Nutrition Bars: Healthy or Hype?.
Grab 'n' Gobble
Food vs. Bars
Most nutritionists emphasize that even when consuming nutrition
bars, don't let them crowd whole foods out of your diet. For a quick snack, you
may be better off eating an apple or a banana. Before an athletic competition,
says Hertzler, "a bagel or graham crackers can produce a response in blood
glucose levels similar to some energy bars, and they cost a lot less."
Though nutrition bars are handy, Applegate says that you may be
overrelying on them if there's a growing pile of wrappers in your car.
"Some people go to Costco and buy boxes of energy bars, and feel, 'I'm
doing a good thing by eating them,'" she says. "They may think that
these bars are better than food. But there are ingredients in foods that are
missing from these bars. Just as you wouldn't want to live only on peaches or
only on tuna sandwiches, you need a lot more in your diet than just energy
Instead of a nutrition bar, Jackson says you can choose an
alternative snack like a container of low-fat yogurt with high-fiber cereal
sprinkled in it, or a fiber-rich bagel with a tomato and a small slice of
low-fat Swiss cheese melted on it.
When you're choosing and trying out nutrition bars, a number of
factors may influence your selection. For example:
- Look for a bar that's low in fat (less than 5 grams of fat).
- When evaluating the fiber content of bars, aim for 3 to 5 grams of fiber,
- Particularly if you're watching your weight, check the calories listed on
the label. For example, while a Luna Bar contains 170 to 180 calories, a MET-Rx
100-Gram Food Bar has 340 calories.
- "If you're shopping for a meal-replacement bar, choose one that has
about 15 or more grams of protein, along with some fiber, and fortified with
about 35% of the RDAs for vitamins and minerals," says Applegate, author of
Eat Smart, Play Hard. Meal-replacement bars tend to be larger than other
bars, with proportionately higher levels of carbohydrates, fats, and
- Consume some real food along with the bar. "People can eat grape
tomatoes with their bar, or a piece of fruit," says Jackson.
- If you consume multiple bars per day, make sure you're not biting off more
vitamins and minerals than you should chew. For example, a fortified bar might
provide 50% of the RDA for zinc, says Clark, author of Nancy Clark's Sports
Nutrition Guidebook. If you're eating several bars a day, plus a
multivitamin/multimineral pill and a bowl of fortified cereal like Total, you
could be getting much more zinc than you need, she cautions, which might
interfere with the absorption of other minerals, and even weaken your immune
To complicate matters, you may not be able to judge every bar
by its wrapper. In October 2001, when ConsumerLab.com announced the
findings of its independent laboratory tests of 30 nutrition bars, 18 did not
meet the claims of ingredient levels on the label. More than any other
misrepresentation, about one-half of the nutrition bars exceeded the
carbohydrate levels stated on the wrapper (one bar promoted as a
low-carbohydrate diet product claimed it had just 2 grams of carbohydrates, but
testing showed it actually contained 22 grams).