You know as well as I do there are so many, perhaps too many, snack bar options available. It is overwhelming and would take not 1 minute short of an hour to look through all the snack bars at your local Whole Foods Market. So what do many of us do when we’re looking for a healthy on-the-go snack bar option and don’t have time? We ask our own food expert. I’m sure you have a person you ask for recommendations on vitamins, supplements and healthy snacks. Lately, I have been perturbed by the healthy snack bars that have been recommended to people I talk with in my daily life. That’s where this post comes in.
Let me begin by saying it is extremely difficult to find a truly healthy snack bar product. And it is my experience and belief that simply because all ingredients contained within a snack bar product are readable and natural, that doesn’t give it my stamp of approval. The one bar that I have been hearing so many women snacking on recently is the Larabar. Larabar brand has 19 flavors of its original Larabar product, which are composed of natural ingredients. I applaud Larabar for only using natural fruits and nuts in their bars. But here’s the problem I have with the bars. The average Larabar contains 20.16 grams of sugar. That’s a ton of sugar – natural or not.
So how does this over 20 grams of sugar fit into your daily diet? The World Health Organization’s recommended daily sugar intake for adults is 5% of daily caloric intake. For a normal weight adult eating 2,000 calories per day, that equates to 25 grams of sugar per day. This is TOTAL sugar recommended every day. And if you’re daily calorie consumption is 1,600 calories/day, then your recommended sugar intake would be 20 grams. The average Larabar would put you over this recommended daily amount.
And if you say, “so what? It’s natural sugar – as long as it’s natural it’s okay.” In my opinion, this is very wrong. Our body processes sugar as sugar, natural or not. According to Time’s article, “The Truth About Fat”, here’s how that process goes: Once sugar is ingested, it is converted to insulin, which makes fat cells go into storage overdrive leading to weight gain. Since this leaves less calories to fuel the body, we begin to get hungry even as our metabolism slows down to conserve energy. This begins a vicious cycle where we eat more and gain more.
I’m not saying enjoying a Larabar before an intensive workout is bad. I definitely don’t have a problem with that. I would rather enjoy nuts or seeds, maybe even a fresh whole fruit before a workout, like a handful of blueberries, raspberries or blackberries. But we are creatures of habit and seems to me when you begin incorporating a Larabar (or other snack bar) into your life, it may soon be something you eat daily and treat as a “healthy” part of your daily diet. Add on that ice cream or dessert you have at the end of a long summer day and you may be close to 50 grams of sugar in just 1 day. It doesn’t take much to get there.
What can you do to make sure you and your family stay healthy by not consuming too much sugar in your daily diets?
– eat real food ingredients, but be mindful of starchy carbs and sugars. I do not consume fruit daily, or weekly for that matter. But when I do indulge in fruit (yes, I said indulge as these contain a high amount of sugar) I choose berries as they are higher in fiber and antioxidants, and lower in sugar compared to other fruits.
– indulgent cakes, ice creams and other decadent unhealthy desserts should be treats enjoyed very infrequently
– snack on unprocessed natural, or even dry-roasted, unsalted nuts and seeds. Try roasting some cashews in your oven with coconut oil and a sprinkling of pink himalayan salt. Add your favorite spices and herbs – cinnamon, spicy chili, rosemary. So many options here.
– avoid or have an out ready in situations where you tend to let yourself go, or feel pressured to make poor food choices. Birthday parties at work ring a bell? Or the kids driving you crazy over the summer and you reach for any snack in site? Recognize these tendencies and make a plan to avoid the unhealthy snacking. What works well for me is carrying “safe” snacking foods on me at all times. Yes, it seems bizarre to always have food on one’s person, but it makes my life so much easier. Just saying no doesn’t always work because being the only person in a room not eating just doesn’t feel right. I grab whatever I have on me and join the crowd. And it feels great walking out of there knowing I don’t feel bad about what I just ate. In fact, the opposite holds true. If you don’t have any food on you and are in a position you feel pressured to join, just say “I’m on a restricted diet” or “I’m being tested for food allergies”. Although these may not be true (and being tested for food allergies doesn’t mean to avoid the potential allergens), I bet they will get you out of many situations.
– think before you eat. Download a food journal app and get into the habit of documenting what you eat BEFORE you actually consume it. This helps you really think before you eat, especially if the app calculates (or you have manually entered in) the nutrition of the food item. I’ve tried and liked MyNetDiary. If you document what you’re eating and drinking (along with workouts), it is easy to figure out why you have gained or lost weight. These tools make you more accountable to yourself and your health.
– when eating out, ask for your entree to be prepared plain, or with pepper only. That “light” sauce is most likely filled with sugars, oils and salt. You can always ask to have sauces placed on the side. Do your best to know what you are eating. Sometimes a restaurant will not be able to prepare an entree plain because the meat or fish or even vegetables have been marinated. My advice – order something that can be prepared plain because you just don’t know what is in that marinade.
– an alternate snack bar containing much less sugar (5g vs. 20g) that is a similar size as a Larabar is the Kind Bar Nut Delight. It’s not perfect, but it provides about the same amount of calories (200), more protein and fiber, less carbs and sugar than the average Larabar does.
– eat more healthy fats that will keep you full longer (nuts, seeds, avocados, salmon). My favorites are almonds and chia seeds. You can make a healthy chia seed pudding dessert easily – here’s a recipe for vanilla chia seed pudding. In this recipe, I would omit the honey or maple syrup and find a good quality stevia extract (make sure it is additive free and the only ingredient is stevia extract – no Truvia, Stevia in the Raw, PureVia). This will lower carb and sugar content.