Granola bars are usually small-size bars. They are often made with oats and may contain dried fruit and nuts.
Cereal bars often use dry breakfast cereal as one ingredient in the bar. They may also contain dried fruit or nuts.
Sports bars are larger in size, often containing more calories, protein and carbohydrate than cereal or granola bars.
Meal replacement bars contain at least 225 calories per bar, and have protein and added vitamins and minerals in certain amounts. They must have less than 35 per cent of the calories provided by fat. In Canada, special labeling laws apply if a bar is to be used to replace all the meals in a day, a meal once in a while, or is to be used as part of a weight loss diet.
These bars may have the same amount of calories as your usual meal. However, they may contain less of the filling fibre that keeps you from feeling hungry before the next meal. Keeping blood glucose levels within your target range is an important part of feeling well. If you know the amount of carbohydrate that you usually eat in a meal, you can look at the label to check how closely the bar matches the amount you would eat.
If your usual lunch is a sandwich, an orange and a glass of milk, your meal would contain about 52 grams of carbohydrate. Eating a meal replacement bar that contains 30 grams of carbohydrate will not replace all the carbohydrate you normally eat at lunch. You may have a low blood glucose reaction (hypoglycemia) as a result. Another meal replacement bar may contain more carbohydrate than you usually eat, in turn giving you higher blood glucose levels.
A meal replacement bar may also be more expensive than your usual lunch, while lacking the vitamins and minerals you get from eating a variety of foods.
To find out more about your snack choice, check the Nutrition Facts on the label. The Nutrition Facts, which are printed on all food product labels sold in Canada, list the calories, carbohydrate, protein, fat and fibre in each bar. Granola bars usually range from 107 to 160 calories per bar. High-calorie granola bars may be dipped in chocolate, be frosted or contain nuts and seeds. Cereal bars range from about 90 to 127 calories per bar. Sports and meal replacement bars range from 200 to 225 calories per bar.
Carbohydrate has the most effect on blood glucose levels, so check the Nutrition Facts label to compare the carbohydrate in different bars. The total amount of carbohydrate will be listed, followed by how much of that carbohydrate is sugar and fibre. In this example, there are 24 grams of carbohydrate in one bar. A medium orange contains 10 grams of carbohydrate, so this bar will give your body the same amount of carbohydrate as eating two and a half oranges. Notice the amount of sugar in this granola bar - of the total amount of carbohydrates: about half come from sugar.
When comparing different brands of snack bars you may notice that some contain more sugar than others. In the end, it is the total amount of carbohydrate that is most important. Bars with fewer carbohydrates affect your blood glucose level less. Sports bars and meal replacement bars tend to have more fibre than cereal or granola bars. Cereal and granola bars often contain less than 2.5 grams of fibre (that’s half a teaspoon of fibre). Sports and meal replacement bars usually contain more than 2.5 grams of fibre per bar. A higher fibre bar keeps you feeling full longer and takes more time to digest.
Snack bars often contain fat, especially when flavoured with chocolate, caramel, nuts, seeds or frostings. Extra fat adds extra calories, so look for bars with the lowest amount of total fat listed. Saturated and trans fats are types of fat that can raise your cholesterol levels. If you are trying to follow a low-cholesterol diet, choose snack bars containing the least of these fats. In our sample label, the granola bar contains 4.9 grams of fat. A teaspoon of butter or margarine contains 5 grams of fat, so eating this bar gives your body the same amount of fat as in a teaspoon of butter. Several snack bars do contain less than 2.5 grams (half a teaspoon) of fat. Reading food labels and checking the amount of fat can help you find the lowest fat bars.
Some bars list the Canadian Diabetes Association’s Food Choice symbols on the food label. This information can help you decide how a snack bar will fit into your usual meal or snack.