mean it’s better than biscuits. Some 'muesli bars' are best viewed as occasional treats. We've seen ‘muesli bars’ on shop shelves with 4-6g saturated fat per bar. Two Cameo Creme biscuits have 4.8g saturated fat.