Q. I watch my sugar intake and I’ve been searching for a healthy granola bar. Finally, I found Larabars at my grocery store: Only three ingredients and no added sugar. Awesome! My only concern is that the sugar content, while derived completely from dates, is very high. If I’m limiting my added sugar intake, should I also pay attention to sugars from natural sources? Thank you for your advice!
A. You have to be impressed by a processed food with only three ingredients! But I’m glad you didn’t let the glare of that health halo blind you to the high sugar content.
In terms of “added sugars,” the Larabars squeak through on a technicality. Added sugars usually refers to refined sugar and other concentrated sweeteners like honey or maple syrup. (Yup, even though they’re natural, they’re considered added sugars!) The naturally-occurring sugars in whole fruit and dairy products are usually given an exemption.
By the usual definition, the dates in your granola bar wouldn’t be considered added sugar. But, frankly, dates are about as close as you can get to sugar and still call yourself a fruit. (For that matter, I guess sugar cane could technically be considered a whole grain!)
How Nutritious are Dates?
An ounce of medjool dates contains 19 grams of sugar and 2 grams of fiber. An ounce of honey provides 23 grams of sugar and 0 grams of fiber. Neither one is a significant source of vitamins or minerals. (Click the links to see the complete nutrition facts.)
Aside from a gram or two of fiber, a bar sweetened with dates is really not that much different from a bar sweetened with honey. Ask yourself this: If the bar were sweetened with honey instead of dates, would it be more sugar than you’d be willing to eat? Although I’m all for whole foods and short ingredient lists, I agree with you that a bar with less sugar might be a better choice.