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Assorted granola snack bars.Fred Lum/The Globe and Mail

The question: There are so many granola bars to choose from. Which ones are healthy snacks for everyday and which ones should I avoid?

The answer: Granola bars are a popular snack because they're portable and ready to toss in a lunch bag or briefcase. And they're often perceived as a more nutritious snack than a muffin, a cookie or a chocolate bar.

But not all granola bars are created equal. In fact, many brands miss the mark when it comes to nutrition. With such ingredients as marshmallows, chocolate chips, fudge, caramel and chocolate or yogurt coating, many resemble candy bars. President's Choice Dipped and Chewy Caramel granola bar, for example, has 15 grams of sugar – almost four teaspoons worth – thanks to the addition of sugar, glucose, glucose-fructose, fructose, honey and molasses.

Traditional granola is a whole grain cereal made from whole oats, nuts, dried fruit and honey all baked until crispy. Yet, along with the oats, many granola bars also contain some refined grains such as rice flour, wheat flakes and crispy rice (a concoction of rice flour, sugar, malt extract and salt). And for a snack that's made from whole grain oats, many brands contain only one gram of fibre.

Of course, some granola bars are healthier that others. Kashi Chewy 7 Whole Grains and Almonds is 100 per cent whole grain, delivers 4 grams of fibre and is better than most when it comes to sugar (5 grams per serving). Quaker Harvest Crunch Ancient Grains granola bars boast a sweetened multigrain blend of barley flakes, whole grain oats, whole wheat, quinoa and Kamut flakes as the first ingredient (3 grams fibre and 8 grams of sugar per bar).

Read nutrition labels to choose a healthier granola bar. Look for a whole grain to be the first ingredient, and ideally, no added refined grains. Next, look for no more than 2 grams of saturated fat, zero grams of trans fat, and at least 2 grams of fibre. Choose bars with no more than 8 grams of sugar per serving, and preferably less. (Keep in mind that 8 grams of sugar is two teaspoons worth, much more than a sprinkle.)

Most granola bars are sugary, so I don't recommend them as everyday snacks. Even the best granola bars can't beat a piece of fruit, handful of nuts or a tub of yogurt when it comes to nutrition.

Leslie Beck, a registered dietitian, is the national director of nutrition at BodyScience Medical. She can be seen every Thursday at noon on CTV News Channel'sDirect (

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