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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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19 Responses to Peeling Back the Wrappers of Energy Bars

  1. Kristi Jedlicki Levenhagen May 10, 2010 at 6:10 am #

    I usually eat a mini Clif Bar about an hour before I work out in the morning.  What is the verdict on these, and how are they different than the Clif C bars you mentioned?  Thanks for the great information!

    • Chris and Kara Mohr May 10, 2010 at 2:52 pm #

      This is great too — it’s small, but gives just a bit of calories to fuel your workout, yet not “sit” on your stomach.

  2. Joanne May 10, 2010 at 6:56 am #

    What do you think of Kind Bars?  

    • Chris and Kara Mohr May 10, 2010 at 2:52 pm #

      They’re OK…they’re better than most, but do have a decent amount of sugars in them

  3. T Sue May 10, 2010 at 7:19 am #

    Wondering what you think of the OmegaSmart Bar? Thanks!

    • Chris and Kara Mohr May 10, 2010 at 2:52 pm #

      I like them too — well, haven’t tasted them, but ingredients are solid. Thanks for making me aware of them! We’ll try them for sure.

  4. T Sue May 10, 2010 at 7:21 am #

    Wondering what you think of the OmegaSmart bar? Thanks
    http://www.omegasmartbar.com

  5. Ray May 10, 2010 at 8:02 am #

    Thanks for explaining Alcohol Sugars. That's one I've never understood so well. My wife has an issue with sugar, she gets the "shakes" and dizzy headed if she gets too much sugar. So she tends to allow herself some "diet" or sugar-free goodies which usually have sugar alcohol and now this mat be why she sometimes claims a belly button ache. I'll make her aware of this possibility.

  6. Ray May 10, 2010 at 8:04 am #

    Thanks for explaining Alcohol Sugars. Thats one Ive never understood so well. My wife has an issue with sugar, she gets the shakes and dizzy headed if she gets too much sugar. She is watching her blood glucose levels but she tends to allow herself some diet or sugar-free goodies which usually have sugar alcohol and now this may be why she sometimes claims a belly button ache. Ill make her aware of this possibility.

  7. KEllis May 11, 2010 at 9:43 am #

    I've been eating these Kashi GoLean Protein&Fiber bars from Costco and they say all natural and don't taste all that good so i figured they must be pretty healthy :) Have you guys ever had these?

    • Chris and Kara Mohr May 12, 2010 at 8:55 am #

      Yes, these are better than most because even though they have a lot of ingredients, they are “cleaner” than most other products. Still like to aim for even few ingredients, though.

  8. David C May 13, 2010 at 9:37 am #

    What about the Trioplex bars? (very berry)

    • Chris and Kara Mohr May 13, 2010 at 9:47 am #

      Expensive candy bars.

  9. Beth July 11, 2011 at 6:40 am #

    The Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Lara bars are my favorite. They’re harder to find, but worth the hunt! Yum!

  10. Sylvia, RD July 11, 2011 at 8:00 am #

    Most of the regular Kashi granola bar line meets my Pure “4-4-8″ Rule – The first two numbers are “at least” the last number is “no more than”. Therefore, At least 4 g. fiber, At least 4 g. protein, No more than 8 g. sugar. Pure, to me means – no HFCS, no artificial sweeteners, no trans or hydrogenated fats, no synthetic food dyes. Since “Natural” is not a FDA regulated term, we consumers need to peruse the ingredient part of the label with this type of filter.
    The Kashi bar makes a nice snack-bridge to the next meal if you’re caught with more than 5 hrs. between eating events!

  11. Sylvia, RD July 11, 2011 at 8:01 am #

    Most of the regular Kashi granola bar line meets my Pure "4-4-8" Rule – The first two numbers are "at least" the last number is "no more than". Therefore, At least 4 g. fiber, At least 4 g. protein, No more than 8 g. sugar. Pure, to me means – no HFCS, no artificial sweeteners, no trans or hydrogenated fats, no synthetic food dyes. Since "Natural" is not a FDA regulated term, we consumers need to peruse the ingredient part of the label with this type of filter.
    The Kashi bar makes a nice snack-bridge to the next meal if you’re caught with more than 5 hrs. between eating events!

  12. Brenda July 11, 2011 at 3:27 pm #

    What about the oh Yeah Bars

    • Chris and Kara Mohr July 13, 2011 at 10:01 am #

      Candy bars with vitamins

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