Best Granola Bars

Updated November 2020
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Bottom Line
Updated November 2020
Written by Jennifer Manfrin Authors 's image

Buying guide for best granola bars

It’s said that you are what you eat. If you fuel your body with low-octane fuel, it’s impossible to have a high-octane life. Many people turn to granola bars to complement a healthy lifestyle. These nutrition- and calorie-packed snacks contain fruits, nuts, and grains, which naturally makes them an uber-healthy choice, right? Not always.

In fact, BestReviews nutrition consultant Samantha asserts, "Not all granola bars are healthy! Some are very high in sugar or have lots of additives, refined fats, or artificial colors and flavors." So, how do you know if you're grabbing a granola bar that will fortify you or one that will just add empty (or potentially harmful) calories to your diet?

By reading this shopping guide, of course. With Samantha's expertise, the team at BestReviews can provide the information you need to be sure you're making the right – healthy – choice. And if you really want to sneak a bite of that sugar-filled option, at least you'll be doing it on purpose. It's all about eating with intention and knowing what's going in your mouth so you can keep your body properly fueled.

If you’re looking for a granola bar to replace meals, go with one that contains more fat and protein. For a snack, consider a bar that’s lower in calories or higher in carbs.

What is a granola bar?

A granola bar is a mixture of foods that usually includes rolled oats and nuts along with such ingredients as puffed rice, flax seeds, or dried fruits. It’s baked into a crispy and convenient bar so you can take it on the go. Granola bars also contain fats and sugars. According to Samantha, "Fat and sugar are necessary to hold the bars together. Even the best bars have to use some sort of sugar syrup, paste, or oil to actually get the granola, nuts, and fruit to stick together."

But all granola bars are not alike. Some are nutritious and good for you, while others are about as good for you as a candy bar.

Samantha is a big proponent of eating with intention. Consumers should make their purchase based on what purpose the bar is to serve. She points out that there are two very different reasons for munching on a granola bar, "Look at the calorie content. Some granola bars have 300 to 400 calories and are designed to be meal replacement bars, while others only have 100 to 150 calories and are designed to be snacks. Make sure you’re eating the right bar for the right occasion to avoid over- or under-eating."

Granola bar buzzwords

The following is a list of terms you might find on a granola bar box or wrapper. We've also provided a little bit of insight, so you can better understand what these words really mean.

Gluten-free: Although oats are naturally gluten-free, they can be subject to cross-contamination because they’re often transported and stored with grains that do contain gluten. To be sure you're consuming what you expect, look for the gluten-free confirmation on the granola bar packaging.

Nut-free: The two main ingredients in most granola bars are rolled oats and nuts. If you have any kind of dietary restrictions regarding nuts, be sure to look for nut-free granola bars. To be safe, double-check the fine print to make sure there are no precautionary "may contain nuts" warnings.

Vegan: It might seem like granola bars are a vegan-friendly food item, but you have to be careful. If the bar contains milk, whey, casein, lactose, or honey, it's not vegan. Chocolate can go either way depending on what kind of chocolate it is. Additionally, if the nutrition label lists anything other than "cholesterol 0%," you know to avoid the bars because cholesterol is only found in animal products.

High protein: Granola bars can contain from about 1 to 6 grams of protein. Yes, there are bars that offer as much as 20 grams of protein, but these tend to leave rolled oats out of the mix. If you're after that true granola crunch experience, 5 or 6 grams of protein is a good number to look for on the nutrition label.

Low fat: The upper limit for a food considered low in fat is three grams of fat per 100 calories. However, just because a granola bar is low in fat doesn't necessarily mean it’s a healthy option. To be sure, read the entire nutrition label, paying particular attention to sugar content.

Whole foods: Whole foods are minimally processed, refined plant foods, which is a good thing. The term encompasses whole grains, fruits, vegetables, and other foods. But the term can be slightly misleading because it doesn’t guarantee that the food is organic or pesticide-free.

All natural vs. organic: Two terms that many consumers wrongly believe to be interchangeable are “natural” and “organic.” Like whole foods, natural foods are minimally processed, but be careful. Since there are no strict FDA or USDA regulations regarding the definition of "natural," a natural food can contain additives, antibiotics, pesticides, genetically modified ingredients (GMOs), and more. Organic foods, on the other hand, are rigorously regulated. However, even food certified as organic can contain a limited list of inorganic substances that can be used in processing. Natural and organic may sound like the same thing, but they are not. Organic is actually the more “natural” choice.

Granola bar prices

When purchasing a box of 6, 12, or 24 granola bars, most brands fall in the $0.50 to $1.50 per bar range. However, like most products, if you purchase a single granola bar, the price can be significantly higher – as much as double in some instances.

When determining the value of a granola bar, it's better to pay attention to the nutrition label rather than the price tag.

When traveling, granola bars are much preferred over the highly processed snack foods that you find at gas stations.


Q. Sometimes, I get really thirsty after eating a granola bar. Is that normal?

A. Yes. Because the water content in a granola bar is very low, and some people eat during a workout – when they’re sweating away fluids – it’s easy to become dehydrated after eating one. Make sure you drink water whenever you eat a granola bar so you stay hydrated.

Q. Are there other ways I can stay hydrated when eating a granola bar?

A. The best way to do that is to break apart a bar and add it to other foods. For example, you can sprinkle a crumbled granola bar into yogurt or mix it into oatmeal to help keep those fluids in your body.

Q. Besides reading the nutrition label, are there any other things I need to be aware of when it comes to the healthy use of granola bars?

A. Eat slowly with smaller bites and, as noted above, drink water. Granola bars are a dense form of calories, if you eat them too quickly, you’ll still feel hungry when you’re done. This can lead to grabbing a second bar, which isn’t necessary and will just add extra calories to your diet.

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