Energy bars are not all created equal, says Anne Mauney, a dietitian who offers consulting services at AnneTheRD.com. The best can be a healthy part of an active person’s diet, while others are so loaded with sweetener and artificial ingredients that they are no more nutritious than a chocolate bar. Mauney recommends that you focus on four key factors when you buy energy bars.
The best bars can be a healthy part of an active person’s diet, while others are no more nutritious than candy.
All healthy foods are made with ingredients you recognize. In the case of energy bars, you want whole grains, fruit and nuts. “Avoid bars loaded with artificial ingredients, especially those with names that look like they come from a chemistry book,” Mauney says. “Pass on products with partially hydrogenated oils (aka trans fat) and enriched (rather than whole) grains.”
The sugar content listed on a label can be deceiving. Dates, for instance, are a whole food that’s high in fiber, but also high in sugar. Your body reacts to the naturally occurring sugar in fruit differently than it does to processed sweeteners. “Look for energy bars without added sugar,” Mauney advises. “Sugar appears on ingredient lists by many names, including corn syrup, glucose, dextrose, fructose, honey, maltose, and sucrose.”
Protein and Fiber
For an energy bar to truly satisfy your hunger and power you up before or after exercise, it needs these two important components. Your body depends on protein to build and repair muscle. Fiber gives you time to digest and extract the healthy nutrients from food and helps you feel full. Mauney recommends you choose a bar that contains at least 5 grams of protein and 5 grams of fiber.
Some bars contain 150 calories – perfect for a healthful snack. Others are designed as meal replacers with 400 to 500 calories per serving. They’re best as an occasional on-the-go breakfast or lunch. Also, be sure to check the label of packages containing two bars – they may be two servings or one.
Three Top Picks
You now have the know-how to make an informed decision for yourself about any energy bar you see. We recommend these three because they’re made with whole, organic ingredients, and they come in a variety of tasty flavors.
Larabar: Each of its bars is made with no more than nine ingredients, all of them foods you know.
Luna: All of the Clif Bar products are healthy choices, but Luna bars are formulated specifically for active women.
Odwalla: The Super Protein bar has a whopping 14 grams of protein.
We’d love to know what you eat to fuel up before or after a workout. Share your favorites in Comments.