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Choosing the Best Energy Bar

Edible Energy: Find the Right Bar for Your Needs

-- By Becky Hand, Licensed & Registered Dietitian
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You walk into your local grocery or convenience store and inevitably stumble upon a sea of energy bars. Feeling somewhat overwhelmed by the plethora of health claims, you quickly buy an eye-catching bar with an appealing flavor. But did you really get the best bar to suit your needs?

Before making a purchase, think about why you are eating that bar—additional protein, a handy snack or a mini-meal replacement following a workout? Do you feel that because you are dieting, exercising or focusing on your health that energy bars are simply a must? Whatever your reasoning, know that energy bars are not a necessary part of a healthy, balanced diet. Before you buy, remember these pros and cons:

Pros
There are a lot of reasons why energy bars are so popular. In general, energy bars:
  • Can help meet your energy (calorie) needs
  • May help meet your nutritional needs protein, carbohydrates and fat
  • May help to meet other nutritional needs depending on the added vitamins and minerals. Some nutrients that are often added include calcium, zinc, iron, vitamin D, vitamin B-12, folic acid, protein and fiber
  • Are portable, convenient and pre-packaged
  • May keep you out of dangerous areas such as the vending machine or fast food drive-thru
  • Can help ward off binge eating if you become excessively hungry
  • Have a long shelf life and don't require refrigeration.
Cons
Consider these downsides.
  • Excessive nutrients. Energy bars can contribute to an excessive intake of nutrients, especially if you are eating more than one bar daily, are already taking a multivitamin supplement or are eating other fortified (enriched) foods and beverages. The dangers of over-supplementation vary from minor intestinal discomfort (diarrhea and constipation) to liver disease, nerve damage or even death.
  • Excessive calories. If using too many, too often, energy bars may contribute to a high calorie intake, which can lead to weight gain.
  • Cost.  At $1 to $2 a bar, this convenience food can quickly become a major expense on your grocery bill.
  • Abdominal discomfort. Some energy bars (especially low-sugar, low-carb and high-fiber varieties) contain sugar alcohols and alternative fiber sources (inulin, chicory root); which can cause bloating, gas and diarrhea in some individuals. While these ingredients are safe to consume, monitor your individual tolerance.
  • Lack of data. There is very little research to support the actual need for energy bars. While many provide claims regarding weight loss, antioxidants and muscle building, they are not a magical food and should not be used as a constant replacement for whole foods in your diet.
  • Processing. Energy bars are a highly processed food, whereas whole, unprocessed foods should be the staples of a healthy diet.
  • Additives. Some energy bars contain additional herbal ingredients or weight-loss aids. There is no data to show that any of these are effective or beneficial to health. There are no standards regarding potency or safety or effectiveness in these supplemental ingredients—and many can result in medication interaction and possible dangerous side effects. Continued ›
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About The Author

Becky Hand Becky Hand
Becky is a registered and licensed dietitian with almost 20 years of experience. A certified health coach through the Cooper Institute with a master's degree in health education, she makes nutrition principles practical, easy-to-apply and fun. See all of Becky's articles.

Member Comments

  • I used to be an energy bar junkie. I would eat at least one a day, sometimes up to three! Then I realized how processed and artificial most of these bars are and how much added sugar they contain. Many of them are really no better than glorified candy bars. Plus, they are expensive.

    Smartest thing is to eat more unprocessed food. Replace the bars with trail mix (a mix of nuts, dried fruit, seeds) or yogurt topped with mueslix. There are so many nearly as quick and convenient things you can eat that are really much better for you.

    If you do want to splurge and eat a bar (I consider them desserts now), Kind bars and Lara bars are really minimally processed and contain very little added sugar. I still eat those from time to time. I also love Oh Yeah! bars. Those are pretty artificial. But they taste just like a candy bar, are low sugar, and have lots of protein. - 3/4/2014 12:44:18 PM
  • Lately have been eating Kind bars for a healthy snack. Ingredients I can recognize, not much sugar, plenty of fiber. Delicious. - 9/15/2013 6:22:24 AM
  • I love the zone bars its very filling but under 200 calories - 8/27/2013 10:51:14 AM
  • "The dangers of over-supplementat
    ion vary from minor intestinal discomforts (diarrhea and constipation) to liver disease, nerve damage or even death." Sources please. Because having worked in the ER, you see *SO* many people come in after ODing on vitamin C :P - 7/25/2013 8:53:46 AM
  • what about the original Clif bars (not the Builders variety)? they're a little pricy, but when I'm running late they go great with a cup of almond milk. - 7/24/2013 5:52:28 PM
  • Wow I'm shocked while these bars are more nutritious than a Fiber One bar, they are not the best by a long shot. How about mentioning KIND bars. A bunch of bars in the KIND bars line while at around 200-250 calories (which isn't much if you eat healthy for the day) ONLY have 4-5 grams of sugar, 3-6 grams of fiber, and 4-7 grams of protein! Also what about Health Warrior Chia Bars.. another low sugar and even low calorie (one bar is only 100 calories) and they are chocked full of chia seeds which keep me full for hours!!! No lie! - 7/24/2013 1:22:33 PM
  • l have one QUEST Bar for breakfast with yogurt and a coffee. They are really high in protein, high in fiber and sugar alcohols. They taste good and have many varieties. I like the Lemon Cream Pie, Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough, Banana Nut Muffin and Chocolate Brownie. I put them in the Microwave for 10 to 15 seconds. They are so good.


    Jodie - 7/24/2013 4:38:26 AM
  • No mention of Kashi bars either. I have been eating the chewy granola bars for years. Love the bang for the buck nutritionally speaking. Low cal, higher fiber and protein. They were the excellent choice for me when I opted to start eating 6 meals a day. - 6/24/2013 9:22:49 PM
  • I eat a lovely bar some days, from a company making Braw Bars. They are free from gluten, wheat, dairy, additives and preservatives.
    It does contain nuts.
    It is supposed to contain 1 of our fruits per day. I love the Blackcurrant, and also the Apple & Pear. They do a couple of other flavours, but I don't know what those are, except than one has to do with chocolate.
    Brawfood.com will give you more information.

    If you do get in touch with them, please just say that you got the info from Christine in Newmilns. It won't get me any benefits. But it will let the lads know that someone is trying to spread the news about them. I met one of them last year sort of the day after they started trading. And I just love the product.

    C x - 6/24/2013 6:24:05 PM
  • MAINAH3
    I like Lara Bars and Quest Bars. I do not work for either of these companies :-)
    Lara bars are basically fruit and nuts (most flavors - a couple have a few chocolate chips thrown in there!) and Quest bars have 20 grams of protein and 20 grams of fiber! I like the chocolate chip cookie dough the best. They also are low in sugar as they are made with Stevia.
    Both of these types of bars do not melt so great to have in your purse or car for emergencies! - 6/24/2013 2:02:33 PM
  • I have recently found the Life Choice bars, they are available at walmart, and they have all different varieties. from snack, to health, to meal replacement. I try to keep one in my purse, for those times when I just don't have time for a regular meal, or when I am getting crazy cravings. The PB crunch is my fave=) - 6/24/2013 12:48:35 PM
  • I was recently given some samples of Quest Bars (www.questprotein
    bar.com) & see that they TOTALLY beat all the stats above! They taste good, too! Sampled Banana Nut Muffin & Chocolate Peanut Butter.
    And BTW, I have no financial motivation for recommending these. ;) - 6/24/2013 9:26:49 AM
  • SASSAFRASS3483
    You don't mention Larabars at all (although maybe they just don't qualify as "energy bars"?). I've spent quite a bit of time reading labels and was impressed at how short their ingredient lists are. For example, the peanutbutter crunch one: dates, peanuts. That's it. Since I work in science, I sometimes don't know what's worse: reading the ingredient list and seeing chemicals that I don' recognize or seeing ones that I do recognize and know many unappetizing uses for. Anyway, some of their bars taste like dessert and it's a great thing to have on hand if i dont' have time for breakfast before I leave the house or for the long commute home so I don't stop for fast food. - 6/24/2013 8:51:54 AM
  • I don't know how I would survive backpacking trips without energy bars, but other than the back country I never consume them. High calorie and high protein is great when you're burning a ton of calories a day, but when other food is easily available I stick with that. - 6/2/2013 9:39:04 PM
  • i mainly eat them to boost my protein levels - its always a struggle to get enough, especially since i dont eat a lot of meat. but i like them a bit too much (white chocolate macadamia cliff bar, omg HEAVEN, i swear i could eat a whole box in one sitting), so im really trying to limit myself. plus thats a lot of unnecessary and easily avoidable sugar. - 6/2/2013 8:03:14 PM