Nutrition to go
The best meal replacement bars and energy bars contain organic whole food ingredients. Read their ingredient lists carefully to avoid excess fat and sugar.
We fly around the house each morning in preparation for the day ahead. At lunchtime we run around doing errands or work right through without a break. We dash home after work to pick up the kids to chauffeur them to their activities. What did we forget? To eat!
Our busy lives don’t always provide us with the time to plan, shop, prepare, and sit down to a nutritious meal. But for those times when we may be tempted to reach for a less healthy option to quell our stomach rumblings, hold on, there is a healthy alternative.
Eating on the run
Meal replacement bars began as a convenient way for dieters to restrict calories, in a neat little package that they could substitute for a meal. But today’s meal replacement bars have evolved into a sophisticated source of nutrition. A plethora of bars have popped up in natural health stores.
Portability and convenience—bars can be stashed in a purse, glove compartment, backpack, or gym bag—have contributed to their popularity. Consumers can’t seem to get enough of them.
In the first 11 months of 2009, over 1,600 new cereal bars were launched, down slightly from more than 2,000 in 2007. Considering this huge selection, choosing the right meal replacement bar can be a daunting task and does require slowing down long enough to read the labels.
Types of bars
Meal replacement bars
Formulated to be a meal substitute, these bars typically contain 300 to 400 calories. These are not snacks. Check out the calorie content and the nutrient density of a bar. When looking for a meal replacement, set the bar high. Look for those that contain whole food ingredients such as whole grains, nuts, seeds, and fruit—preferably organic.
If ingredient names are unpronounceable or their true identities are unknown, take a pass on that product. To be of nutritional benefit, a bar should contain at least 5 g of protein and at least 3 g of fibre.
Always watch the amount of saturated fat, sodium, and sugar a bar contains. This is especially important for those with health concerns such as high blood pressure or diabetes. High sugar content can rapidly elevate blood glucose in diabetics. However, bars that contain protein and fibre allow blood glucose to rise gradually and safely. Avoid bars that contain as much saturated fat and sugar as a candy bar.
To help you feel more satisfied, have a piece of fruit or wash down a bar with a glass of milk or a dairy substitute such as soy milk.
Meal replacement bars, when eaten occasionally, are a convenient, portable way to ingest an optimal amount of nutrients rather than skip a meal or resort to fast foods.
Also known as sports bars, energy bars were created to improve the endurance of athletes, such as marathon runners, cyclists, or cross-country skiers. Many of these bars provide a big hit of carbohydrates. Bars that contain extra carbohydrates may benefit an endurance athlete but aren’t necessary for the average person.
Some energy bars are high in carbs; others are high in protein. Strength training demands extra protein; tuck a bar in your gym bag for a post-workout snack.
Look for bars that contain less than 200 calories; the goal is to boost nutrient intake and provide a balanced source of energy, not replace a meal. Avoid bars that list high-fructose corn syrup on the ingredient list.
There are also many cereal-type bars on the market that are promoted as breakfast foods and snacks. Again, read the ingredient list and be sure that what you’re putting into your body is a quality source of nutrients.
Today there’s a wider range than ever of delicious, nutritious bars in a variety of flavours for every taste bud preference—from sweet to fruity to savoury. So the next time you’re on the run, reach for a nutritious fast food alternative.
When reaching for a meal replacement bar, look for products that contain the following:
Avoid these unhealthy additions: