Granola Crunching

10 May

Ah the granola bar. Could there be anything more wholesome, more salubrious, more sound?

One would think so.

But have you ever taken an up-close look at the ingredients in your granola bars? Those fiber-touting, whole-grain-declaring snack bars?

This month’s issue of the Nutrition Action Healthletter focused on food additives, prompting me to take a closer look at the large stash of myriad granola snack bars in the pantry. The results were not so pretty. Let’s take a look.

Fiber One Chewy Bars Oats and Caramel Flavor

The first ingredient is… not wheat, not corn, not oats. But chicory root extract! Why this weird ingredient? Chicory root is full of inulin, a type of fiber used as a filler in foods because it can act as a substitute for fat, sugar and flour. Although it’s generally recognized as safe, it can cause gas in some people, so beware. Other fun ingredients include (this is not a comprehensive list):

  • Fractionated palm kernel oil, which has not been as well studied as hydrogenated fats, but could be just as bad.
  • Artificial colors, including yellow 5 and 6 lake, blue 2 lake. Yellow 6 which has been found to cause tumors several animal studies and can cause allergic reactions. Fun times.
  • High maltose corn syrup, which, according to one manufacturer is “made from corn starch with maltose as the main content by double enzyme technique. It is a kind of colorless, transparent thick liquid with moderate sweet taste and fragrance of malt, which is used in candy, drink and beer brewage”
  • BHA, which retards rancidity in fats, and, according to the Federal Government is “reasonably anticipated to be a human carcinogen” based on animal studies. Yeah. Need I go on?

Quaker Oats Chewy Bars Chocolate Chip Flavor

Yes, I know you’re probably thinking, “No, Michelle, not the Chewy Bars! I ate thousands of those as a kid. Hell, I was planning on giving those to my kid.” But we must march on. These are not as offensive as the Fiber One bars, but they contained some unhappy surprises:

  • Partially hydrogenated soybean and cottonseed oils with TBQH and citric acid. If you haven’t heard that trans fats (aka hydrogenated fats) are bad for you by now, you live in a hole. But I must admit I hadn’t heard of TBQH. Those sneaky bastards… I love how they don’t spell it out for you. A little Googling revealed that TBQH is tertiary butylhydroquinone. According to the International Programme on Chemical Safety, this hidden ingredient has caused damage to DNA in animals. Good times.
  • High Fructose Corn Syrup, well documented to raise triglycerides.
  • Sorbitol, a sugar alcohol that, when taken in large amounts, can be a laxative.

Nature Valley Crunchy Granola Bars: Peanut Butter Flavor

These were the healthiest of the bunch. The first ingredient is whole grain rolled oats, followed by sugar, canola oil and peanut butter. Finally! Some ingredients that sound like REAL FOOD.

The bad side:

So now you’re probably like, well thanks for everything, but what am I supposed to snack on now? Making your own sounds like fun. Except that you’re not going to do it every time you feel a craving.

I read about this cool new company called “You Bar” in the New York Times that makes customized energy bars. You choose the ingredients (which are all-natural) and they mix it up, package it and send it to you. It’s a mom-and-son-run company, no mega-food producers here, and their idea is really quite creative. You can even see how your bar rates nutrition-wise as you build it. Check it out at

And in the future, read the ingredient list! You wouldn’t drink a glass of water mixed with chemicals (oh wait, that’s what soda is), so why would you devour a “granola bar” that’s the same thing in solid form?

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Posted by on May 10, 2008 in Uncategorized


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