When it comes to food, a healthy reputation can be hard to shake.
Case in point—Chewy bars. Launched by the Quaker Oats Company in 1981, Chewy bars introduced "the world to chewy granola bars." Millions of Americans have grown up with Chewy bars in their pantries and lunch boxes. The company has long marketed them as a healthy option, playing up the fact they're made with "100% whole grains" and contain "no high fructose corn syrup." Their website currently states Chewy bars are the "Official Snack of Back-to-School!"
But does this popular snack really deserve this nutritious aura? Or is it simply junk food disguised as something more wholesome? STACK investigates.
Let's start things off by comparing the nutrition facts for two products. One of the following foods is a Quaker Chocolate Chip Chewy Granola Bar. The other is a fun size pack of Peanut M&Ms. Can you tell which is which?
Product A: 90 calories, 5 grams of fat, 1.75 grams of saturated fat, 10mg sodium, 10.5 grams carbohydrate, .5 gram fiber, 9 grams of sugar, 1.5 gram of protein, 1% DV calcium, 1% DV iron
Product B: 100 calories, 3.5 grams of fat, 1.5 grams of saturated fat, 70mg sodium, 17 grams carbohydrate, 1 gram fiber, 7 grams sugar, 1 gram protein, 8% DV calcium, 2% DV iron
Product B is the Chewy bar. Other varieties in the "Chewy Classic" line have very similar nutrition facts. As you might've noticed, the Chewy bar's nutrition facts aren't radically different than the fun size pack of Peanut M&Ms. That's a problem.
When it comes to snacks like this, you'd like them to provide both a significant amount of protein and a significant amount of fiber. Chewy bars do neither.
Why are protein and fiber important in a healthy snack?
Protein is one of the most important nutrients for athletes. High-quality protein provides the amino acids that muscles need to repair and rebuild, allowing you to recover from exercise and get stronger over time. The body also uses protein as a source of energy. Studies have shown that protein can help with weight management as diets higher in protein lead to increased feelings of fullness.
Meanwhile, a diet high in fiber has numerous benefits. According to the Mayo Clinic, it helps to normalize bowel movements, lower cholesterol levels, control blood sugar, maintain bowel health and aid in achieving a healthy weight. The Harvard School of Public Health states that fiber appears to reduce the risk of heart disease, diabetes and cardiovascular disease. One of the most interesting effects of fiber is that it slows down digestion, which helps you feel fuller longer after you eat. This can be a great benefit for people who want to cut calories and lose weight—or for anyone looking for an afternoon snack to hold them over until dinner.
While the 7 grams of sugar in a Chewy bar isn't dreadful, it's not ideal. It's not a terrible amount of sugar, but judging by the ingredients list (which contains upwards of 30 ingredients), much of that sugar is what's known as "added sugar." This refers to sugar that's been added during the manufacturing process to improve the taste and texture of a food. "Added sugars contribute additional calories and zero nutrients to food," the American Heart Association states. "Over the past 30 years, Americans have steadily consumed more and more added sugars in their diets, which has contributed to the obesity epidemic." Diets high in added sugar have been linked to obesity, Type 2 diabetes, heart disease, tooth decay and even cancer. The AHA recommends a limit of 24 grams per day for women and 36 grams per day for men.
These issues are exacerbated by the fact that Chewy bars are tiny. One bar weighs just 24 grams—about the same weight of one AA battery. A simple Twitter search reveals several people complaining about the size of Chewy bars, with many saying they could easily consume multiple bars in a single sitting.
Unsurprisingly, covering Chewy bars in chocolate or "yogurt-flavored coating" —which is exactly what the company's "Dipps" and "Yogurt" line of products do—makes their nutrition even worse. They bring on additional sugar without significantly boosting the amount of useful nutrients.
Are Chewy bars the worst snack in the world? No. The overall calorie total is fairly low and the sugar total could certainly be worse. However, the bars are simply too small and too lacking in fiber and protein to consistently satisfy hunger and prevent overeating. They also manage to stuff a ton of ingredients into a small package, qualifying them as an "ultra-processed" food. An occasional Chewy bar won't sabotage your diet, but their nutritional profile makes them little more than empty calories. If you're someone who eats Chewy bars on a regular basis and you're struggling with weight management, it may be time to look for a snack that's higher in fiber and protein and made with simpler ingredients. If you've absolutely got to get your Chewy fix, the company does offer a product line made with 25 percent less sugar.