We’re fortunate in this country to have so many different types of food available to us. And thousands of new food products are introduced to every year. The downside of that is that many of these new foods aren’t always so healthful — candy, gum, snack foods, and beverages account for most of the newbies that show up in the supermarket.
One food product that has really skyrocketed in popularity is the energy bar. Not that long ago, energy bars were seen mostly in health-food stores. Now they’re everywhere, including at your local drugstore. My neighborhood supermarket has shelf after shelf of these bars. As the name implies, energy bars were originally developed to “fuel” athletes, giving them both energy and endurance. Yet, they’ve turned into a convenient snack or even a quick meal on the go for many of us. Americans spend more than one billion dollars on these bars every year. And there are hundreds of these bars to choose from. But what’s in them? Are they really as nutritious as they’re hyped up to be?
Energy bars tend to fall into several different categories: high protein, moderate protein, high carbohydrate, meal replacement, weight loss, and even bars especially aimed at women. Names of bars that you may be familiar with include Balance, Clif, Luna, PowerBar, MET-Rx, Larabar, and Atkins Advantage. There are many more to choose from, as well. Some bars promote organic and all-natural ingredients.
The name and the packaging can be very deceiving, however. Some of these bars are not a whole lot different than a regular granola bar or even a candy bar that has been fortified with vitamins and minerals. If you check the ingredient list, you may be surprised to find that they contain various types of sugar (including high-fructose corn syrup) and saturated fat (from palm oil and partially hydrogenated oils). These are the same ingredients found in your average candy bar.
Energy bars aren’t necessarily any better for you than a candy bar or a granola bar in terms of blood glucose control. Other possible downsides of energy bars have to do with the type of protein they contain. The protein source in some products comes from gelatin or collagen and therefore may be missing some essential amino acids. Other bars are overloaded with vitamins and minerals (you’re very likely getting more than enough of these micronutrients from the other foods you eat). And you’ll come across bars that have other added ingredients, such as herbs, like guarana or ginseng, supposedly for even more energy!
How to Choose an Energy Bar