Nutrition Bar Information
Do "energy bars" really give you energy? Sure, but only because they contain calories, and calories fuel the body. Energy bars (also called nutrition or sports bars) vary in how much protein, fat and carbohydrates they contain, as well as in the vitamins, minerals and other compounds that are added. They may be marketed as "low-carb," "high-carb," "low-glycemic-index" or "high-protein" (all the diet fads are covered). A few boast organic ingredients or provide extras like herbs and omega-3 fats.
But they won't make you more energetic, stronger or faster than other foods. Nor will they improve brain function or do any of the other things that may be implied by the bar's name or promoters. Many, in fact, are just souped-up candy bars, loaded with sugar and fat and thus extra calories. But some can be good occasional snacks.
Raising the bar
- Not all bars are created equal, so read the nutrition information and ingredients. Look for whole grains (like rolled oats), nuts, peanut butter or fruit at or near the top of the ingredient list (not high-fructose corn syrup, brown rice syrup or maltitol—all sweeteners).
- Choose bars with more fiber. Fiber typically ranges from 2 to 5 grams.
- Calories usually range from 170 to 300. Lower-calorie bars simply tend to be smaller. Some bars have as many calories as a small meal.
- Look for low saturated fat. Most bars have 2 to 4 grams; Atkins bars have more.
- A high-protein bar (or other high-protein snack) after strenuous exercise may help older people build a little more muscle, but most people don't need extra protein.
- Don't judge a bar by how many added vitamins and minerals it has. You're better off getting these from natural food sources or a multivitamin/mineral pill that provides 100 percent of the Daily Values.
Source: Originally published in The University of California, Berkeley Wellness Letter (August 2011)