My Beef With Granola Bars
Alright, let's get clear on what a granola bar is and what it isn't. It's really simple: a granola bar is a snack.
It is not a meal.
I could end the post there, but I want to explain, because there are so many of us walking around granola bars like they are meals and believing we're making a healthy choice.
I almost feel a little guilty for even writing this post, because I do love me a good granola bar, so don't get it twisted. I'm not bashing granola bars as foods, I'm bashing them as meals.
Let's look at the stats for a few popular granola bars found in your average grocery store. (FYI - I eat these bars regularly, myself... just not as meals.)
Kashi Peanut Butter Whole Grain Chewy Granola Bars: 140 calories / 5g fat / 20g carbs / 5g sugar / 6g protein
One hundred and forty calories for a MEAL?! Six grams of protein FOR A MEAL?! People: we need more. Even for a low-calorie female, this is maybe a tenth of her total calories for the day. The carbohydrates here are going to give you a nice little boost of energy, but 6 grams of protein just is not going to leave you feeling full until the next meal time.
Kellogg's Special K Protein Meal Bars (Strawberry): 170 calories / 5g fat / 22g carbs / 14g sugar / 12g protein
This granola bar is actually marketed as a meal, and while it's "better" than the Kashi bar, it's negligible. The carbs and fats are fine for a snack-size portion, and we did a little better with protein, but again, for a snack. If you want to feel full (which is a pretty high priority when it comes to meals, right?) you need more than 12g of protein. (Think like, 20g.) Not to mention there's 14g of sugar, which, might not necessarily be a bad thing depending on who you are and where you're trying to go, but there are certainly actual meals (and bars) that clock in with less sugar per serving.
Nature Valley Oats 'n Honey Crunchy Granola Bar: 190 calories / 7g fat / 29g carbs / 11g sugar / 3g protein
Okay, no. THREE GRAMS OF PROTEIN?! I'm screaming. This is 100% fine as a snack or supplement to a meal, yes, but 3g of protein as a meal is really only fine if you've already outdone yourself with protein for the day. The carbohydrates here are perfect for an afternoon pick-me-up, post-workout carb source, or side dish for breakfast, but I promise you, 190 calories is not going to happily hold you over from one meal to the next.
You know what, though? I get it.
Time is precious, we're trying to be healthy, and for many of us, it makes sense to spend less time on meals to kill two birds with one stone.
So a granola bar for lunch it is. "Whatever," we think, "I should watch my calories anyway..."
That's how our thinking goes when we sub a real meal with a "snack." (Same goes for a single piece of fruit, toast, etc.)
Breakfast on the go? Granola bar. Working through lunch? Granola bar.
And we hardly feel bad (just hungry!) because we associate this significantly less calorie "meal" with being "healthy" or losing weight.
We couldn't be more wrong.
Your body needs fuel to survive, and you know what it does when you don't give it that fuel? First of all, it stops functioning properly. When you're super hungry and also feel a little foggy in the head, there's a reason for that. Your body is likely lacking the proper tools and nutrients to carry out all its functions at top capacity.
Second of all, it panics and starts to actually hold on to the existing "fuel" it has-- aka, fat. Consistent calorie restriction like this eventually results in a slower metabolism, which is your body's way of saying, "Alright boys, guess we're not getting enough of what we need from the outside, so we're going to have to stick to inside resources and slow down at burning what little resources we do receive from the outside."
Does that sound like a weight loss strategy? Holding on to fat and burning less calories?
So what can you do when you're actually low on time (or if you just genuinely like granola bars?)
Here are some tips:
1) Keep eating those bars!
BUT- as snacks or in addition to a "full" meal.
Rather than having 1 bar for lunch, have it as a mid-morning snack or on the side of a real lunch!
2) Meal prep.
Having something healthy on hand beats the "I don't have time" excuse any day, and it's not as hard as you think if you know what you're doing. (And I gotchu!) Stay tuned for next week's post and you'll know what you're doing.
3) Combine snacks.
I get it, you're super pressed for time. You forgot your lunch, you're out of groceries, something came up. It happens. Pop into the nearest convenient store/Walgreens and go for something like a good granola bar, beef (or turkey/chicken) jerky, some nuts and a can of non-perishable fruits. It's not the best, but it's not the worst. We've got carbs, proteins & healthy fats! Gangs all here!
Trust me, your body will thank you for breaking this "granola bar as a meal" habit AND, you will hands down feel more fueled and full rather than groggy and tired.