How to Determine Whether a Snack Bar is Suitable for People Living with Diabetes

In an online survey of 300 male and female American millennials, released in 2017, 50% said they replaced a meal with a snack at least four times a week. And 26% said they did so at least seven times a week1. They were asked which factors guided their choice of snack and their top three were taste (80%), nutrition and health (52%) and convenience (49%) 1. They also said they looked for whole food ingredients, such as wholegrains (43%), real fruit (42%) and nuts (39%) 1.

Snack bars are a popular choice as they fit many of the above criteria. The problem is that not all snack bars are created equal. We automatically think that muesli, protein, fruit and nut bars are healthier than chocolate bars. Unfortunately, this is not always the case. In fact, some are just as sugary as chocolate bars and can contain as much energy as your entire lunch should. So how do you know which bars are a good option for you?

WHAT TO LOOK OUT FOR
Inspecting the label and ingredients list will help you to decide which snack bar is the best choice. Take your favourite snack bar, turn it over and look at the nutritional information table. This gives you the nutrient quantities per 100g as well as per serving. Remember, it is better to look at the “per serving” column as this is, more likely, the quantity you will be eating. When assessing a bar, it is important to consider these nutrients:

Energy
The energy value is listed at the top of the nutritional table. It is most often listed in kilojoules (kJ) but can also be shown in calories (kCal). Both are used to quantify energy. One kCal equals 4.2 kJ. So to  convert from kJ to kCal, you divide the kJ value by 4.2. Alternatively, you multiply the kCal value by 4.2, to convert from kCal to kJ.

Try aim for between 100 and 200 kCal or 420 and 840 kJ per serving2. Remember, bars that contain nuts and seeds tend to have a high calorie value, because fats contain twice as much energy as carbohydrates or proteins.

Carbohydrate
For a person living with diabetes, it is always important to look at the total carbohydrate content of a meal and your snack bar is no exception. Remember, carbohydrates have a bigger effect on our blood sugar levels than proteins and fats. Use the label to establish the bar’s carbohydrate content per serving. This can also be used for carbohydrate exchanges. One carbohydrate exchange is equal to 15g of carbohydrates or a slice of bread, a tennis ball-sized fruit or ½ cup of cooked rice or oats.

Therefore, to calculate the number of carbohydrate exchanges, take the carbohydrate content that you are going to eat and divide it by 15. For example our FUTURELIFE® High Protein LITE SmartBar contains 8g of carbohydrates per serving, therefore:

8g (amount of carbohydrates in the bar) ÷ 15g (amount of carbohydrates in one carbohydrate exchange) = 0.53 or ½ a carbohydrate exchange.

If it’s a snack, aim for less than 15g of carbohydrates. If you are using it to replace a meal then 15 to 30g of carbohydrates is suitable.  Look for bars that contain wholegrains such as oats or other grains such as buckwheat or quinoa. These help to keep you fuller for longer and encourage better sugar control.

Sugar
The first thing you need to consider here, is the source of sugar. Added sugar, such as sucrose, is very different from naturally occurring sugar, such as fructose, which is found in fruit bars. Aim for bars with no added sugar or a total sugar content of 5 to 10g per bar2,3. Remember, this might be difficult to achieve with fruit bars as they contain fructose. Consider the total carbohydrate content if it’s a fruit bar. Remember, a little bit of added sugar in a bar is not the end of the world as long as it is combined with other nutrients such protein, fibre and healthy fats, all of which help to lower the GI (Glycaemic index) of the bar.
Fibre
A fibre content of more than 6g per 100g tells you a product is high in fibre. Bars that contain nuts, seeds or fruit tend to have more fibre than others. However, they also tend to be higher in energy. Dietitians suggest a bar that contains more than 3g of fibre, is a good option2,3.

Protein
Protein is an important nutrient in snack bars due to its effect on satiety and the fact that it lowers the GI of the whole meal. If you’re eating a bar as a snack, aiming for at least 10g of protein per 100g – or at least 4 to 5g of protein per bar – will keep you going until the next meal2,3. Fruit bars don’t contain much protein but those with nuts and seeds contain a moderate amount.

You can also calculate the number of protein exchanges in a bar. One protein exchange is equal to 7g of protein. One protein exchange is the same as either 1 egg, a 30g, matchbox-sized piece of meat/chicken or ½ cup of beans. Therefore, to calculate the amount of protein exchanges in a bar, divide the protein content per bar, by 7.

For example, a FUTURELIFE® High Protein LITE SmartBar contains 8.7g of protein, therefore
8.7g (protein per bar) ÷ 7g (protein per protein exchange) = 1.24 protein exchanges (which is the same as just over the protein of one egg).
FUTURELIFE® High Protein LITE SmartBars also contain all 19 amino acids, L – Glutamine and SmartProtein3D® which is a combination of whey, casein and soy protein.

Sodium/salt
It would be ideal to aim for a bar that has less than 120mg of sodium per 100g2. But this is not always easy, so stick to a sodium content of less than 600mg per 100g and consider your total sodium intake per day.

Fat
Don’t be put off a snack bar just because it is higher in fat3. Fats tend to keep you fuller for longer, but you need more monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats and less saturated fats. Nut and seed bars tend to have high concentrations of these healthier fats. You can break it down into fat exchanges per bar.

One fat exchange is equal to 5g of fat. One fat exchange is the same as either 1 teaspoon of oil, 1 teaspoon of margarine or butter, ¼ of a large avocado or 15g of peanut butter.

To determine how many fat exchanges are in your favourite snack bar, look at the total fat content per bar and divide it by  5g. For example, our FUTURELIFE® High Protein LITE SmartBar contains 4. 2g of fat per bar. Therefore:

4.2g (fat per bar) ÷ 5g (fat per fat exchange) = 0.8 or just under one fat exchange (same fat content as just less than 1 tsp. of olive oil).

KEEP IN MIND
Not all bars will meet all the criteria so it’s best to take it case by case and weigh up your options2.  For example, a fruit bar won’t have much protein and will probably have more carbohydrates and sugars due to naturally occurring fruit sugars (fructose). Something with nuts and seeds will have a high energy and fat content. Nut and fruit bars are, however, considered to be less processed with fewer ingredients and preservatives.

Remember you don’t want your snacking habits to lead to extra calories or carbohydrates in your meal plan. Eating extra calories on a regular basis can cause unwanted weight gain2,3,4. This can make it more difficult to control your blood glucose levels4. Before you mindlessly grab something to munch on, stop. Ask yourself, “Am I physically hungry or just thirsty? Am I eating due to an emotion? Is this choice a good choice for me?” Also don’t forget to eat slowly, savour the taste and focus on mindful eating.

 

SUMMARY: WHAT TO LOOK FOR IN A DIABETES-FRIENDLY BAR
Calories – Try aim for between 100 and 200 kCal or 420 and 840 kJ per bar2.
Carbohydrates – If it’s a snack, aim for less than 15g of carbohydrates. If you are replacing a meal, aim for 15 to 30g of carbohydrates.
Sugar – Aim for bar with no added sugar or a sugar content of 5 to 10g per bar2,3. Calculate the number of teaspoons per bar.
Protein – At least 10g of protein per 100g or 4g of protein per bar2.
Sodium – Aim for less than 120mg of sodium per 100g. This is often difficult but less than 600mg per 100g is acceptable.
Fats – Consider the type and source of fat and break it down into teaspoons.

 

WHERE DOES FUTURELIFE® FIT IN?
At FUTURELIFE® we have a range of bars to suit a variety of needs. FUTURELIFE® High Protein LITE SmartBar, FUTURELIFE® High Protein SmartBar and FUTURELIFE® Crunch Bar and suitable for inclusion in the diets of those living with diabetes. For more information on our bars visit www.futurelife.co.za/product-type/smart-bars/

REFERENCES:
1. Food Ingredients (2017). “Snackification” of Mealtimes is Widespread Among Millennials, Study Finds. Available at: http://www.foodingredientsfirst.com/news/Snackification-of-Mealtimes-is-Widespread-Among-Millennials-Study-Finds?type=article (Accessed: 29th September 2017)

2. Huffington post (2016). Here Are Snack Bars That Are Actually Good For You. Available at: http://www.huffingtonpost.com.au/2016/11/20/here-are-snack-bars-that-are-actually-good-for-you_a_21608735/ (Accessed on 28th September 2017).

3. Women’s health (2015). How to Tell if a Nutrition Bar Is Actually Healthy. Available at: https://www.womenshealthmag.com/food/healthy-nutrition-bars (Accessed: 29th September 2017)

4. American Diabetes Association. Revamp Your Snacks. Available at: http://www.diabetes.org/mfa-recipes/tips/2014-10/revamp-your-snacks.html  (Accessed on 28th September 2017).