OPINION: Raising the granola bar of collegiate nutrition

KELLY BURGESS

Kelly Burgess

If there is any food that embodies the spirit of a college student, it is definitely a granola bar. Granola bars are reliable and versatile, making them a college student’s best friend.

They are always there for you when you need a pick-me-up. No matter what time of day or night, a granola bar is the perfect sweet or salty snack. Unexpectedly finding a granola bar in your backpack in a moment of desperation provides sweet relief. Granola bars come in all shapes and sizes and are as diverse as college students themselves. Granola bars may be a crowd-favored snack, but are they really the nutritional gold standard?

First, it is important to differentiate between the multiple kinds of bars that we generically think of as “granola bars”. According to wiseGEEK.com, there are five main categories of “bars”, including meal replacement, protein, whole food, snack and fiber. This array of terminology is confusing and difficult to distinguish. Moreover, each bar type varies widely in nutritional content and intended purpose/use. Before reaching for your next bar, think about what you are trying to accomplish.

Do you need something substantial because you would otherwise be skipping breakfast? Meal-replacement bars are intended for just this and generally pack the most calories and fat. Did you just finish an intense workout and need extra protein and energy? Try a protein bar to supplement a healthy meal. Are you trying to eat raw and minimally processed foods? A whole food bar made from only nuts and fruit is your match. If you just need something to hold you over between classes, a snack bar will suffice. If you’ve been told to increase fiber into your diet, a fiber bar can accomplish this in a sweet, painless way.

Back to the original question: are these bars actually healthy? The answer is not as simple as a yes or no. It depends on personal factors and what is inside the bar itself. It is not healthy to subsist primarily on granola bars, no matter which type or how convenient they are. Diversity is key to a healthy diet, so an occasional granola bar in this sense is great. Try different kinds to find your favorite flavors or purchase a variety and use them according to their intended purposes.

Meal-replacement bars can be a healthy alternative to breakfast if it is between that or no breakfast at all. It is most important to give your body some kind of fuel for the day, so if that comes in the shape of a bar, great (but don’t forget to grab some fresh fruit too).

When I shop for granola bars, I try to look for ones that have a respectable ratio of protein to sugar. If the bar you choose has five times more sugar than protein, you might as well eat a candy bar. However, it is important to also consider the ingredients. Natural sugars from fruits and grains are inevitable, but watch out for excess sugars added during the manufacturing process.

Raise the bar for your bar, and give your favorite snack a quick check to make sure it is the best alternative for you.