Sorting Through the Bars

by Jo-Ann Heslin, MA, RD, CDN on October 20, 2003 · 0 comments

There are energy bars, power bars, protein bars, diet bars, meal replacement bars – Expensive? Delicious? Nutritious? Good for you? (Oct. 2003)

Good nutrition coated in chocolate — who could resist? Not many of us. Just look at all the nutrition bars in the drugstore, supermarket, health food store, gym or vending machines. Low carb, high protein, high fiber, fortified with vitamins, minerals, amino acids … which do you pick?

Nutrition bars were designed for soldiers and endurance athletes (marathoners, cross country skiers, bicyclists) who needed energy but couldn’t stop to eat. Most of us don’t fall into this category. But this hot new food is no longer aimed at athletes, but tailored to the needs of women, dieters, and people on the go or looking for a mental edge.

Here’s a quick bar guide:

-energy bars tend to have more carbohydrates for a quick energy boost
-diet bars have less carbohydrates and fewer calories.
-meal replacement bars have more protein, fat and carbohydrates, and are often larger, with more calories.
-protein bars simply have more protein — between 10 and 30 grams a bar.

When choosing a bar, look at labels carefully. Some of the tiniest varieties pack a walloping 300 calories. The typical bar weighs around 2 ounces and has about 200 calories, but many have a lot of sugar and fat, often saturated and trans fat. Still, most are low in cholesterol and sodium.

Eating an energy bar occasionally is fine. Even eating one daily as a snack or meal replacement can help control calories. But these expensive snacks are little more than highly fortified candy bars. They’re better nutritional choices than a Snickers. But, some taste dreadful, as if that makes them seem more healthy.

Cereal bars and granola bars, often cheaper and tastier, contain a good variety array of nutrients, but not in very large amounts. For kids and pregnant women they are a better bet than highly fortified energy bars.

Then again, the old standby, peanut butter and jelly on whole wheat bread, offers quick energy, high quality protein, fiber, and essential nutrients – all at a fraction of the cost of most energy bars. And it tastes good, too.

For a listing of over 225 energy and cereal bars, buy The Most Complete Food Counter by Annette B. Natow and Jo-Ann Heslin (Pocket Books, 2003). Available at or your local bookstore.

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