Everywhere you go, messages about healthy lifestyle including healthy eating pop out from around corners, and huge billboards try to attract you with organic, fresh, and local produce food grown naturally with love and so on… It almost seems like everybody wants us to be healthy, or maybe not?
You cannot possibly avoid these claims and you basically need to read every label to really know what´s in it, hopefully. However, you don´t always have the time to read everything so carefully and so you just put it into your shopping basket convinced it´s a good thing. You´re thinking, “It said on the package there were blueberries in it, why would you expect there is none, right?” Well, in that case, you´re gonna be really surprised – and not in a good way…

Healthy bars

Nowadays, most of us know how unhealthy the classic chocolate bars are and thus try to avoid them. We just want something nutritious that we can take with us or pack our kids for school which would also taste a little nice. And that´s the problem – unless you bake such granola bar yourself, you cannot expect international companies to sell you healthy AND tasty stuff. In addition, they want us to get hooked on their products so they will use sugar and fat, no matter how unhealthy it is, to get us addicted and buy more. You may think that a wholegrain “nuts and honey” bar would be just that, but it isn´t. We have bought a few of these healthy bars that you seem to be buying a lot of, and one of the most popular classic chocolate bars here to see the differences in their nutritional values. Here are the results:

Chocolate / Fruity / Nuts & Honey / Granola bars

First we wanted to see where the seemingly healthy bar would stand against the standard Slovak Horalky: The unnamed bar contains 3 types of nuts – peanuts, cashews, and almonds, in addition to cranberries and raisins, as claimed at the front of the package. So far, so good. No dairy, so at least a number of allergic people would find it attractive. When we move on though, the second place in the ingredient section takes sugar – 2 types, and then another one later on. Even though this particular bar contains 5.5g of protein and 2.6g of fiber which is great, to keep it tasty and to stick together, the absence of dairy and real fat must have been substituted by something, we dare to say, even worse – sugar. Appalling 16.5g of sugar contained in one bar is the same amount as in our beloved Horalky! So we went to a well-known organic store to find out how those are prepared so that they´re healthy. Result – they had a few of these oatmeal chocolate chip bars which were tasty but contained palm oil to create the chocolaty taste and texture. Then, we found bars that only contained cocoa beans and dates so it seemed quite awesome but the sugar content surpassed the nutty one with 23.5g for a bar and the taste wasn´t as appealing. Our conclusion then goes: It´s still better to buy these kinds of nutty bars to pack up on nutrients but the sugar and palm oil is not worth it – rather go for fresh fruit or raw nuts.

Protein bars

Now we lost our hope for any kind of granola bars, we want to check the purity of protein bars. There is an increasing number of people who, in desire to be fit and skinny, visit their local gym more than is healthy, and of course, they drink their protein shakes or eat protein bars. The second option though doesn´t seem to be exactly the right one. These bars contain a lot of protein, naturally, but to make them really appealing to customers, they are packed with sugar and salt. The amount of simple sugars in one bar is almost 13g, plus 90mg of sodium, and 5g of saturated fat! The bright side is content of fiber which is 5.3g, and of course, 15g of protein. However, if your goal was to get enough protein to build muscle, you could have as well eaten 100g of chicken breasts for about the same number of calories (around 200 kcal) but NO sugar, and 30g of protein which is twice as much! On the other hand, we understand it is hard sometimes to get a healthy lunch outside your home and you need something quick and nutritious to get going and build muscle. For that matter, we again recommend raw non-fried unsalted nuts for protein and maybe some orange or an apple for energy.

Dried fruit

Since we recommend fruit, lots of you will probably say:”OK, it´s winter, there´s no fresh fruit in the supermarkets, let´s just get some dried fruit – it´s just as well healthy and much easier to take with you on the go.” Well, not exactly the case. Dried fruit can be healthy but there are 2 main concerns around it: 1) It is still fruit so it contains a lot of fructose that needs to be worked out right away in order not to stick on your hips and tummy, 2) it´s smaller in dried form and contains almost no water so you´re prone to eat much more of it than if you were eating a fresh fruit. There are too many types of dried fruit with various fruits inside, some of them containing nuts and seeds so giving you any numbers would be quite inaccurate. That´s why we decided to give you some tips on how to choose or if ever. The most important is, don´t eat dried fruit with added sugar – it´s those white powder-coated pieces that may also have somewhere on the package written “candied fruit.” Then, be aware to read the label for word sulphites which are chemicals often added to dried fruit to prevent it from going brown and ugly and leave it bright. Sulphites may give you stomach cramps and can be very dangerous for allergic people because they can trigger a strong allergic reaction, in those suffering from asthma, impairing their breathing significantly. Our conclusion: Choose fresh fruit if possible, or pick the packages of dried fruit containing also nuts or seeds for protein content but avoid those with added sugar and sulphites.

Salty snacks

Hopefully you already know that things like chips and roasted salted peanuts obviously aren´t healthy so we´re not going to explain why. What we want to talk about though, are salty snacks in many forms. For example nachos – many of us feel like they´re better than chips just because you can´t really feel the grease coming out of them. The truth is, the stuff they´re made of is often worse than eating actual chips. It´s usually corn, some vegetable oil, salt, flour, monosodium glutamate, some kind of milk as whey protein concentrate, sugar, a lot of powdered flavorings and colorings, and some chemicals an ordinary person doesn´t understand. When you read nutritional information, it´s not that bad at all – 150 kcal for 100g while with chips it would be almost 600 kcal so you may feel like you´re eating an OK meal. But be careful! This is exactly the case to start reading ingredients list. Monosodium glutamate must catch your eye immediately and if it´s there, the product containing it shouldn´t be in your shopping basket. This chemical has been talked about for decades now but it is still being used in many “fast” products and you may not realize you´re buying it along with your nachos.  

Now in case of our classic Slovak corn nibbles, it would be only 4 ingredients – corn flour, roasted peanuts, solidified vegetable fat, and salt – but they seem rather repellent. There´s 47g of carbohydrates, 31g of fat, and 530 kcal – the same amount as in classic non-flavored chips. We have been hearing about solidified vegetable fat in Slovakia for years. Everybody knows it´s the worst kind you can find in such products and still, we buy chocolates and salty treats that contain it. Even the peanuts that are contained here are already pre-roasted, probably in vegetable oil (not the olive one). The amount of saturated fat you would be getting from this innocent-looking snack is horrifying! So if you want to live until you´re at least 70 AND in a good condition with a healthy heart, avoiding corn nibbles can be your first step on your journey to a healthy lifestyle.

by Katarína Vicová

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Free Images (2015). Bar cereals, frosted shredded wheat, flings in a bowl, nacho pyramid, Barcelona market dried fruit.