We live in fast times. For so many people, speed is the name of the game – whether that’s in their jobs, their lives or the lives of their children. From the latest updates to your smartphones that claim to make everything faster to quick-fix diets that promise great results, we’ve engineered much of our lives around the idea that things need to be more efficient and be ready whenever we need them to be. This is particularly true when it comes to food – one of those functional necessities whose need to be “faster” led to the arrival of fast food, which made dinners super easy, but also made huge contributions to the rise in obesity rates nationwide over the last few decades. Still, there are some “quick” food options – nutrition bars, for instance – that aren’t as bad for you as those extra-large fries, but you have to do a little legwork to determine which ones actually are healthy and which ones are only slightly better for you than your average candy bar.
Blount Memorial registered dietitian Angie Tillman says the first step for nutrition bars is to determine why you’re eating them in the first place. “You want to decide what your goal is when you’re choosing to add a nutrition bar to your diet,” she said. “Are you trying to replace a meal? Or are you just looking for an easy, portable snack? It’s important to note that, in many cases, you can get the same amount of nutrition from ‘whole foods,’ such as hard-boiled eggs with an orange, or a sliced apple dipped in almond butter as you can from your average nutrition bar. It’s equally important to remember that most nutrition bars aren’t enough to completely replace an entire meal, however, if you’re just looking at them as a healthy snack option to keep on-hand in your car, handbag or desk drawer for when you’re caught in between meals, there are some specifics you should look for when you hit the nutrition bar aisle at the grocery store,” she said.
Tillman says not all nutrition bars are created equal. “Some nutrition bars have significant amounts of sugar – even more than you might think,” Tillman said. “For this reason, you really should check the ingredient list before committing to a specific bar or brand. Look at how long the list of ingredients is. Is it short and simple, or long and complicated? Second, check how many grams of protein the bar actually contains, keeping in mind that six to seven grams or more is ideal. Also, the more fiber the bar contains the better and anything with more than three grams of fiber is preferable. Anything with more than 15 grams of sugar should be avoided, unless it is coming from natural fruit sources,” she explained.
“Some brands of protein and nutrition bars are recommended over others,” Tillman continued. “Fiber One bars, for instance, have a long list of ingredients, and while they have seven grams of protein and five grams of fiber, they also can contain lots of additives and preservatives that may outweigh any potential benefits. Power Bars, too, can be a mixed bag. The chocolate and peanut butter Power Bar contains nine grams of protein, one gram of fiber, 44 grams of carbohydrate and 26 grams of sugar, again making them reasonable choices for heavy physical activity, but not very good snacks. Some good options include ‘KIND’ bars, ‘Strong and Kind’ bars, and ‘Larabars.’ These brands typically are high in protein and fiber, but have lower amounts of sugar. They also have short ingredient lists, which means you know exactly what you’re getting,” she explained. “As with lots of other foods, the important thing to remember when it comes to protein and nutrition bars is to check those labels,” she added.