In a perfect world, we would enjoy a well-balanced, home-cooked meal every time we eat. In the real world, mealtime sometimes occurs while driving from one appointment to the next, during a 15-minute break between classes, or in a rush before a last-minute work meeting. For occasions when it’s a challenge to enjoy a nutritious, satisfying meal, nutrition bars might be your best option. Many of the original nutrition bars were made with refined ingredients combined to create a balance of protein, carbs, and fat. We now know it’s not just about nutrients—our bodies need “real” food. Fortunately, bars made from whole foods are trending high right now, offering many new products packed with real, whole food ingredients, including nuts, seeds, beans, grains, and dried fruits.
One of the biggest bonuses of eating more whole foods is that you gain important nutrients—fiber, vitamins, minerals, and phytochemicals. While refined ingredients aren’t “poison,” they simply aren’t as nutritious as their unrefined counterparts. White rice, for example, is not harmful; it just lacks the extra fiber and nutrients that are removed in the refining process. In addition, many whole food bars are made with fruits and nuts, which are nutrient-rich foods many of us don’t get enough of.
Helpful Hints. Pay attention to these factors when selecting the best nutrition bar.
Added Sugar. Even though these bars contain a good deal of wholesome foods, like fruit, some still contain added sugars. The new Nutrition Facts panel (some companies have already adopted it) will list added sugars, but until these new labels are regulated, scan the ingredients list for forms of sugar, including malt syrup, dextrose, and fruit juice concentrates.
Calorie Check. Some of these bars contain 300 or more calories. If used as a meal-replacement that’s fine. But for a snack, stick to those with 200 or fewer calories.
Fiber Facts. To boost the fiber content, some manufacturers add chicory root, or other fiber supplements, which can cause gas and bloating in some. Check the ingredients list so you know what you’re getting.
—Heidi McIndoo, MS, RD