Meals on the Run
Graham Butler, BSc, CNPA, RH
To say that we're a time-starved society is an understatement. Unfortunately, being starved for time can also lead us to feel starved in other ways. Nutrition suffers when we don't take the time to prepare healthy food.
To say that we’re a time-starved society is an understatement. Unfortunately, being starved for time can also lead us to feel starved in other ways. Nutrition suffers when we don’t take the time to prepare healthy food. One popular solution, for those with active lifestyles, has been the energy bar. They’re fast, simple, and sometimes nutritious. But can they effectively meet our nutritional needs? The answer is a qualified yes if you understand the available choices.
True “Energy” Bars
The first commercially successful energy bar was developed for endurance athletes. It was designed to supplement their energy needs during competition. The trick, of course, was to develop a product that could be eaten and digested on the run without causing stomach upset and at the same time provide easily assimilated food energy. This type of bar is characterized by a high carbohydrate content, making it less popular with those on low-carbohydrate diets. Nevertheless, they are an excellent choice for those needing quick energy for strenuous athletic pastimes or work-related situations.
Protein bars are the favourite bar of gym rats everywhere. Unlike endurance athletes, most people who work out at the gym consume relatively few calories during their training. The emphasis is more on increasing and toning muscle, the work of protein. Not surprisingly, a conveniently packaged and easily consumed protein bar has always had its adherents. Protein consumed before, during, and - best of all - shortly after a workout aids in the repair and growth of muscle tissue. The differences between protein bars relate to the ratio of protein versus fat and carbohydrates. Traditionally, high-protein/low-fat bars were the most popular, but with the advent of low-carbohydrate diets, high-protein/low-carbohydrate bars have gained the upper hand. The most popular bars on the market tend to be those with the lowest carbohydrate content and the best flavour (the gym crowd is very flavour conscious). Although ingredient quality has improved over the years, it’s still a good idea to avoid less-than-healthy ingredients such as hydrogenated oils and/or cottonseed oil as well as artificial flavours and preservatives. The best sources of protein are whey, organic soy, and fermented organic soy. Acid-digested/processed protein, often referred to as hydrolyzed protein, is more poorly utilized.
Meal Replacement Bars
The evolution of “energy bars” has led us inevitably to the creation of the “meal replacement bar.” The standard for this type of product is for many the 40-30-30 formulation representing the respective percentage of calorie contributions from the bar’s carbohydrate, fat, and protein content. These bars also offer a vitamin and mineral complex and a not inconsiderable (200 to 300 per bar) chunk of calories. These are a great choice for those looking for a bar to supplement a meal such as lunch, or serious rations during a hike or camping trip.