You walk into your local grocery or convenience store and inevitably stumble upon a sea of energy bars. Feeling somewhat overwhelmed by the plethora of health claims, you quickly buy an eye-catching bar with an appealing flavor. But did you really get the best bar to suit your needs?
Before making a purchase, think about why you are eating that bar—additional protein, a handy snack or a mini-meal replacement following a workout? Do you feel that because you are dieting, exercising or focusing on your health that energy bars are simply a must? Whatever your reasoning, know that energy bars are not a necessary part of a healthy, balanced diet. Before you buy, remember these pros and cons:
There are a lot of reasons why energy bars are so popular. In general, energy bars:
- Can help meet your energy (calorie) needs
- May help meet your nutritional needs protein, carbohydrates and fat
- May help to meet other nutritional needs depending on the added vitamins and minerals. Some nutrients that are often added include calcium, zinc, iron, vitamin D, vitamin B-12, folic acid, protein and fiber
- Are portable, convenient and pre-packaged
- May keep you out of dangerous areas such as the vending machine or fast food drive-thru
- Can help ward off binge eating if you become excessively hungry
- Have a long shelf life and don't require refrigeration.
Consider these downsides.
- Excessive nutrients. Energy bars can contribute to an excessive intake of nutrients, especially if you are eating more than one bar daily, are already taking a multivitamin supplement or are eating other fortified (enriched) foods and beverages. The dangers of over-supplementation vary from minor intestinal discomfort (diarrhea and constipation) to liver disease, nerve damage or even death.
- Excessive calories. If using too many, too often, energy bars may contribute to a high calorie intake, which can lead to weight gain.
- Cost. At $1 to $2 a bar, this convenience food can quickly become a major expense on your grocery bill.
- Abdominal discomfort. Some energy bars (especially low-sugar, low-carb and high-fiber varieties) contain and alternative fiber sources (inulin, chicory root); which can cause bloating, gas and diarrhea in some individuals. While these ingredients are safe to consume, monitor your individual tolerance.
- Lack of data. There is very little research to support the actual need for energy bars. While many provide claims regarding weight loss, antioxidants and muscle building, they are not a magical food and should not be used as a constant replacement for whole foods in your diet.
- Processing. Energy bars are a highly processed food, whereas whole, unprocessed foods should be the staples of a healthy diet.
- Additives. Some energy bars contain additional herbal ingredients or weight-loss aids. There is no data to show that any of these are effective or beneficial to health. There are no standards regarding potency or safety or effectiveness in these supplemental ingredients—and many can result in medication interaction and possible dangerous side effects.