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Old 04-06-2005, 10:01 AM
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Default Energy Bars: How Do They Stack Up?

Energy Bars: How Do They Stack Up?


By John McGran
eDiets Editor-in-Chief




According to the trade publication Supermarket News, sales of energy bars rose more than 50 percent to $114 million last year.

They're everywhere. You walk into a supermarket or convenience store and your senses are assaulted by colorfully wrapped bars that promise you everything from energy to weight loss.

But are these hyped treats handy health foods or little more than candy in fine clothing? Mr. Bad Food decided to go bar hopping -- with a little help from a few nutritionally savvy friends.

According to the Nutrition Action Healthletter, published by Center for Science in the Public Interest, "The word 'energy' on any label simply means that the food supplies calories, not that eating it will make you more energetic."

Those in the know suggest you stick to eating healthy, whole foods like fruits and vegetables. Why? Well, for one thing, natural foods contain the good stuff not added to most bars.

Susan Burke, eDiets chief nutritionist, registers a split decision.

"Iím of two minds when it comes to meal replacement bars and shakes," she tells me. "On one hand, they are convenient, they are portable, they are portion-controlled, and they are effective when used as part of a balanced eating plan -- like the ones created by trustworthy companies like Slim-Fast.

"But all meal replacement bars are not created equal. Some contain enough sugar and fat to be called candy bars. Others are extremely high in protein and that's unnecessary for all but the uncommon person whoís expending so many calories in exercise that more protein, carbohydrate and fat are called for.

"For some people, dieting is easier when including these sweetened snacks, but often theyíre too low in calories to be true meal replacements."

Susan's continues, "As part of a healthy diet, meal replacement bars can satisfy your occasional craving. They can also help people maintain their prescribed calorie allotment for the day, whether theyíre trying to lose weight or maintain their weight.

"Most bars wonít provide all the nutrition necessary for good health, so think about drinking a glass of skim milk with that bar, or grabbing a very portable nonfat yogurt too.

"And always read the Nutrition Facts label before buying a meal replacement. Some bars are coated with sugar mixed with hydrogenated fat. Others are artificially sweetened.

"eDiets offers the Atkins Nutritional Approach for those of you wanting to follow a low-carb lifestyle. Atkins offers carb-controlled meal replacement bars that contain a minimum of sugar alcohols as sweetener along with Splenda. They also have NO hydrogenated fat -- and that's something you should always avoid.

OK, so which brands do you trust? The market is vast... and growing.

Mr. Bad Food turned to Becky Billingsley, a frequent contributor some of you may know as the eDiets Smart Shopper. Becky bellied up to the bars and here is what she found.

When youíre constantly on the go it can be difficult to stick to proper weight loss nutrition needs. Many people turn to "nutritious" bars for quick energy, snacks or meals, but which should they choose? It depends on your nutritional needs.

Energy bars

Developed in the '80s for people engaged in high-endurance activities such as hiking or sports involving running, energy bars usually have a mix of simple and complex carbohydrates. Some have moderate fat levels, while others contain quite a bit of fat. Many are vitamin- and mineral-enhanced, but those levels can vary widely between brands.

Generally speaking, this is not the choice for people trying to lose weight unless theyíre doing it combined with high intensity exercise.

Sometimes energy bars are referred to as protein bars, and often that protein is in the form of soy. This can be a convenient way to get the recommended daily allowance of 25 grams of soy.

Nutrition bars

The line is fuzzy between energy bars and nutrition bars, but often nutrition bars have a bit less sugar and a little more vitamin enhancement. They can be used for meal replacements, but itís important to also incorporate fresh fruits and vegetables into meal planning.

The best advice for purchasing a nutrition bar is to read the nutrition facts label. If it has more sugar or fat than youíre comfortable with, there are many other bars from which to choose. Also, many nutrition bars could not be considered a low-calorie or low-fat snack choice, although there is an increasing amount of low-carb nutrition bars.

If you want a snack -- and a nutrition bar seems to be the best available choice -- try eating just half of one and saving the other half for the next snack.

Meal replacement bars

The name is self-explanatory. These are designed to replace a meal so they contain a mealís worth of calories. However, theyíre easily digested so itís a good idea to pair them with a piece of fruit so youíre not ravenous before the next meal.

Believing the labels

There has been much written lately about a recent ConsumerLab.com nutrition bar test that revealed some barsí nutrition facts labels werenít accurate. According to the ConsumberLab.com website, in 2001 the company tested several bars and "found most bars to be mislabeled, with many containing undeclared carbohydrates."

New test results were released this year and, "The majority of bars tested met their claims."

Only three bars, CL says, had problems: A protein bar had 8.3 more grams carbohydrate than its stated 25 grams; a low-carb bar contained 1 more gram of saturated fat than its stated 2 grams; and an energy-nutrition bar contained 0.8 more grams saturated fat than the 3 grams claimed.

Choose by flavor

Below are evaluations of several protein, energy, nutrition and meal replacement bars. There are likely dozens of choices at your local grocery, drugstore or health food market, but these examples will show you what to look for to match your needs.

After you select one for its nutrition, buy just one and see if you like its taste. If youíre trying to work these bars into a successful weight loss regimen, you might as well enjoy what youíre eating. Some definitely taste better than others. The following bars are listed in order of their caloric contents, starting with the lowest.

Slim-Fast Meal Options Breakfast & Lunch Bars, Dutch Chocolate

Nutrition: 140 calories, 5g fat (3 saturated, zero trans), 5mg cholesterol, 85mg sodium, 20g carbohydrate (2 fiber, 12 sugars) and 5g protein.

Recommended daily allowances of: Vitamins A, C, E and B12, iron, thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, biotin, pantothenic acid, iodine, zinc and copper 25 percent; Vitamins D and B6 20 percent; calcium, folate and phosphorus 10 percent; and magnesium 4 percent.

Taste/texture: These taste like chocolate candy, but theyíre on the small side (about the size of a credit card, only a little thicker). Itís suggested this be consumed with a glass of fat-free milk.

U-Turn Protein Energy Bar, Caramel Whey

Nutrition: 150 calories, 4g fat (2 saturated), 30mg cholesterol, 140mg sodium, 13g carbohydrate (1 fiber, 6 sugars) and 15g protein. Recommended daily allowances of: Calcium and phosphorus 7 percent; potassium and magnesium 5 percent; iron 2 percent.

Taste/texture: Not bad. Itís soft and pleasantly chewy. The artificial sweetener Splenda is listed at the end of the ingredient list, and while there is not a strong aftertaste from it, there is a slight aftertaste. Note that, compared to many other bars, this does not have much vitamin or mineral enhancement.

Advant Edge Morning Energy Bars, Cinnamon Swirl

Nutrition: 170 calories, 6g fat (3.5 saturated, zero trans), zero cholesterol, 100mg sodium, 95mg potassium, 22g carbohydrate (6 fiber, 1 sugar) and 11g protein. Recommended daily allowances of: Vitamins E and C 100 percent; calcium, 25 percent; Vitamin A, thiamin, niacin, folate, biotin, phosphorus, copper, iron, riboflavin, Vitamins B6 and B12, and pantothenic acid 20 percent; magnesium, iodine and zinc 15 percent; manganese 6 percent; and Vitamin K 2 percent.

Taste/texture: Itís like a dry granola bar with a coating of artificially sweetened hard white yogurt. Soy protein concentrate is the first ingredient listed, followed closely by the artificial sweetener maltitol syrup, rolled oats and partially hydrogenated vegetable oil. The sweet coating leaves a long-term aftertaste.

Balance Carb Well Nutrition Energy Bar, Caramel Ďn Chocolate

Nutrition: 190 calories, 7g fat (4 saturated, zero trans), less than 5mg cholesterol, 200mg sodium, 23g carbohydrate (1 fiber, 1 sugar, 20 sugar alcohol) and 14g protein. Recommended daily allowances of: Vitamins E and C 100 percent; Vitamin A 50 percent; niacin, biotin, manganese, Vitamins K and B6, pantothenic acid, zinc, chromium, thiamin, folic acid, selenium, molybdenum, iron, riboflavin, Vitamin B12, iodine and copper 25 percent; magnesium and phosphorus 10 percent.

Taste/texture: The texture is just like a Snickers Bar, without the nuts. Itís soft nougat wrapped by a layer of caramel and has a chocolate coating. Iím extremely impressed by the flavor. With 20 grams of artificial sweetener I expected a horrible taste, but this Balance Bar is delicious.

Balance Nutrition Energy Bar, Cookie Dough

Nutrition: 200 calories, 6g fat (3.5 saturated), less than 5mg cholesterol, 180mg sodium, 85mg potassium, 22g carbohydrate (less than 1 fiber, 18 sugars) and 15g protein. Recommended daily allowances of: Vitamins C and E 100 percent; Vitamin A 50 percent; Vitamins K and B12, zinc, thiamin, biotin, selenium, riboflavin, pantothenic acid, copper, niacin, manganese, iron, Vitamin B6, iodine, chromium, folic acid and molybdenum 25 percent; phosphorus 15 percent; and calcium and magnesium 10 percent.

Taste/texture: The texture is not nearly as dense as the others. At first bite I was repulsed because it struck me as chalky, but one I chewed a few times I liked it better. Itís like whipped-up fluffy nougat dipped in chocolate. The chocolate coating tastes much sweeter than the filling.

Slim-Fast Meal Bar for use as part of a Low Carb Diet, Chocolate Caramel

Nutrition: 200 calories, 7g fat (3.5 saturated, zero trans), less than 5mg cholesterol, 180mg sodium, 21g carbohydrate (2 fiber, less than 1 sugar, 17 sugar alcohol) and 14g protein. Recommended daily allowances of: Vitamins A, C, D, E, B6 and B12, riboflavin, niacin, biotin, pantothenic acid, phosphorus, iodine, magnesium and molybdenum 30 percent; calcium and chromium 25 percent; Vitamin K 20 percent; and zinc, iron, thiamin and folate 10 percent.

Taste/texture: What I like best is that the texture is rather dense, so you chew a long time. You could stretch this meal bar out for a while, especially if you take a bite, set it down for a while, and then go back for another bite. I also like the creamy chocolate layer on top.

Balance Gold Triple Layer Energy Bar, Caramel Nut Blast

Nutrition: 210 calories, 7g fat (4 saturated), less than 5mg cholesterol, 120mg sodium, 23g carbohydrate (less than 1 fiber, 13 sugars) and 15g protein. Recommended daily allowances of: Vitamins E and C 100 percent, Vitamin A 50 percent, Vitamins K and B12, zinc, thiamin, biotin, selenium, riboflavin, pantothenic acid, copper, niacin, manganese, iron, Vitamin B6, iodine, chromium, folic acid and molybdenum 25 percent; phosphorus 15 percent; and calcium and magnesium 10 percent.

Taste/texture: It tastes a lot like the Balance Carb Well bar (see above), but itís denser and slightly dryer. I prefer the flavor of the Carb Well bar, but this isnít bad.

Slim-Fast Meal Options Meal On-The-Go, Chocolate Cookie Dough

Nutrition: 220 calories, 5g fat (3.5 saturated), less than 5mg cholesterol, 160mg sodium, 36g carbohydrate (2 fiber, 20 sugars) and 8g protein. Recommended daily allowances of: Vitamins A, C, D, E, B6 and B12, riboflavin, niacin, biotin, pantothenic acid, iodine, magnesium and molybdenum 35 percent; chromium 30 percent; Vitamin K, phosphorus and selenium 25 percent; and zinc and thiamin 15 percent.

Taste/texture: Totally awesome taste. It really is like chocolate cookie dough, only better. My only reservation was whether Iíd get too hungry between meals if this was all I ate, but on the back of the box there is an explanation of the program this is designed for, which includes healthy snacks between meals. So if I had one of these for breakfast, Iíd be fine until it was time to have a snack of "A piece of fresh fruit, nonfat yogurt or 1 ounce of low-fat cheese."

Clif Bar Energy Bar, Chocolate Chip

Nutrition: 250 calories, 5g fat (2 saturated, zero trans), zero cholesterol, 150mg sodium, 45g carbohydrate (5 fiber, 21 sugars) and 10g protein. Recommended daily allowances of: Vitamins C and E 100 percent; manganese 35 percent; Vitamin A 30 percent; Calcium, iron, Vitamin K, thiamin and magnesium 25 percent; Vitamin B6, folate, pantothenic acid, phosphorus, zinc and selenium 20 percent; riboflavin, niacin, Vitamin B12, iodine, copper and molybdenum 15 percent; biotin and chromium 10 percent.

Taste/texture: Absolutely yummy. Itís moist to the point of being gooey, and is like a thick oatmeal/Rice Krispie bar with chocolate chips in it. Seventy percent of its ingredients are organic. There are no artificial sweeteners, evidenced by the 21g of sugar, and it contains plenty of carbs. I like the low saturated fat content. Becky Billingsley is the editor of Coastal Carolina Dining magazine and CEO of The Food Syndicate. Contact her at becky@thefoodsyndicate.com.
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