Delicious whole ingredients without any added sugar? It's possible to find an energy bar that fits the bill. Here are five that our contributing nutrition editor loves.
When shopping for an energy bar, it can be easy to wind up with what’s essentially a glorified candy bar laden with added sugar. Unfortunately, checking out the total grams of sugar on the label doesn't always provide much info. That's because right now, manufacturers don't have to separate naturally occurring sugar (such as from an ingredient like whole dates) from sugar added to sweeten a food, like brown rice syrup or cane sugar.
This is changing, however, based on an FDA mandate that by 2020 all food manufacturers must list the amount of added sugar (in grams and as Percent Daily Value). Some brands have already switched over to the new label, which distinguishes any added sugar—so you can easily tell how many of the total sugar grams come from a supplementary sweetener. But until every bar follows suit, there’s one simple strategy you can adopt: Look for bars that don’t contain any added sweetener.
Here’s a list of my favorites, including a look at the ingredients, nutrient breakdown, and suggestions for how and when to use them.
Cynthia Sass, MPH, RD, is Health’s contributing nutrition editor, a New York Times best-selling author, and a consultant for the New York Yankees and Brooklyn Nets.
RX Bar has made no added sugar part of their “No BS” marketing strategy. Each bar is made simply from three egg whites, some type of nuts, two dates, possibly other types of fruit, and natural flavor. For example, the blueberry bar contains dates, egg whites, almonds, cashews, blueberries, and natural flavors. The 15 grams of sugar are all from fruit, and Rx has started listing the added grams of sugar on their labels, with 0 in every bar.
Best way to eat: With 12 grams of protein from egg whites and about 7 grams of fat, this bar can be used for recovery after a tough workout, or as a higher protein snack to tide you over during a longer stretch between meals. They’re also a great option when traveling to avoid less healthy in-flight options, or even as an a.m. meal when you have no time for breakfast.
Larabar is one of the original no-added-sugar bars on the market, at least until they introduced flavors with chocolate chips. The chip bars do include some added sugar as an ingredient in the chocolate chips, but the 19 bars without chocolate chips are only sweetened with dates and other fruit. For example, my personal favorite, pecan pie, contains just three ingredients: dates, pecans, and almonds. And the apple pie flavor only contains dates, almonds, unsweetened apples, walnuts, raisins, and cinnamon. One Larabar contains about 18 grams of sugar from fruit, and even the flavors with chocolate chips provide just 3 grams of added sugar per bar. Larabar also makes fruit plus greens bars, like strawberry spinach cashew, as well as organic superfood bars, including turmeric ginger and beet—all with no added sugar.
Best way to eat: Larabars make a great lower protein snack when you need something to get you through the few hours until your next meal. They’re also a terrific fruit and nut ingredient to crumble and add to grass-fed Greek yogurt or plant-based yogurt, or to whip into a smoothie with protein powder and unsweetened almond milk.
Thunderbird’s focus is centered around making real food bars with fruit, nuts, seeds, spices, and nothing else. Some of their flavors also include veggies or whole grains. For example, the cherry walnut cinnamon bar contains dates, walnuts, cherries, buckwheat groats, sweet potato, cinnamon, turmeric, and Hawaiian black lava salt. The cashew fig and carrot bar contains dates, cashews, figs, carrots, nutmeg, vanilla, and Himalayan sea salt.
Best way to eat: At roughly 20-25 grams of naturally occurring sugar per bar, and with about 5 grams of protein and 5-10 grams of fat, these bars are a good pre-workout fuel option or a take-along snack for an extended activity, like a hike or long bike ride.
This fun brand founded by—you guessed it—two bearded brothers offers bars available in five flavors, each with no sugar added. The ingredients of the fabulous ginger peach bar are organic dates, organic almonds, organic walnuts, organic peaches, organic ginger, organic chia seeds, and sea salt. Other flavors include radical raspberry lemon and mega maca chocolate.
Best way to eat: At about 15 grams of fruit sugar per bar, and with a lower fat and protein content of around 5 grams each, these bars are great for fueling up before a high-energy workout, or for refueling during a longer duration activity. They’re popular with outdoor enthusiasts but can be used prior to any type of cardio exercise, from spin class to a tennis match.
That's It Fruit Bars
This brand’s commitment to avoiding added sugar is built into their name. Their fruit bars contain just two to three ingredients—apples, plus another fruit, and maybe a spice. Available flavors include apples and strawberries; apples, pear, and ginger; and apples, mango, and chili. The bar names of each sums up their ingredient lists.
Best way to eat: With little to no fat or protein and up to 24 grams of fruit sugar per bar, these bars are good for fueling up before or during exercise. And they’re a better-for-you option when you’re craving a sweet and chewy treat (in place of, say, licorice or gummy candy). For a more substantial on-the-go snack, combine a bar with a quarter cup of nuts.