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how to choose a healthy granola bar

Choosing Healthy Granola Bars

Are granola bars a healthy snack?  Some of the top selling granola bars contain more than 30% sugar!  How do you know if a granola bar is a healthy snack or just a cleverly marketed cookie?

How do you know if a granola bar is healthy?

1. Healthy Granola Bars Have Minimal Added Sugar

Healthy granola bars should contain little to no added sugarThe amount of added sugar varies widely across different granola bar brands and flavors.  

When choosing a granola bar, it is important to look at the ingredients for each flavor option as the added sugar content can vary dramatically across a brand.

Added sugar has many different names.  In granola bars, typical added sugars listed in the ingredients include sugar, corn syrup, brown rice syrup, honey, invert sugar, molasses, tapioca syrup, barley malt extract, fructose, and dextrose.  

The chart below lists the added sugar content per granola bar for some of the top selling granola bars.(1)

added sugar in popular granola bars by teaspoon

The AHA recommends that children consume no more than 25 grams of added sugar a day (a little over 6 teaspoons, read more on recommended daily intake of added sugar).(2

Some of these granola bars contain almost half of the AHA’s daily allotment of added sugar for children!  Added sugar laden granola bars are not healthy snacks.

Added sugar in popular granola bars by American Heart Association RDI sugar

2. Healthy Granola Bars Do Not Have Artificial Preservatives

Healthy granola bars should not contain artificial preservativesIt is possible to find granola bars without artificial preservatives.  Several brands use vitamin E (tocopherols) or rosemary extract to preserve “freshness,” which simply means the ingredients are antioxidants that keep the oils in the bar from going rancid.  

However, some granola bar brands use butylated hydroxytoluene (BHT).  BHT is a synthetic antioxidant that, while considered safe by the FDA, is considered by the US Department of Health and Human Services to have carcinogenic potential.(3

With non-synthetic antioxidants readily available (such as tocopherol), it is advisable to avoid products that contain BHT.

3. Healthy Granola Bars Avoid Pesticide Residue

Healthy granola bars do not contain GMO soyAvoid GMO Soy.  The majority of soy (94% USA / 62% Canada) grown in North America is genetically modified to be herbicide (typically glyphosate, trade name Roundup®) tolerant.(4

This means that genetically engineered soy will likely contain glyphosate residue (more on GMOs and glyphosate soon).  In 2011, the USDA found that 90% of soy beans tested contained residual glyphosate.(5)

Avoid Conventional Oats. Oats are not a genetically modified to be glyphosate resistant.  However, that doesn’t mean that they are free of glyphosate residue.  A recent report from the Environmental Working Group found high levels of glyphosate residue in popular cereals made from oats.(6

While oats are not Round-up resistant, the pesticide is sprayed on the crop to speed up drying at harvest.  It is worth noting that the EWG did find glyphosate residue on organically grown oats, however the levels were significantly lower than that of conventional oats.  

The safety of chronic, low-level exposure to glyphosate is not proven.  Therefore, it is advisable to consume non-GMO soy and conventional oats to minimize glyphosate residue intake.

4. Avoid caramel color

Healthy granola bars should not contain artificial colors, including caramel colorCaramel coloring is frequently used in beverages (especially colas) and processed foods.  Caramel coloring is made by heating a sugar with a small amount of an acid, base or amine.  If amines are used in the manufacture of caramel coloring, there can be trace amounts of contaminants in the caramel coloring that are considered by the WHO as “possible carcinogens” to humans.(7)  

Though only small amounts of caramel color are used in baked goods, it is advisable to avoid products that contain any caramel coloring.

5. Avoid carrageenan

Healthy granola bars should not contain carrageenanCarrageenan is a polysaccharide polymer derived from seaweed that is widely used in the food industry.  It is used to as gelling or thickening agent or to stabilize a food formulation.  Though considered by the FDA and WHO as a safe food additive, there is some controversy around the safety of carrageenan and its potential link to inflammation and possibly even colon cancer.(7

In late 2016, the National Organic Standards Board voted to prohibit the use of carrageenan in organic products.(8)

Bottom line: choose a granola bar with minimal added sugar and clean ingredients you recognize.

Evaluation of top selling granola bars:

The top selling granola bars were evaluated and ranked into three categories based on the following criteria:(1)

guidelines for evaluating granola bars

The granola bars evaluated range in serving sizes from 24 to 60 grams. Therefore, the below table includes both the total grams of added sugar per bar as well as the percentage of added sugar in each granola bar.

The table also highlights any potential ingredients of concern. Types of added sugar are redBold ingredients should be avoided. 

Examples of Healthy Granola Bars:

healthy fruit strips and healthy fruit roll-ups

Healthy granola bars should contain real ingredients, minimal added sugar, and no preservatives or artificial colors.  Try to limit all types of added sugar, even paleo forms like honey and maple syrup.  Many of these healthy granola bar options sweeten with dates.


Lara Bar is a healthy granola bar

Larabar Ingredients (Apple Pie):  Dates, almonds, unsweetened apples, walnuts, raisins, cinnamon.  Contains no GMO ingredients.

Kind Bar

Kind Bar is a healthy granola bar

Kind Bar Ingredients (Madagascar Vanilla Almond):  Mixed nuts (almonds, peanuts, cashews, walnuts), honey, glucose, chicory root fiber, crisp rice, Madagascar vanilla, soy lecithin§. §Non-GMO. Contains no GMO ingredients.

Examples of Granola Bars for Occasional Treats:

okay fruit strips and healthy fruit roll-ups

Healthy-looking granola bars can contain excess added sugar.  These granola bars are free of artificial preservatives and colors.  However, their added sugar content means they should aught to be occasional treats instead of daily snack staples.

Luna Bar

Luna Bar Nutz Over Chocolate is an okay granola bar

Luna Bar Ingredients (Nutz Over Chocolate Ingredients):  Protein grain blend (soy protein Isolate§, rolled oats*, rice flour*, roasted soybeans§*, soy flour§*, milled flaxseed)*, brown rice syrup*, dried cane syrup*, peanut butter*, vegetable glycerin, inulin (chicory extract), sunflower oil*, peanuts*, peanut flour*, cocoa*, palm kernel oil, palm kernel solids*, natural flavors, sea salt, soy lecithin*, vanilla extract*, mixed tocopherols.  §Non-GMO. Contains no GMO ingredients. *Indicates organic ingredients.

Examples of Granola Bars to Avoid:

unhealthy fruit strips and healthy fruit roll-ups

Many granola bars are candy masquerading as a healthy snack.  Some of these unhealthy granola bars contain almost half or more of the American Heart Association’s recommended daily intake of added sugar for children. 

Other unhealthy granola bars contain unwanted artificial ingredients like artificial preservatives or food coloring.  It is best to avoid these granola bars.

Clif Bar

Clif Bars are not healthy granola bars

Clif Bar Ingredients (Crunchy Peanut Butter)Brown rice syrup*, rolled oats*, cane syrup*, soy protein isolate§, peanut butter*, peanut flour, rice flour, peanuts, soy flour*, oat fiber*, roasted soybeans*, date paste*, natural flavors, sea salt, barley malt extract§Non-GMO. Contains no GMO ingredients. *Indicates organic ingredients.

Z Bar (Clif Kids)

Z Bar Chocolate Chip is not a healthy granola bar

Z Bar Ingredients (Chocolate Chip):  Oat blend (rolled oats*, oat flour*, oat fiber*), tapioca syrup*, chocolate chips* (dried cane syrup*, unsweetened chocolate*, cocoa butter*, soy lecithin*, vanilla extract*), fig paste*, cane syrup*, maple syrup*, soy butter* (roasted soybeans§*, soybean oil*, salt), milled flaxseed*, natural flavors, baking soda, sea salt. §Non-GMO. Contains no GMO ingredients. *Indicates organic ingredients.

Nature Valley Crunchy Granola Bars

Nature Valley Crunch Oats' n Honey are not healthy

Nature Valley Crunchy Granola Bar Ingredients (Oats ‘n Honey)Whole grain oats, sugar, canola oil, rice flour, honey, salt, brown sugar syrup, baking soda, soy lecithin, natural flavor.

Fiber One Chewy Bars

Fiber One Oats & Chocolate granola bars are not healthy

Fiber One Chewy Bars Ingredients (Oats & Chocolate):  Chicory root extract, semisweet chocolate chips (sugar, chocolate liquor, cocoa butter, soy lecithin, natural flavor), whole grain oats, high maltose corn syrup, rice flour, barley flakes, sugar, canola oil, glycerin, maltodextrin, honey, tricalcium phosphate, palm kernel oil, soy lecithin, salt, nonfat milk, fructose, malt extract, cocoa processed with alkali, baking soda, caramel color, natural flavors, mixed tocopherols.

Sunbelt Bakery Granola Bars

Sunbelt Bakery Chocolate Chip are not healthy granola bars

Sunbelt Bakery Ingredients (Chocolate Chip):  Granola (whole grain oats, sugar, palm kernel and soybean oils, corn syrup, coconut, honey, molasses, soy lecithin, salt, corn starch, peanuts, almonds, soy flour, egg whites), corn syrup, chocolate chips (sugar, chocolate, cocoa butter, dextrose, soy lecithin, vanilla, milk), crisp rice (rice flour, sugar, whey, salt, barley malt, wheat flour, dextrose), palm kernel and soybean oils, water, nonfat dry milk, sorbitol, soy lecithin, salt, sugar, carrageenan.

Special K Protein Meal Bars

Special K Protein Dark Chocolate is not a healthy granola bar

Special K Protein Meal Bar Ingredients (Dark Chocolate):  Soluble corn fiber, soy protein isolate, rolled oats, sugar, cereal (rice, whole grain wheat, sugar, wheat bran, soluble wheat fiber, salt, malt flavoring, vitamin B1, vitamin B2, fructose, semi sweet chocolate (chocolate, sugar, dextrose, soy lecithin, artificial flavor), vegetable oil, corn syrup, chicory root fiber, rice, dextrose, contains 2% or less of cocoa, chocolate, sorbitol, glycerin, whey, natural and artificial flavors, soy lecithin, salt, polysorbate 60, sorbitan monostearate, niacinamide, BHT, almond flour, peanut flour, malt flavor, distilled monoglycerides, vitamin B6, reduced iron, vitamin B2.

Quaker Chewy Granola Bar

Quaker Chewy Chocolate Chip granola bars are not healthy

Quaker Chewy Granola Bar Ingredients (Chocolate Chip):  Granola (whole grain rolled oats, brown sugar, brown rice crisp (whole grain brown rice flour, sugar, salt), whole grain rolled wheat, soybean oil, dried coconut, whole wheat flour, sodium bicarbonate, soy lecithin, nonfat dry milk), semisweet chocolate chips (sugar, chocolate liquor, cocoa butter, soy lecithin, vanilla extract), corn syrup, brown rice crisp (whole grain brown rice flour, sugar, salt), invert sugar, sugar, corn syrup solids, glycerin, soybean oil. Contains 2% or less of calcium carbonate, sorbitol, salt, water, soy lecithin, molasses, natural flavor, BHT, citric acid.

Nature Valley Sweet & Salty Granola Bar

Nature Valley Sweet & Salty is an okay granola bar

Nature Valley Sweet & Salty Granola Bar Ingredients (Peanut):  Roasted peanuts, corn syrup, sugar, whole grain oats, palm kernel oil, rice flour, whole grain wheat, vegetable glycerin, whey, peanut butter (peanuts, salt), fructose, canola oil, salt, soy lecithin, peanut flour, corn starch, barley malt extract, honey roasted almond butter (almonds, honey, maltodextrin, palm oil, mixed tocopherols), baking soda, natural flavor, vitamin E.

Annie’s Chewy Granola Bars

Annie's Chewy Chocolate Chip granola bars are not healthy

Annie’s Chewy Granola Bar Ingredients (Chocolate Chip):  Granola (whole grain oats, tapioca syrup, cane sugar, sunflower oil, sea salt, vanilla extract, baking soda), tapioca syrup, semisweet chocolate chips (cane sugar, chocolate, cocoa butter, vanilla extract), rice crisps (rice, cane sugar, salt, barley malt extract), rice crisp (brown rice flour, cane sugar, sunflower oil, sea salt), rice flour, whole grain oat flour, sunflower oil, rice extract, sea salt, natural cream flavor, vanilla extract, natural flavor. Contains all organic ingredients and no GMO ingredients.

Kind Bar Healthy Grains

Kind Oats & Honey is an okay granola bar

Kind Bar Healthy Grains Ingredients (Oats & Honey with Coconut):  Whole grain blend (oats, brown rice, millet, oat flour, buckwheat, amaranth, quinoa), tapioca syrup, dried cane syrup, honey, coconut, canola oil, brown rice syrup, gum acacia, sea salt, vitamin E. Contains no GMO ingredients.

Kashi Bar

Kashi Peanut Peanut Butter is a healthy granola bar

Kashi Bar Ingredients (Peanut Peanut Butter):  Rolled whole grain blend (hard red wheat, oats, rye, triticale, barley), soy protein crisps (soy flour§, tapioca starch, soy fiber§), peanuts, brown rice syrup, invert cane syrup, peanut butter (peanuts), dried cane syrup, acacia gum, honey, expeller pressed canola oil, vegetable glycerin, oat fiber, peanut oil, cornstarch, sea salt, soy lecithin, rosemary extract for freshness, molasses, organic skim milk, xanthan gum, almonds. §Non-GMO.  Contains no GMO ingredients.

When looking for a healthy granola bar, avoid products with excess added sugar

The top selling granola bar in the United States is Nature Valley Crunchy Oats ‘n Honey.(1)  The Nature Valley Crunchy Oats ‘n Honey is a cookie, not a snack because it contains almost a tablespoon (11 grams) of added sugar.

Clif Bar makes the granola bar with the highest amount of added sugar.  The Clif Bar Crunchy Peanut Butter flavor contains 20 grams of added sugar, which is 80% of the AHA’s recommended daily intake of added sugar for the children and the average woman.

When I buy granola bars, I tend to buy the brands Kind and Larabar.  I prefer the Kind bars because of the crunchy, nutty texture.  Many flavors contain only 4 or 5 grams added sugar per serving. 

My preschool age son prefers the Larabar bars, likely due to the soft, chewy texture and the high fruit content.  The Apple Pie Larabar contains 18 grams of sugar, the sugar is from dates and other fruit and not considered added sugar.  Our body absorbs sugar in fruit slower than refined sugar due to the natural fiber contained within the fruit.(9)

Find other healthy store bought snacks and foods

Check out these other popular foods and snacks!  Learn which favorite packaged foods are healthy and which ones best to avoid or enjoy as an occasional treat.


List of healthy fruit snacks

List of healthy breakfast cereal

List of healthy crackers and healthy snacks

Pin article for later:What are the healthiest granola bars? You might be surprise to learn that some favorite granola bar brands are filled with added sugar and other unhealthy ingredients. Find out what ingredients are in healthy granola bars



  1. “Snack Bars 2015: Top 10 best-selling granola, breakfast and nutrition bars”, Bakery and Snacks Website (link)
  2. Added Sugars and Cardiovascular Disease Risk in Children. 
  3. Center for Science in the Public Interest. Chemical Cuisine: BHT (link)
  4. Non-GMO Project, GMO acreage in 2014: Soy (link)
  5. USDA PDP Special Projects, Glyphosate, 2011 (link)
  6. Breakfast with a dose of Roundup?, EWG Website, 2018 (link)
  7. Center for Science in the Public Interest. Chemical Cuisine: Caramel Color (link) and Carrageenan (link).
  8. “Board Nixes Use of Carrageenan in Organic Food Production”, Food Safety News Website. 2016 (link)
  9. Always Hungry? Conquer Cravings, Retrain Your Fat Cells & Lose Weight Permanently, David Ludwig, MD, PhD (link)

Note: This article was originally published in January 2017.  The content has been updated and format changed to be easier to read.


  1. what about glysophate?

    • Hi Mary,

      This is a great question. To date, glyphosate residue on food is not tested by the USDA. In 2011, the USDA did test for glyphosate residue in soy only, and found glyphosate residue on 90% of soy plants tested.

      There was a recent report from the Environmental Working Group that showed high levels of glyphosate residue in oats. https://www.ewg.org/childrenshealth/glyphosateincereal/#.W7bIVxNKinc Based on this report, it would be prudent to avoid conventionally grown oats to avoid glyphosate residue.

      I plan to update this post soon to reflect this new information. Thank you for reading, Meredith

  2. Loved this article Meredith…Need to feed seniors as wisely as children.Thank you.

    • I couldn’t agree more Susan – thank you for reading!

      • Thank you for this. I have been making my own granola bars for several years now but am finding it tedious and more work than it’s worth. I appreciate the great advice on what to look for/avoid.

  3. Great article! Love all the good info! Any suggestions for a healthy Nut free granola bar? Preschool is Nut free and I need suggestions!

    • Katie – thank you for you comment and for asking about nut free granola bars! Many nut free bars are quite high in added sugar (Made Good, Nature’s Path), however Kind has line of granola bars “healthy grains” that are nut free and relatively low in added sugar. I have updated the above table to include their “Oats and Honey with Coconut” flavor since it has only 6 grams of added sugar (per 35 gram bar). Thanks for reading!

  4. This is so very interesting especially as granola bars are a travel staple for us. Are there any safe soy products to consume?…What about tofu? I look forward to a healthy granola bar recipe. Ah so many more interesting columns for you to write!

    • Great topics – I will definitely look into them – thank you for the questions! Soy is not inherently unhealthy, it is just important to be aware of how it is grown if you want to avoid glyphosate. A healthy granola bar recipe may take a while… I haven’t yet found one that is healthy, delicious and does not instantly turn into a pile of crumbs!!! Thanks for reading!

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