If you have strolled down the "natural food" section of your grocery store lately you've probably noticed a wall or two of shelves filled with an amazing selection of "energy bars". (Energy is a synonym for calories.) Since the launch of the original PowerBar in 1987, designed to provide athletes with an easy to carry supply of calories to keep them from running out of gas in the middle of a long distance event, close to 100 savvy marketers have entered the market, producing bars that taste more like food than fuel. Do we need them? Research indicates that bananas and bagels will fuel athletes as well as most energy bars. Unless you are running a marathon and want a variety of flavors in an easily digestible, convenient package, you probably don't.
Although the original bars were designed to provide those quick calories as "carbs" (short for carbohydrate), the popularity of, first, The Zone diet then the resurgence of Atkins and other "high protein" diets, stimulated new categories of bars with differing proportions of nutrients, often promoted for weight loss. Taste became an issue and soon bars were advertised, "tastes like a candy bar." That's because, for the most part, they are candy bars with some added soy or milk protein and a sprinkling of vitamins and minerals. Next the names of the bars became more sophisticated. "Advantage," "Balance," "Gold" and "Pure" are just a few of the monikers fashioned by savvy marketers.
Admittedly energy bars are convenient sources of "calories on the run" and a much better choice than a high calorie, high fat fast food meal. If you are going to succumb to a sweet tooth urge, the low calorie bars, especially if they are saturated-fat and trans fat-free, might be a better choice for a snack than a candy bar. Nevertheless, calories per bar vary from a low of 120 (usually a tiny bar) to a high of 300. You could have a non fat yogurt, half a whole wheat bagel with non fat cream cheese and be under 300 calories. And, if you believe an energy bar is a good snack, simply know you're better off with an apple, some other fruit or vegetable, yogurt, or half a sandwich that fills you up.
Meantime, if you are going to use these easy to carry packages of calories you would be wise to follow the advice of nutrition watchdog Center for Science in Public Interest (www.cspinet.org): "no more than a total of 2 grams saturated and trans fat and at least 3 grams of fiber per bar." I also urge you to also look for a bar that has at least 10-15 grams of protein.
What should you take from all this? Read the labels. Don't get fooled into thinking that an energy bar is "good for you" just because it is associated with exercise and health. Consider YOUR situation - then eat accordingly.
Energy bars are, essentially, nothing more than candy bars with added vitamins. Taste of the bars vary from individual to individual. Here's an alphabetical ranking of those reviewed for Ronda's health segment on KATU-TV AM Northwest, March 7, 2005. Those with a check mark to the left are the better choices.