Fresh, natural whole foods prepared with care and love is the best way to receive nutrition for optimal health. However, in todayâ??s fast-paced society it is not always realistic to obtain this goal.
Fresh, natural whole foods prepared with care and love is the best way to receive nutrition for optimal health. However, in today’s fast-paced society it is not always realistic to obtain this goal. Energy bars can be a quickalternative.
Nutritional bars (or energy/sport bars) offer a variety of different combinations of ingredients with varying degrees in quality and quantity. Most bars offer the macronutrients–protein, carbohydrate (fibre), and fat with lesser amounts of vitamins/minerals, herbs, essential fatty acids and green foods. The choice can be overwhelming! Knowing what you want and what you need can help you choose the bar for you.
The Big Three
Protein is the major building block for muscle, blood, hair, internal organs and nails. It also plays an important role in various growth hormones and determines your rate of metabolism. Receiving adequate amounts of protein from your diet is especially important for active people, because the body’s demand for protein is greater. If your body does not get the protein it needs from the diet it will go elsewhere–namely your muscles.
Carbohydrates are one of three major sources of energy found in our food. Simple carbohydrates (like fructose, commonly found in fruit) contain simple sugars and provide short term energy. Complex carbohydrates (bread or pasta) provide more sustaining energy--ideal for people exercising. Dietary fibre is non-digestible carbohydrate. Flax seed lignans (the fibre component of flax seed) is a good source of this in sports bars.
Dietary fat is the body’s most concentrated source of energy. The main building blocks of fats are fatty acids. They provide energy and play a key role in the function and integrity of all cells and tissues. Essential fatty acids cannot be made by the body and must be supplied in the diet. The two essential fatty acids most talked about are the omega-3 (alpha linoleic acid) and omega-6 (linoleic acid).
It is important when purchasing a protein/sports bar that you read the label to determine the source of protein. Protein-rich bars are promoted as a healthy way to control weight and gain energy. The best way to determine the value of a protein is to look at its biological value (BV). This value measures the amount of protein retained the human body per gram of protein absorbed. When this measurement was created every protein source was measured against the value of whole egg which is 100. With the development of whey protein concentrates (BV of 104), the biological values have risen above the standard.
When a sports bar label lists hydrolyzed protein and not hydrolyzed whey protein, the protein might be gelatin (collagen). Gelatin has some nutritional value, however it is not a complete protein. It lacks the important amino acid tryptophan, necessary for protein absorption. Whey protein, is a safer bet for getting the quality protein you desire.
Most bars range from from one to 32 grams of protein per bar. If you are using a sports bar as fuel for your workout or as a pre-workout snack, grab a lower protein bar. High amounts of protein will slow digestion and limit the amount of glucose (fuel) being released for your muscles. On the other hand, if you want to build muscles or need a meal replacement choose an energy bar with higher protein content. Eat this after your workout.
Not All Carbohydrates are Equal
Carbohydrate-dominant bars range from 19 to 52 grams of carbohydrates per bar. Most bars contain a mixture of simple carbohydrates (dried fruit, fruit juices, high fructose corn syrups, brown rice syrups, honey and glycerine) and complex carbohydrates (rice flour, oat bran and isolated cereal starches.)
Be on the alert for ingredients that have artificial sweeteners such as Nutrasweet (aspartame), refined sugar, artificial flavors or preservatives. Refined sugars will give you a quick burst of energy followed by a period of hypoglycemic fatigue. If you are exercising for extended periods of time you will need to re-fuel with between 30 and 60 grams of carbohydrates per hour of exercise.
Some companies will use glycerin in their bars, which can be misleading. (Glycerin acts very much like a carbohydrate.) Companies are required to disclose the caloric value of the glycerin without acknowledging it as a carbohydrate. This can be confusing for the consumer who believes they are actually eating a high protein/low carbohydrate bar.
Not All Fats Are The Same
Fats are commonly found in nutrition bars for nutritional/therapeutic reasons and for their practical applications in manufacturing the bars.
You will commonly find lecithin, fractionated palm oil and hydrogenated oil in the sport bars on the market today. Lecithin is the healthiest choice. However it is not as useful as the other two fats for coating a bar. Fractionated oils, on the other hand, are fats which are subject to heat. Heating an oil has the potential to denature the fat and create an unhealthy trans fatty acid.
Any heating is not desirable, but butter, coconut and palm oil (plant fat) have higher resistance to denaturing. Hydrogenated fats are altered through pressure with hydrogen at high temperatures, drastically altering the natural oils. Companies use hydrogenation because it’s inexpensive and provides shelf stability but at the cost of nutrition. You should avoid hydrogenated oils altogether. If you’re concerned about the fat being used, there are bars on the market which have no coatings and therefore do not require excessive heat-treated fats (they will still require some fat for manufacturing purposes).
Bells and Whistles
Herbs such as ginseng, ginkgo biloba and cranberry extract are common herbs added to sports bars, usually to boost the energy content. Ginseng is a great energizing tonic. According to traditional Chinese medicine, it also creates extra heat in the body. Therefore you might want to save these bars for fall, winter and spring training.
Spirulina and bee pollen are also known energy boosters that have been incorporated into sports bars.
While the amounts of vitamins available in supplemental food is restricted, there are no such requirements of herbs. Check the amounts on the package to determine whether the amounts are therapeutic.