Is a Snickers bar a healthy snack?

Question: Is a Snickers bar a healthy snack?

Answer: Arguably, yes and no. 

Yes, for two reasons: 1.) It’s a ‘balanced’ snack, and 2.) Sugar is sugar is sugar.  I tell people that all the time. A Snickers bar contains peanuts, nougat, caramel and chocolate, and a 2 oz. bar contains 282 calories, 14 grams fat, 35 grams carbohydrate and 4 grams protein. So, that candy bar is approximately 45% fat, 50% carbohydrate and 5% protein. The 50% carbohydrate doesn’t have me sweating, but the high fat and low protein content certainly don’t do it any favors in the health department.

First, I’ll speak to the ‘balanced’ snack argument. Ideally, your snack would be approximately 50% carbohydrate, 20% fat and 30% protein, give or take. While a Snickers doesn’t exactly fit that profile, it does include carbs, fat and protein, which is more than can be said about, say, an apple by itself. (Gasp!) Second, let’s not forget that sugar is sugar. Honey = Maple Syrup = Table Sugar. It all turns to glucose in our bodies, which triggers the Krebs cycle and eventually gets used as energy or stored as muscle glycogen or fat. So, let’s not get all high and mighty over one man’s Snickers bar as you gobble down honey-sweetened granola.

Now, let’s compare it to another ‘healthier’ snack. You could bring a totally fitness-magazine-approved apple/almonds/dark chocolate combo to work and feel pretty proud of yourself. You’ll consume 413 calories, 23.3 grams fat, 34.1 grams carbohydrate and 7.9 grams protein (51% fat, 46% carbohydrate and 3% protein, approximately). Wowza! I bet you weren’t expecting those numbers. Now which one looks like the better snack?

BUT. While the Snickers bar has fewer calories and seems a bit more balanced, is a candy bar REALLY your best choice? I think not.

No, and here’s why: A highly processed, fat-laden, added-sugar-sweetened crash-waiting-to-happen ‘food’ item wrapped in plastic is never going to be a better choice than real food.

First, the apple is full of fiber, vitamins and minerals and even water for hydration.  You aren’t getting any of that in your candy bar. Second, by pairing your apple with some almonds, a source of monounsaturated fat and a whopping 6 grams of protein, you’re promoting satiety and better able to absorb the vitamins and minerals found in the apple. Throwing in the dark chocolate at this point is a bit gratuitous, and I’d rather you save it for after dinner and allow it to replace a larger treat or the mindless snacking you’ve been doing in front of the TV. If you do that, the nutrition profile of your afternoon snack looks a lot more reasonable: 284 calories, 15.3 grams fat (almost of that unsaturated), 30 grams sugar and 6.2 grams protein, which is approximately 49% fat, 42% carbohydrate and 9% protein.   Now doesn’t that seem like something you can feel a little better about eating on the regular?

So, what have we learned? First, things aren’t always what they seem; that Snickers bar isn’t as devoid of nutrition as perhaps you thought it was. Second, ‘healthy’ food can still pack in a lot of calories and is often where we get ourselves in trouble by over consuming—trail mix, I’m looking at you. While one ounce of dark chocolate is a great choice to satisfy a sweet tooth because it’s lower in saturated fat, added sugar (usually) and higher in antioxidants, it’s still a treat that should be moderated in your diet.

Did I surprise you?  In my opinion, opting for fresh, whole foods and avoiding processed foods is your best bet all the time, but it’s also OK to eat a few Oreos every once in awhile. Bottom line: don’t make those Oreos a habit and always pair your sources of sugar (like an apple) with sources of protein and fat (like nuts) for a balanced snack that will give you lasting energy and promote a feeling of fullness until your next meal.

 

 

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