Energy bars, protein bars, nutrition bars, health bars, snack bars, food bars, granola bars...they go by many names but they all serve a similar purpose- to provide your body with fuel. Regardless of what you call them, it is wise to look at the ingredients to determine whether they are a nutritious choice or merely empty calories. They can be wholesome or they can be artificial and highly processed. Don't make judgments based on the marketing words on the front of the wrapper or box. Turn the product over and read what it is made of.
3 Healthy Ingredients to Find in an Energy Bar
- Whole Grains: Oats are common to find in energy bars. All oats are considered whole grains; there are various stages of processing but there are no refined oats to watch out for. Whole grains are a healthy source of carbohydrates and fiber to help keep you full. Whole wheat flour is okay also, but if it just says wheat flour (which is another phrase for white flour), then it is not a whole grain.
- Nuts and seeds: These are the "good fats" as well as an excellent source of protein and fiber. Any kind of nut or seed is a nutritious addition to your diet. Don't be alarmed if the fat grams seem high on a bar if the source is from nuts or seeds. Many people still associate fat from nuts and seeds with fat on their body and this is an inaccurate belief. Eating more calories than you need is what leads your body to store fat.
- Dried Fruit: The most natural sweetener you can get. Full of vitamins and minerals, which white sugar and high fructose corn syrup are lacking. Dates and raisins are commonly found in energy bars. It's okay to check out the sugar grams on the nutrition facts panel, but bear in mind that it does not differentiate between sugar from dried fruits and white sugar and corn syrup. See why it is so much more informative to read the ingredient list?
3 Ingredients to Watch Out For in an Energy Bar
- Sugar: This is number one and because it makes things taste good and it's cheap you will find it in most bars. You'll also see it listed as high fructose corn syrup. Higher quality bars will use dates, raisins, or other dried fruit to sweeten. You may find brown rice syrup or agave- a bit of an improvement over the white stuff, but not much. Determine how much is in the bar by looking at where the sugar falls in the ingredient list (ingredients are listed in order of occurrence by weight). If sugar is up near the top then you know it's got a lot.
- Partially-Hydrogenated Oils: Otherwise known as trans-fats. Most people know by now that these are the most dangerous type of fat out there. They are man-made and have been associated with numerous health issues. You'd never guess they could be lurking in a bar marketed as healthy but check that ingredient list to be sure.
- Artificial Ingredients: This covers a wide range of ingredients. Look out for artificial: colors, flavors, preservatives, and sweeteners. Basically avoid anything that you don't recognize as a real food in the ingredient list. A questionable ingredient is any protein isolate (usually soy or whey). This is not a natural food; it has undergone extensive processing. In moderation, this is fine- just try to stick mainly to the bars with more wholesome and natural ingredients.
Corinne Goff is a Registered Dietitian who is absolutely passionate about food, health, and nutrition. Corinne has a BA in Psychology from Salve Regina University and a BS in Nutrition from the University of Rhode Island. As a nutritionist, her objective is to help people reach their health goals by offering a personalized holistic approach to wellness that incorporates natural foods and lifestyle changes. She works together with her clients to develop daily improvements that they feel comfortable with and that are realistic. She believes that the focus on wholesome, nutrient-rich, real food, is the greatest possible way to become healthier, have more energy, decrease chances of chronic disease, and feel your best. For more information, please visit her website at RI Nutrition Housecalls.com.