Granola bars are great-tasting and convenient, and they are a seemingly obvious choice for health nuts. They may bring to mind thoughts of hearty whole grains and healthy habits such as hiking.
The trouble is that they are not always so healthy. If you select a standard granola bar from the shelf and check the nutrition label and ingredients list, you may be in for a rude shock. They can be high in sugar, carbohydrates, and calories, and contain ingredients such as added sugars, refined grains, and unhealthy fats.
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With these in mind, is it okay to have granola bars when you are trying to lower blood sugar and prevent type 2 diabetes? It is possible if you are careful! Here are some tips for using granola and snack bars to satisfy hunger with prediabetes.
Sugar Load from a “Health Food?!”
Higher consumption of added sugars is linked to higher risk for type 2 diabetes, as well as weight gain and other health concerns, according to an article in Food and Nutrition Research. However, when you start your day with a granola or cereal bar, or a two-bar serving, you may be getting 7, 11, or more grams of sugar. Chocolate and yogurt-flavored coating typically add even more sugar.
To put that in perspective, the World Health Organization suggests keeping sugar consumption to under 5% of total calories, which works out to 25 grams per day on a 2,000-calorie diet. The American Diabetes Association recommends that you “minimize added sugars.”
Harvard School of Public Health points out that cereal bars and ready-to-eat cereal, such as granola, can be among the common sources of added sugars. Where do all these sugars come from? They can easily have three or more types of added sugar, such as sugar, honey, rice syrup, fructose, high-fructose corn syrup, brown sugar, and cane syrup, for starters.
Tip: when selecting a granola or cereal bar, look for a kind with 6 or fewer grams of added sugars per bar, or less than 10 grams of sugar per 2-bar serving.
Processed versus Whole Foods
Before you even get a chance to check the sugar content and list of ingredients, the first red flag you may notice with store-bought granola and cereal bars is that they are packaged – which means that they are processed.
The American Diabetes Association suggests choosing whole, less-processed foods over more-processed ones. Doing so can help you limit unhealthy components such as:
- Added and hidden sugars.
- Unhealthy fats such as palm oil or hydrogenated oil.
- Refined grains such as white rice.
When looking for a granola bar, you can get more “whole food goodness” by checking for ingredients such as:
- Almonds, hazelnuts, walnuts, or other nuts.
- Sunflower, chia, or flax seeds.
- Peanuts or peanut butter.
Tip: Check the nutrition facts panel on the label for a bar that has at least 2 grams of fiber per 100 calories. That means it likely has whole grains or other high-fiber ingredients.
Weight Management with Granola Bars
A concern with granola bars is that they may make it harder to lose weight, even though you may be eating them to help you lose weight! The trouble is that they are very calorie-dense, which means that they have a lot of calories in a small serving.
They are likely to have about 100 calories in a single ounce. In comparison, for 100 calories, you could have 6 ounces of plain non-fat yogurt, 4 ounces of low-fat cottage cheese, 2 cups of cut cantaloupe, or a large apple. You could even have 5 ounces of oatmeal! Those are all bigger, more filling choices for those 100 calories.
To put it another way, the serving size for a granola bar may be 1 to 2 ounces. That would be the size of ¼ banana, 2 strawberries, OR ½ egg. You would not try to make a meal out of one of those choices, would you? Of course not!
To make granola bars part of your weight loss plan, it may help to pair them with foods that are lower in calories but more filling. The following examples can be on-the-go snacks or meals that are just as convenient as granola bars.
- Granola bar plus hard-boiled egg.
- Granola bar plus ½ cup cottage cheese.
- Granola bar plus 1 orange.
Tip: When planning a meal, most healthy granola bars count as starch and fat. That means that adding some lean protein and a vegetable or fruit can give you a calorie-controlled, balanced, and filling meal.
Making Your Own Anti-Diabetes Granola Bars
Making your own granola bars lets you control exactly what goes into them. It takes less than 20 minutes (plus cooking time) to make a batch of snack bars that can last you weeks or a month. Here is an easy recipe idea that uses nutritious foods.
- 5 mashed ripe bananas
- 3 cups of oats
- 2 teaspoons of vanilla
- ¾ cup peanut butter
- 2 beaten eggs
Mix all of the ingredients together and press the batter into a greased 9”x9” pan. Bake at 350 degrees for about 20 minutes or until set. Cut into 27 1”x3” bars and freeze them so that they care ready when you need them.
If you don’t want to bake, you can make no-bake bars by skipping the eggs. Then use plain Cheerios, or unsweetened shredded wheat or puffed brown rice cereal.
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Tip: You can vary the recipe by swapping almond or cashew butter for peanut butter and/or adding your choice of: cinnamon, baking cocoa, nuts, seeds, diced apples, blueberries, and/or lemon zest.
A good granola bar can tide you over on the busiest of days, but many of the granola bars on the market are not the best for health or weight loss. Too many of the less-healthy type can get in the way of efforts to lower blood sugar and reduce risk for type 2 diabetes.
Lark Diabetes Prevention Program can help you make healthy lifestyle changes to lower risk for diabetes. The simple tips can help you fit good choices into any lifestyle to achieve lasting weight loss and health gains.