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Enjoy ‘nutrition’ bars? Here are tips for choosing healthy options

Crunchy… Chewy… Nutty… Grainy… Yogurt-dipped or topped with chocolate….
We all like different “nutrition” bars.
There is no denying the plethora of nutrition bars to choose from these days. Some are oriented towards kids; others towards sports recovery and still others to meeting special dietary needs.
I think it is safe to say it was the humble granola bar that probably started the “bar revolution” we see in our stores today.
From a simple baked square of oaty-nuttiness, it has given way to many children and grandchildren bars boasting “high protein, low carb, paleo, keto, all fruit etc.” The sizable selection from which to choose can make shopping confusing!
Let me simplify.
Keep in mind that most bars these days are glorified cookies. It’s sad but true.
As a dietitian, I look for overall balance and nourishment. You personally may want to ask yourself what you want to achieve in a bar. What are you looking for? Do you want to slip in more fruit or fiber? Are you trying to stay full longer, avoiding nuts or watching your sugar intake, etc.?
The answer to this will direct your specific choices; however, here are some basic guidelines for selecting a bar that provides balance and nourishment:
♦ Aim for lower sugar options. This means 15 to 20 grams or less. My favorite bar has 7 to 10 grams.
♦ Beware of the type of sugar. Avoid bars that contain any form of agave or corn syrup (key words are “high-fructose corn syrup” or “corn syrup solids,” etc.). This form of sweetener has been shown to store as fat in the body. Also, avoid artificial sweeteners. Look for natural sources of sweetness like honey, dates, dried fruit, rice syrup or stevia.
♦ Look for protein from unprocessed sources. Find bars that have protein from nuts or pea protein. I am personally not a big fan of “isolated” protein forms from soy or whey. Other professionals may have a differing opinion on this and that is fine. This is mine.
♦ Consider the fiber content.  Aim for 3 grams or more. The more, the merrier here! Note that the higher the fiber content, the more you offset any blood sugar increased from the total carbs.
If a bar looks really good for the carb and protein sources, but is lower in fiber, then it is OK to choose the lower fiber bar.
Sometimes you may have to pick from the best two out of three elements.
♦ Overall, there should be a balance of protein, fat and carbs. Some bars are mostly fruity or grain-filled carbs while others are compressed protein powder. Aim for a balance.
♦ Do look at total calories. Calories aren’t everything (which is why I am mentioning this last), but they do matter in the larger equation of picking the best bar for your needs. Bars that are 180 to 200 calories or less can be considered snacks. Once you get above that then know you are getting closer to a meal replacement bar (for most people, this may be different for real, hard core athletes!)
You may be wondering what my favorite bars are, so I will share my two top go-to brands. (Note: I am NOT getting paid to say this.)
My all-time favorite bars are KIND bars. They offer several different varieties, but my favorites are the nutty ones (grain free) and the “plus” bars. They achieve a fantastic balance between carbs, protein, and fiber in addition to their ingredient sources being wholesome. They have some unique flavors, too!
Luna is another brand that uses whole foods to create its bars and achieve good flavor. If you don’t mind a higher sugar content, Luna bars might be for you.
Major grocery stores and health food markets all have ”nutrition bars” such as these but unfortunately they can be spendy. To find the most economical price, look for them at your discount grocery stores (such as Grocery Outlet) or online. Of course, not to be overlooked are the many nutritious versions you can make in your own kitchen! Check out some recipes posted below.
Cathryn Arndt is a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (RDN) and owns a nutrition counseling business called The Pantry Lab LLC. She lives in the McDowell Creek area with her husband and toddler. Find her at thepantrylab.com or visit her Facebook page by searching under “Dietitian Cathryn.”

Peanut Butter Granola Bars
Note: This is not necessarily a low-carb recipe, but these are still nutritious and easy to make. You can make these ahead and freeze them. Pull them out as needed.
1 cup packed Medjool dates (~10) (you can substitute raisins too!)
1/4 to 1/3 cup honey
1/3 cup peanut butter (or any nut butter)
1 tsp. vanilla extract
2 cups unsalted nuts or seeds (I like sunflower seeds and walnuts)**
1½ cups old fashioned rolled oats (pick gluten-free if needed)
½ cup shredded, unsweetened coconut
¼ tsp. salt
½- 1 tbsp. cinnamon
Optional: ¼ cup chia seeds, soaked in ½ cup water for 15 minutes
**Whatever nuts you pick it is preferable to soak them ahead of time for 8-12 hours before using.  Soaking in salt water makes them more digestible
Preheat oven to 350F. Oil 13X9 pan with butter or coconut oil.
In a medium mixing bowl, combine all the dry ingredients (chop large nuts if desired). Set aside.
Chop up dates and place them in a microwavable-safe bowl with a small amount of water. Microwave them for 1-2 minutes until soft. Drain water and mash dates in a puree using a fork or potato masher. Set aside.
In a medium saucepan, melt nut butter into honey. Add date puree. Continue to cook until it is smooth and spreadable. Remove from heat and add vanilla. Add chia see mixture at this time (if using).
Add the hot mixture to the dry mixture and still until combined. Press mixture in the prepared pan and bake for 25-30 minutes. (it may take 35 minutes if using the chia seeds)
– Recipe originally from LiveSimply.com but adapted by Dietitian Cathryn.

Almond Spice Snack Bites
1/4 cup + 1 tbsp. almond milk (unsweetened)
1 cup Medjool Dates, chopped (about 12 to 13 large dates)
1 cup raw cashew (or salted almonds)
1/4 cup flaxseed meal
1/4 cup chia seeds
1/2 cup almond meal
Fresh ginger root, 2-inch piece, peeled
1 tbsp. cinnamon
Pinch of nutmeg and allspice
1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt (do not use if salted almonds were substituted for cashews)
1/2 cup shredded unsweetened coconut, plus more for rolling
Additional cinnamon (for rolling mixture)
Dice peeled ginger root by hand or pulse several times in a food processor until a diced texture is achieved.
Combine all other ingredients in a food processor and blend to desired consistency. Keeping the pieces larger makes for a crunchier ball.
When desired consistency is reached, form 1-ounce balls then roll in the shredded coconut-cinnamon mixture to coat.
Store in the refrigerator and enjoy as a quick snack!
Total Time: 20 minutes
Yield: 18 bites
– Adapted by Cathryn Arndt RDN the Food & Nutrition Magazine.