You’ve heard it time and time again: Breakfast is the most important meal of the day.
Whether that’s true or not is still up for debate, but one thing remains certain: Whatever you eat, it should provide you with the nutrients you need to start your day on the right foot. Many of us choose to eat breakfast bars in the morning, but some are a lot healthier than others. We tracked down the six healthiest and the four unhealthiest breakfast bars on the market.
The amount of breakfast bars for sale at the grocery store and natural shops is staggering. We’ve come a long way from the days when Nutri-Grain bars and Power Bars were our only options if we wanted to start the day with something quick, packaged, and moderately healthy.
Many major food companies, including Kellogg’s, Quaker, and General Mills, all produce a wide variety of breakfast bars under a handful of brand names; and many smaller natural food companies, like Cascadian Farm and Annie’s Organic, have also gotten in on the game.
The word “healthy” is a relative one, especially when it comes to breakfast bars. You’re never going to encounter a breakfast bar with 400 calories and 15 grams of saturated fat, for example. And even if a breakfast bar has 10 grams of fat in it, if it comes from healthy sources like nuts, then there’s nothing wrong with that. Instead of counting fat and calories, we judged the healthiness of these breakfast bars by the amount of additives like high fructose corn syrup and trisodium phosphate in them, how highly processed they are, how many wholesome ingredients they contain, and whether they’re especially high in sugar, with more than 12 grams per bar.
Read on to learn which breakfast bars you can depend on to deliver a hefty dose of nutrition to your morning, and which ones you should probably avoid. And remember: If it tastes like a candy bar, it probably is one.
1. Kellogg’s Special K Chocolate Peanut Butter Protein Meal Bar
While these 45-gram bars contain just 170 calories and six grams of fat as well as five grams of fiber and 10 grams of protein, they contain a whopping 15 grams of sugar along with ingredients including partially hydrogenated palm kernel oil and emulsifiers like polysorbate 60 and 80.
2. Nutri-Grain Fruit & Oat Harvest Baked Apple Cinnamon
These 50-gram bars contain 190 calories, five grams of fat, four grams of protein, and five grams of fiber, but it’s the 16 grams of sugar that put them squarely in the “unhealthy” category. The addition of ingredients like corn syrup and the preservative tertiary butylhydroquinone (TBHQ) don’t help, either.
3. Quaker Oats Big Chewy, Chocolate Chip
Quaker Oats’ popular Chewy granola bars really aren’t that bad for you, largely because of their small size; they’re only 24 grams, so their 100 calories and seven grams of fat, along with whole-grain rolled oats, make it a reasonable snack. The “Big” version, however, nearly doubles the size to 42 grams, bumping the sugar content up to 13 grams.
4. General Mills Cinnamon Toast Crunch Milk N’ Cereal Bars
Unlike most breakfast bars, these Milk N’ Cereal Bars don’t even make an attempt to be healthy. While yes, they may have the same amount of calcium as a small cup of milk, these 45-gram bars pack in a whopping 17 grams of sugar because they’re essentially putting frosting on sugary cereal. The ingredients, which contain things like textured soy flour, mono and diglycerides, partially hydrogenated soybean oil, and high fructose corn syrup, also certainly leave something to be desired.
Check out the full list of unhealthy and healthy breakfast bars.