Nutrition bars – which can include protein bars, energy bars and the like – are great, convenient little meals and snacks that give you the fuel you need without a big investment of time. Or at least, that’s how it should be. Unfortunately, these bars aren’t always as great as they might seem. In fact, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) was compelled to sending a warning letter to the makers of KIND bars in 2015 simply because of the company’s use of the word “healthy.”
This incident raises an interesting question: How should you go about picking a nutrition bar? How do you know if one is, in fact, healthy or if you should avoid it?
What Are You Looking For?
The first thing you need to determine is how you intend to use the bar in question. Is it a meal or a snack? If the bar will simply be a quick snack, then some around 200 calories or less should suffice. When using a bar to replace a full meal, though, you can go bigger – somewhere closer to 400 calories would be appropriated.
Your goals and individual dietary needs will also impact what you look for when it comes to macronutrients. If you’re looking to boost your protein intake or for a satisfying meal replacement, for example, you’ll want something that contains at least 15g of protein and about 3 to 5g of fiber. Combined, these ingredients will keep you feeling full and help suppress food cravings later.
Particularly if you’re in the market for a “protein bar,” you’ll want to be conscious of where all that protein comes from. While numerous sources are used in these bars, whey protein is the highest-quality option.
Of course, there’s usually plenty of ingredients that go into nutrition bars and we cannot possibly discuss all of them here. But, with that in mind, we should be guided by this principle: The less ingredients, the better.
A nutrition bar, like all other meals and snacks should be a relatively whole-food, prepared with only a minimal amount of processing. If that’s the case, the nutritional ingredients will accomplish everything that bar needs to do. They won’t need the help of any artificial dyes, sweeteners, flavorings or preservatives.
It’s also important to state that you should be weary of any sweetener, not just the artificial ones. In this case, sugar or any other caloric sweetener could quickly turn that nutrition bar into a candy bar. Of course, if the sugar comes from fruit it will be bundled with other nutrients and you can allow yourself 10 to 12g. But if honey, agave or plain ol’ glucose are used, be sure that the bar contains no more than 6 or 7g of sugar.
So, then, what separates a good nutrition bar from a bad one? You’ll want to look for a product that uses quality, natural ingredients to fit your dietary needs. This includes considering the amount of macronutrients and total calories packed into that little wrapper.