Energy "Nutrition" Bars Have Come A Long Way
By Dr. Robert M. Cohl,
Nutrition (energy) bars have come a long way from the days when their manufacturers only catered to weight lifters. Todays energy bars include a variety of ingredients, sizes, textures, and prices. Not all energy bars are the same and like all food, you should choose wisely when deciding which bar to grab to satisfy your hunger or sustain your energy through your workday or workout.
Whether they are called energy bars, snack bars, health bars, or sport bars, these compact foods can boast enough content comparable to an average meal, though that doesnt mean the meal is actually healthy. Nothing can compare to actually eating whole foods, though some of the whole-food type bars come close - and theyre convenient. The vast majority of bars can be divided into three categories high protein bars, carbohydrate bars and 40-30-30 bars.
Protein bars are those that are comprised primarily of protein; usually over 20 grams and over 30 percent of their content. Protein bars are most always very low in fat, and have some amount of carbohydrate for taste. The protein in these bars is typically in the form of milk calcium caseinate or whey (often hydrolyzed), egg whites or soy protein. The carbohydrate in these bars is typically very sugary to aid in the taste and is often high fructose corn syrup, fructose, sucrose, dextrose, maltose, or some other form or refined sugar. The fat content is usually butter (cocoa), fractioned palm oil (a poor quality saturated fat), or at worse, some form of partially hydrogenated oil. These bars may be convenient to those who need protein supplementation, but careful attention should be paid to the often very unhealthy ingredients.
Carbohydrate bars are those that contain around 70 percent or more of their calories from a carbohydrate source, typically high fructose corn syrup, maltodextrin, sugar, dextrose, barley malt, or brown rice syrup, just to name a few. These bars are very high glycemic index foods and will tend to disrupt blood sugar levels, especially in non-exercising individuals who have some degree of carbohydrate intolerance or insulin resistance. The protein and fat content of these bars are typically very low, containing many of the same sources as those ingredients in the protein bars. Carbohydrate bars may be useful during prolonged exercise such as a marathon or long bicycle race, but it really depends on how fit one is and what they are burning for fuel in other words, the more fit and aerobic one is during exercise, the less they will rely on carbohydrates for fuel.
The 40-30-30 bars have become some of the most popular over the past several years. These bars contain approximately 40 percent carbohydrate, 30 percent protein and 30 percent fat, give or take. They tend to be most beneficial to consumers because they most resemble a meal, rather than a supplement or snack. Their ratio is agreeable to the ever-increasing number of persons with some form of insulin resistance, as the bars are slowly digested and absorbed into the bloodstream due to the increased fat content as well as protein.
As with the others, attention should be paid to the ingredients, as not all 40-30-30 bars are alike. One may have its carbohydrate content coming from high fructose corn syrup, (a high glycemic sweetener high in refined sugars) while another may contain brown rice syrup or honey. One bar may have partially hydrogenated vegetable oil - a fat that should always be avoided - while a healthier bar could contain olive or sunflower oil, or natural nuts and seeds, or peanut or almond butter.
So, as with any food, pay careful attention to what type of energy bar you are eating. Some bars out there are worse than many candy bars. Read all the ingredients, not just the amount of protein, carbohydrates, fat, calories, or fiber. I almost never read that part of the label, or I read it last. Always go right to the actual ingredients list first. Better yet, make your own bar or trail mix its cheaper and youll know what youre eating.