Peeling Back the Wrappers of Energy Bars

I was recently on the road — up in Saskatoon Canada to learn all about canola oil (the majority of it is grown in that region).  Whenever we’re on the road, we always plan ahead and pack easy, portable foods — nuts, packets of salmon, durable fruit, etc.  But if in a major pinch, sometimes a bar will be the best option if the others aren’t around. 

The question, then, is WHAT bar do you pick?  And what do you look for when picking a bar?  Do you look at the ingredients?  Protein content?  Flavor?

Well, regardless of what you look for, there’s a product for all of you …

how to pick an energy bar…from "natural" bars to weight loss, muscle building to those marketed for you to think more clearly.  This 100+ million dollar market is HOT!

There are literally hundreds to choose from.  Making the right choice can take serious effort!

Let’s first get something out of the way — the term "energy" bar is kind of misleading.  Really, anything with calories provides energy.  So knowing that, we should add the word energy before everything we eat … energy apples, energy sandwich, energy pizza.

Getting that off the table, it’s time to peel back the wrappers and sort through the additional hype among this enormous market.

It’s important to first remember that bars are great when you’re in a pinch, on the go, or traveling, but they shouldn’t be a regular staple in your diet.  We’ve seen way too many people rely on these on a daily basis as a calorie controlled option.

Second, if it looks like a candy bar, has the ingredient profile of a candy bar, and tastes like a candy bar … it IS a candy bar, just with some added vitamins and minerals.

Don’t fall for the overpriced hype.  These are nothing more than overpriced junk ingredients, covered in chocolate.

With those two out of the way, let’s look at some ingredients.

We always say to aim for individual foods that have as few ingredients as possible – 5 or less would be ideal in our minds … well, the same rule of thumb applies for bars as it does foods – the less ingredients, the better.

There are a handful of bars that fit this bill and have just a handful of simple ingredients.

Clif C (by the makers of Clif Bar) and Lara Bars come to mind immediately.

These bars are basically just dried fruit and nuts.  And we love that.

The next thing to understand is that the order of ingredients on the food label dictates the amount of each that’s in the product.  So, for example, if a product label listed these 3 ingredients – sugar, protein, fat – that means it would have the most sugar, followed by protein, and finally fat.  Of course lists are longer and more specific than that, but you get the point.

So when you’re looking at a bar that you like and most of the first few ingredients are sugar or some form of sugar, there are surely better options.

On the flip side, keep in mind that many bars that are “low carb” or “low sugar” are instead loaded up with something called sugar alcohols.  These ingredients can be picked out because they end in ‘ol (malitol, sorbitol, eryhritol, etc).

While small doses of sugar alcohols are fine, too many of them can cause some serious GI discomfort.  And I’ve had several clients report this very side effect from eating too many of these so called “low carb health bars.”  So keep an eye out for those fillers too.

As usual, watch for well marketed bars with “sexy” catch phrases – Think Thin, Think! (for brain power), Full Bar (for weight loss), and Oh Mama! Bars (for expecting mothers) all come to mind.

Products like these usually have a pixie dust amount of an ingredient(s) that has shown promise … for example, Oh Mama! Bars have DHA for developing infants, but just minimal amounts.  There are certainly more effective ways to get that same ingredient.

Team Mohr Bottom Line: Don’t live off any of these bars.  Use them for an occasional “on the go” moment.  Of course these are better than a quick stop at a fast food restaurant for sure.  But just like foods, pick ones with very few ingredients and ones that taste good, remembering there is nothing magical about any of them.

Our personal favorite picks.

Clif C Bar.  Lara Bars.  Add a piece of fruit on the side and that simple bar becomes even better!

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