Are Nutri-Grain Bars Unhealthy? An Ingredient Analysis

Are Nutri-Grain Bars Unhealthy? An Ingredient Analysis


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Nutri-Grain bars are a staple in the US, since they're convenient, affordable and thought to be a healthy snack option. The brand claims that their products are "made with whole grains," and "can help you come prepared for mornings."

But what's actually in a Nutri-Grain bar? Are the bars healthy or unhealthy? Do they contain any questionable additives like preservatives and dye? And how do real users describe the health effects and taste of Nutri-Grain bars?

In this article we'll answer all of these questions and more, as we analyze the ingredients in Nutri-Grain bars based on clinical studies, to give our take on whether or not the brand is healthy.

We'll compare the ingredients in Nutri-Grain to other popular protein bars (Quest, Kind and Clif Bar), and give our pick for the healthiest Nutri-Grain bar.

We'll also feature a video that shows how to make a healthy protein bar at home with only four ingredients.

Ingredient Analysis

Nutri-Grain Bar Apple Cinnamon flavor macros

Selected macronutrients in the Apple Cinnamon flavor of Nutri-Grain are shown above.

One bar provides 12 grams (g) of added sugar, which is relatively high (nearly 25% of the Daily Value).

Consuming too much added sugar can increase blood pressure and increase risk of cardiovascular disease according to Harvard Health, and many Americans already consume too much sugar from their diet, which is why we recommend avoiding snack foods with high quantities of added sugar.

There is only 2 g of fiber and 2 g of protein per bar which is also suboptimal, because both of these nutrients can increase the sensation of fullness and reduce cravings according to a clinical trial published in the Nutrients journal.

The full ingredient list for this product is shown below:

Nutri-Grain Apple Cinnamon flavor ingredients

While there are some nutritious, whole food ingredients in this bar like oats, whole wheat flour and apple puree concentrate, there are also some additive ingredients that we consider to be questionable from a health perspective.

Natural flavor is a broad descriptor, and can contain solvents and preservatives according to a medical review published in the Food and Chemical Toxicology journal.

Carrageenan is clinically shown to cause gastrointestinal dysfunction (at least in animal models), as we documented in our Fiber One review article.

Citric acid is a food manufacturing additive that can cause significant inflammation throughout the body in some individuals, as documented in a medical review published in the Toxicology Reports journal.

Overall, we consider Nutri-Grain to be unhealthy and to be a relatively "processed" food product.

But which flavor of Nutri-Grain is the healthiest option? We'll evaluate in the next section of our article.

Which Nutri-Grain is the Healthiest?

Nutri-Grain Strawberry & Squash flavor ingredients

We consider Nutri-Grain Strawberry & Squash flavor to be the healthiest flavor of the bars, and its ingredients are shown above.

The added sugar in this flavor is 17% lower than in the Apple Cinnamon flavor (10 g vs 12 g), and it provides both fruit and vegetables.

Squash is nutritionally rich in compounds like antioxidants, vitamins and minerals according to a 2020 medical review, although there's a relatively small amount of squash in this product (even though it's featured in the marketing materials).

Squash is the sixth-listed ingredient in the "Filling" section, and ingredients are required to be listed in order of weight according to the National Institutes of Health.

This means that there's more invert sugar and corn syrup in the filling than there is butternut squash.

We still believe that this flavor provides greater nutrition and potential health benefits than the other flavors we surveyed.

Nutri-Grain vs. the Competition

Quest, Kind and Clif Bar are three of the most popular protein/snack bars in the US. Here's our take on how they compare to Nutri-Grain from a nutritional perspective.

Quest Bars

Quest Bars contain artificial sweeteners and some contain erythritol which is clinically shown to be associated with increased risk of stroke.

We consider refined sugar to be a safer alternative to erythritol.

Verdict: Nutri-Grain wins

Kind Bars

Kind Bars have about 50% less added sugar and are free of citric acid (though they do contain natural flavor in some cases).

Verdict: Kind Bar wins

Clif Bars

Many of the ingredients in Clif Bars are organic, which gives this brand a slight advantage, as we documented in our article on are Clif Bars good for you.

Clif Bars do contain citric acid and natural flavors like Nutri-Grain bars, but they're higher in protein and fiber by a significant margin.

Verdict: Clif Bar wins

Make Healthy Protein Bars at Home

A Youtube creator named Michael Kory has a video with a tutorial for healthy homemade protein bars that has over 1 million views:

Our Clean Protein Bar Pick

Promix Protein Puff Bars is our top overall protein bar pick.

The Vanilla flavor has nutritious base ingredients like egg whites, vanilla extract and tapioca starch. It has the consistency of a Rice Krispie. 

This bar is also entirely free of ingredients we consider to be unhealthy.

Stay up-to-date on our research reviews

Conclusion

Nutri-Grain bars are unhealthy in our opinion.

While they contain some whole food ingredients like oats and butternut squash, they provide relatively low levels of fiber and protein, which are important macronutrients for satiation.

Further, Nutri-Grain bars contain some added ingredients that are questionable from a health perspective like refined sugar, citric acid and natural flavor.

We consider Nutri-Grain to be healthier than Quest bars, but less healthy than Kind bars and Clif Bars. Of the four brands, Kind is the best choice from a nutritional perspective.

Nutri-Grain Strawberry & Squash flavor is the healthiest flavor because it provides both fruit and vegetables, and is slightly lower in sugar than most of the other flavors.

In this article we featured a video showing how to make healthy homemade protein bars.