Read labels carefully to weed out the junk.
Once marketed only to athletes, energy bars have gone mainstream. If you’ve cruised any grocery store recently, you’ve seen them—usually displayed near the candy bars. They come in a wide array of flavors and their packaging is full of health claims—but are these snacks healthy or are they nothing more than a candy bar dressed up as health food? That depends.
Energy bars were once designed to provide quick energy during exercise, but they have since become a convenient snack or meal replacement. Food is fuel. The right energy bar under the right circumstances can be a healthy choice. The trick is discerning the health from the junk.
Anatomy of an Energy Bar
Thanks to savvy marketing, most of us operate under the assumption that energy bars are healthy and indeed, some of them are—but others leave a lot to be desired in the nutrition department. Like any food, energy bars consist of macronutrients (protein, carbohydrates, and fat) and micronutrients (vitamins, minerals, and essential fatty acids).
Many bars are high in carbohydrates, which are digested and absorbed quickly into the bloodstream—this can be good if you are on a 3-hour bike ride, but not so good if you’re sitting at your desk.
Some key components of energy bars (or any packaged food) that are important to analyze are:
Read the Label
It may sound obvious, but read the label. Check the ingredients. If a bar has an ingredient list longer than your entire grocery list, beware. If the ingredients are unpronounceable, take heed. If the ingredient list leads with sugar or high fructose corn syrup, walk away. Instead, look for a bar that has fewer than 10 ingredients and make sure the ingredients are whole foods such as oats, dried fruit, or nuts.
Energy Bar versus Food
Energy bars have become a convenient, go-to snack for people on the go—but convenience shouldn’t trump nutrition. Energy bars can be a good snack in a pinch and they are certainly a better choice than a candy bar or a bag of chips. However, if you find yourself buying energy bars by the case and relying on them on a daily basis, you might be overdoing it. Most of the time, real food is the better alternative. Energy bars are often the easy choice—they come in their own wrapper and you can eat them on the fly. But bananas and oranges also come in their own “wrapper” and offer more nutrients.
The bottom line—not all energy bars are created equally. Some are healthy. Some are not. The burden falls on you, the consumer, to choose wisely.
Choosing a Bar
Want to make a healthy choice? If you’re eating a bar as a snack or meal replacement, here’s what to look for:
Make Your Own Energy Bars
If you need the convenience of energy bars, but want to ensure you’re getting the nutrients you need, why not make your own? With a little creativity, there is no limit to the possibilities. Here’s a simple, no-bake recipe:
No-Bake Nut Butter Bars
1/2 cup natural peanut butter, almond butter, or nut butter of your choice
1/4 cup nonfat dry milk powder
1/4 cup unsweetened flaked coconut
1/3 cup rolled oats
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 cup wheat germ
1/4 cup unsweetened apple juice concentrate, thawed
Mix all ingredients thoroughly and form into bars or balls. Store in refrigerator.
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Tags: Nutritional Know-How