Nature Valley Oats 'n Honey granola bars are only marginally...

Nature Valley Oats 'n Honey granola bars are only marginally healthier than Snickers. Credit: Newsday / Erica Marcus

Are granola bars healthier than candy?

"Healthy," of course, is an increasingly nebulous term as "health-conscious" Americans fall into discrete categories: fat avoiders, carb avoiders, sugar avoiders, gluten avoiders, nut avoiders, processed-food avoiders, chemical-additive avoiders, etc.

Neither granola nor candy bars are going to win many awards from parents looking for whole, unprocessed foods. When the manufacturer's goal is a cost-effective, shelf-stable rectangle of kid-friendly fare, fresh goes out the window. There's not a bar out there that can give an apple a run for its money.

As my candy standard, I chose Snickers, the world's most popular candy bar, according to A 1.86-ounce bar weighs in at 250 calories, with 12 grams of fat, 27 grams of sugar and 4 grams of protein.

Our contender is Nature Valley Oats 'n Honey granola bar (Nature Valley is the country's leading producer of granola bars). When adjusted for weight, the granola bar wins significantly in the fat and sugar categories (7.4 and 14.8 grams, respectively) but has only 16 fewer calories than the Snickers.

This was the case with most of the granola bars I looked at. Calories were roughly comparable; fat and sugar were somewhat less — though I was amused by all the various disguises worn by sugar on granola-bar labels. Besides sugar and corn syrup, I found (usually in combination) corn syrup solids, brown sugar, brown rice syrup, cane syrup, dried cane syrup, molasses.

At least Snickers has the courage of its convictions: corn syrup and sugar are ingredients numbers 3 and 4.

I don't know that they appeal to kids, but I put a Larabar to the test. I like Larabars. They are the most unprocessed bars I've found; the Cherry Pie Fruit & Nut Bar contains only dates, almonds and cherries. Adjusted for weight, however, the numbers are not much better than Snickers': 251 calories, 19.7 grams of sugar, 14.2 grams of fat. There are 4 grams of fiber compared to Snickers' 1, I'll give it that.

My Halloween advice: Let your kid enjoy some candy. But for nonholiday noshing, don't fool yourself into thinking that granola bars are a much healthier alternative.

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