Most People Can't Tell Which of These Cereal Bars Is the Healthiest—Can You?
During the grocery store rush hour, you might not have the time to flip over every box of granola bars on the shelf to figure out which one is the healthiest. Instead, maybe you'll just scan the brands you recognize for a flavor you want to try. Or maybe you'll pick something that claims to be high in a nutrient you want more of, like protein or fiber. If you're really in a rush, you might just grab the prettiest box on the shelf and hightail it to the register.
While all of these tactics can serve a purpose, they might not be the best ways to pick the healthiest option. A new survey from Attest found that while most people want to buy groceries that help with their overall health, only 9% of people can tell which popular granola bar is the healthiest just by looking at the package. The survey used the Nutri-Score grading system to determine which bars were the healthiest.
Nutri-Score, based on scientific research by the French High Council for Public Health, adds points to a food's score for excessive calorie counts, saturated fat, sodium and sugar, then subtracts points based on the quantity of fiber, protein and fruits or vegetables. The foods with the lowest total scores earn a top grade of A, while the highest scores get a grade of E—think of it like golf scoring combined with grade school lettering.
The survey asked participants to identify the healthiest cereal bar from the following choices— you can click on the brand names to get a look at the front of the box:
The largest percentage of guesses went to the Kind bar, which was not the healthiest choice. Instead, the Nature's Bakery strawberry oatmeal bars earned the top honors from Nutri-Score, with only 9% of people correctly guessing that brand. The least healthy choice was the Power Crunch Pro bar, which scored a grade of E by Nutri-Score standards. (That particular bar has 7 grams of saturated fat, which is more than we'd recommend eating in a heart-healthy diet.)
When asked how they decided which bar to choose, participants focused on what they could tell from the ingredients on the box. The words that came up most were "natural," "sugar" and "brand," but none of those buzzwords are foolproof indications of how healthy or not a product may be. While a brand might tout low sugar content on its packaging, that doesn't mean that the sodium or saturated fat content are low as well—and those are numbers you may want to watch out for, especially since many of us already eat more sodium than we should.
But even on days when you're not feeling up to doing mental math based on the back of your granola box, there are simple ways to double-check that you're making a healthy choice. You could download the Nutri-Score app, for one, and use it to scan barcodes at the store. If your product is in the Nutri-Score library, the app will tell you how the item scores. (But don't stress if your favorite pint of ice cream bounces back with an E score—as the Nutri-Score website says, even the lowest scoring products can have a place in your routine and can be enjoyed in moderation.)
And some dietitians say that a quick look at the nutrition label can tell you a lot, even if you just give it a glance. Be sure to check out the ingredients list—generally, "the fewer ingredients the better" is the rule of thumb. Other dietitians look at the fiber content first, since fiber can keep you feeling full and satisfied (and most Americans don't get enough of it).
No matter what you pick up at the store, the important thing is that you eat a healthy mix of protein, whole grains, fruits, veggies and healthy fats each day. (The Mediterranean diet is a good place to start when it comes to balancing your eating pattern.) And if you want more guidance on shopping for healthy groceries, this nutrition label explainer has all the deets you need.