Granola bars are supposed to be healthy, right? Unfortunately, many of the products on the market are not as nutritious as we are led to believe. This is the case for many products that beckon you with their front-of-the-package claims. “Low-fat!” “Zero trans-fat!” or, my favorite “Made with Whole Grains!” The last one should read “Made with Whole Grains that were pulverized, processed, bleached, and mixed with a bunch of additives and sugar.”
The fact is that more claims usually equals unhealthy products. The food industry is getting pressure to make improvements from consumers all the way to the White House. This doesn’t mean that their products are going to become healthy – maybe just a little less unhealthy. What will probably happen is that the companies will become even more savvy in the laboratories where they develop their goods and in their marketing departments which are hell-bent on selling.
Find out how label savvy you are:
1) Healthy foods have labels that tell me everything I need to know: True or False
2) I can make good food choices if I read food labels closely: True or False
3) Low-fat products are not better and, in some cases, may be worse for me: True or False
4) Products that say “Made with Real Fruit” contain 90% or more of real fruit: True or False
5) Products that say “Contains Zero Trans-Fats” may still have .5 grams of it: True or False
6) Ingredients are listed in order of weight: True or False
7) Products that are fortified with added nutrients are better for me: True or False
8) It is easy to tell the difference between products made with refined flours vs whole grains: True or False
Here are some tips on how to outwit the food industry:
1) FALSE: Many terms such as “natural” or “healthy” are unregulated. In fact, the FDA has been sending warning letters to companies for the last year or so to admonish them for making false claims.
2) FALSE: The majority of the foods that are best for you have little to no packaging and/or labels: fruit, vegetables, fish, lean meats, nuts, and seeds don’t have packages that tell you how healthy they are. Beans and grains may come in cans or plastic bags but there is only one ingredient (themselves).
3) TRUE: If ‘s it low in something, it’s usually going to be high in something else. Remember the low-fat craze of the 90’s? Many of those products had (and still do) contain extra sugar – and not the pure out-of-the-ground sugar but usually something ending in -ose (like dextrose) that was created in a lab.
4) FALSE: Products that claim to contain “real fruit” may only have a few drops of the real thing. There is no law requiring how much real fruit must be in the product.
5) TRUE: Any food that contains 0.5 grams or less of a nutrient can be listed as zero grams on the nutrition facts label. This can add up to a lot of harm trans fats if we are eating packaged foods throughout the day.
6) TRUE: Keep in mind that if a product says “contains whole grains” but there aren’t any grains listed until the bottom of the list, then you know it doesn’t contain much of it.
7) FALSE: We tend to go a little overboard in this country when something is revealed as good for us rather than depending on Mother Nature. For example, after folic acid was added to flour in Chile, one study showed an increase in colon cancer. When in doubt, eat unfortified foods that occur in nature.
#8 TRUE: Be aware that manufacturers won’t necessarily call their processed flours “refined” on the label. Anything that is listed as corn, rice, wheat, or oat flour IS processed and refined unless it specifically tells you that it is “whole”.
This Granola Bar recipe was developed by my cousin, Sonya. She is a kindergarten teacher who is passionate about sharing her knowledge about nutrition with her small students. This recipe is a winner with both adults and kids. The more foods we prepare at home, the more we know exactly what we are putting into our bodies.
Sonya’s Homemade Granola Bars
3 cups whole oats
2/3 cup whole-wheat flour (or any flour – we use corn flour for a gluten-free option)
½ teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/3 cup honey
1/3 vegetable oil
3 tablespoons water
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
CUSTOMIZE: 1/4 cup raisins, chocolate chips, nuts, or anything else you want to add to your bars
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Combine dry ingredients in a large mixing bowl and mix well. If you’re short on time and dishes, add the wet ingredients directly to the dry ingredients and mix thoroughly. Otherwise, combine the wet ingredients in a separate bowl before adding them to the dry. Transfer the mixture to a a lightly oiled 9×13 pan. Use a spatula to firmly press the mixture into the pan. Bake for 25 minutes, until brown and firm. Remove from oven and cool. Cut into squares. Eat or freeze. Enjoy!
Recipe by Sonya Jassen Basseri