June 15, 2018 0

Nutrition Bars: Healthy Treat Or Expensive Junk

Posted by:Dr. Brian Mowll onJune 15, 2018

Are you someone who typically “burns the candle at both ends?” Would you say your health and physique are important to you? If you answered “yes” to both of these questions, chances are you’ve been known to toss a nutrition bar into your pocket or purse before running out the door.

Nutrition bars are advertised as a convenient way to have extra energy, lose weight, and add muscle.  And there’s no denying they can be a tasty snack while on the go.

But, as with just about anything else in life, not all nutrition bars are created equal. While some contain a proper ratio of protein and carbohydrates, along with some vitamins and minerals, others are really glorified candy bars dipped in chocolate and packed with calories and sugar.

Nutrition Bars VS Whole Foods

As a snacking choice, whole foods like fruits, nuts and vegetables will always reign supreme because they have not been processed (read: compromised). No packaging or nutrition label is necessary for a bowl of berries.

“Nutrition bars,” on the other hand, have been processed. These bars contain parts of whole foods that have been separated using a machine. While they may be delicious, they can never be considered whole foods – merely bits and pieces of whole foods at best.

Where’s the Fiber?

And here’s the real problem with most nutrition bars on the market: most of them contain too much sugar and very little fiber. And eating fiber with each meal is key to helping your body slow the absorption of sugar into your bloodstream. [1]

This is why whole foods will always be the healthier choice. When you eat some vegetables or fruit, you are eating the whole food, so you are getting all of that important fiber, eliminating the risk of a blood sugar spike.

So for instance, when you eat an orange, your blood sugar levels do not react the same way they do when you drink a glass of orange juice. When you strip away the natural fiber of the orange and just drink the juice, your blood sugar will spike just as if you’ve had a piece of candy or cookie.

Getting back to the nutrition bars, many of them are loaded with sugar. But since they contain little to no fiber, your blood sugar rises quickly, causing your pancreas to release more insulin, which ultimately leads to a sugar crash and lethargy. Imagine what happens when you eat two or three of these ‘healthy’ bars each day.

If you’ve been wondering why you feel sleepy about a half hour into your workout, it’s most likely due to the fact that the nutrition bar you ate before your workout wasn’t all that nutritious.

Always Read the Label

Don’t be fooled by fancy packaging that claims the contents of the box are “healthy” “organic” “Gluten Free” etc. etc. Turn that box around and read the ingredients list.

Ingredients on the nutrition facts label are listed in order of amount in each serving. Many nutrition bars will list sugar as the first or second ingredient. This is bad, really bad. You may as well go grab a Snickers bar. (But please don’t).

Also, don’t be fooled by certain words as sugar comes in many forms. Bars that list ‘brown rice syrup’ or ‘cane syrup’ are generally higher in sugars than other bars.

And finally, be weary of bars that list sugar alcohols such as xylitol or maltitol. These do lower the sugar content of foods, but because they are not fully absorbed, they can cause some GI distress.

Look for bars that contain less than 5 grams of sugar, around 15 grams of total carbs and offer at least 4 grams of fiber and 10 grams of protein.

“You wouldn’t put a turkey sandwich in your pocket when you go on a bike ride, but you could easily bring one of these bars with you. However, some of the bars have as much sugar and as much saturated fat as a candy bar. So use them in moderation.” – Dawn Jackson, RD, spokeswoman for the American Dietetic Association

Better Alternatives

First, if you’ve been trying to skip meals and eat a nutrition bar instead for weight loss, please get out of this habit. You will be much better off eating healthy meals that consist of eggs, lean meats, fruits, veggies, nuts and seeds.

Need energy before your workout? Have a protein smoothie or eggs and a salad.

Need a quick snack during your work day? How about a bag of mixed nuts and half an apple?

Do you need some extra energy running your errands on the weekend? Take along a couple of hard-boiled eggs and a bag of baby carrots.

The Key Takeaway

I know life gets busy and we all love conveniences. But nature made certain foods very convenient.  Fruits and veggies come in their own packaging. You can toss them in your purse or car and take them with you just as easily as something that has been man-made and wrapped in shiny packaging.

Your best bet for snacks are whole foods, but if you are going to eat nutrition bars, be sure to read those labels and choose your bar carefully.

“The food you eat can be either the safest and most powerful form of medicine or the slowest form of poison.” – Ann Wigmore


[1] Gabriele Riccardi, MD, Angela A Rivellese, MD. “Effects of Dietary Fiber and Carbohydrate on Glucose and Lipoprotein Metabolism in Diabetic Patients.” Diabetes Care 1991 Dec; 14(12): 1115-1125

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