Nutrition Bars: Health or Hype?

NutritionBarPhotoWe all have busy lives, and the emergence of nutrition bars seems to have been the answer to our prayers. I must admit, I have bars with me AT ALL TIMES…in my purse, gym bag, backpack, work locker. They have saved me from making not-so-smart food choices at the airport, ice rink and even at parties. When bars first came out, they were consumed mostly by competitive athletes looking for an edge; now anyone looking for a nutritional boost has them stashed away in briefcases and work desks (like me!).

These days, there are literally hundreds of pre-wrapped, portable products in shelves around the country. Gyms, health food stores, and supermarkets offer almost too many choices; high protein bars, breakfast bars, energy bars, women-only bars, meal-replcement bars, kid-only bars…I could go on and on. These bars certainly offer a better alternative to vending machines for snacks at school or work… or do they? Convenience is certainly important, but READ THE LABEL! Many of these bars contain as much sugar and fat as a candy bar, so be smart about your choices! Also keep in mind nutrition bars are not subjected to any quality testing prior to marketing, so who knows what you’re really eating! In 2001, the testing group ConsumerLab.com analyzed 30 brands of bars and found that 60% failed to meet their labeling claims!

In general, I recommend to my athletes that they eat nutrition bars as an occasional snack between meals when more convenient than food; after all, it’s not easy to pack a turkey sandwich in your pocket for after workouts. I do recommend they use them before or after a workout, early in the morning before practice, or as a snack before bed for those who need the extra calories. But how do you choose a healthy (and tasty!) nutrition bar? Here are a few tips:

  • Read the Ingredients on the Label…can you even pronounce them?

This rule applies to choosing pretty much any food product off the shelf. If it’s not from the produce section, and especially if it comes in a box, can or neatly wrapped package, I make sure to read not only the nutrition facts but also the ingredient list. Ingredients should be familiar to you and pronounceable, rather than substances that  belong in a science lab. You can also use technology, the Fooducate is one of my favorites…read more on Fooducate HERE.

  • Choose the protein source carefully!

This one is VERY important. First, if you are looking for a “protein bar,” say, for after a workout, it should have at least 15 grams of protein. Choose bars with high quality protein, like hydrolyzed whey, or for those avoiding dairy or looking for plant based proteins, look for hemp or pea protein, both excellent sources of good quality protein.  Avoid soy protein isolate: artificially extracting soy protein isolate makes it highly processed and eliminates some of the health-promoting qualities and can actually act as a hormone disruptor in the body. Some bars use only nuts and seeds as their source of protein…winner!!!

  • Look for Natural Sweeteners and avoid High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS)

This one is also a biggie because some of these “healthy” bars can contain more sugar than a Hershey bar! Again, avoid HFCS (in any food); it is a sign of a poor quality product. Instead, look for bars that use raisins, dates or other dried fruits to sweeten up the bar. Other acceptable choices are honey, agave or brown rice syrup, especially if no fruit is used. Some newer bars are using stevia, considered a natural sweetener. It’s OK to have some natural sugar, especially after a workout, when the body needs to replenish depleted glycogen.

  • Avoid processed oils; corn, soy, and canola

A “healthy” nutrition bar should have NO corn, soy, canola or any kind of hydrogenated oil. These oils become pro-inflammatory agents in our body. Healthy fat sources to look for include those that come from natural ingredients like coconut, peanuts, almonds, walnuts, chia seeds, pumpkin seeds and hemp seeds.

What is YOUR favorite nutrition bar? When do you eat them? Let me know on Doctor Jacq’s Facebook Page (and make sure to Like it!) and stay tune for next week’s post on my favorite bars! Have a great weekend!

 

 

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