Monday, May 24, 2010

Nutrition Bars: Not All Are Created Equal

Have you ever stepped into the energy/protein/nutrition bar aisle and felt your breath sucked out of you for a moment because of the overwhelming number of options available? I have. Most of the time, I am all about convenience and quickness, so bars like this can be a great option. Or so I thought. And I'm not alone. The market for energy bars has grown to be over $700 million! We're a society that is always on the run and everyone wants a quick energy fix or an easy lunch or snack. While I always prefer a real meal over a meal replacement bar, I do see a place for some of these bars in a healthy diet.

For the longest time I didn't eat anything before hitting the gym first thing in the morning. Then, when I learned the benefits of having a little something in the stomach before I workout, I went through a period when I would eat a portion of a Luna bar or a Luna mini. My a.m. favorites were Berry Almond and Toasted Nuts & Honey. I also loved Caramel Nut Brownie, S'mores, and Lemon Zest a little later in the day. I also had a long relationship with Pria bars, I was attracted to the low calorie count and chocolate options. Unfortunately, looking back, I realize that those were the only two good things about them because in my opinion they actually have a pretty 'fake' taste.

But, now I have left those in the past and moved on to something a bit more 'natural.'

My life changed when a friend introduced me to another bar that was totally different from the others. This one is called Larabar! What a novel concept! Great flavor options and none with more than 8 ingredients, all of which can be pronounced easily and come from nature! They're blends of unsweetened fruits, nuts and spices - whole foods. I will warn you that some have quite a few calories, so I tend to stick to the lower ones like Cherry Pie, Apple Pie, and Cocoa Mole, but I've tried a few others and they are delicious.

Not long ago I found another bar similar to Larabars as they only use a limited number of ingredients. PURE Bars were developed with vegetarians in mind and use no refined sugars or preservatives. These are raw bars packed with antioxidants, vitamins and minerals. Another bonus for me - the company is based in Holland, Michigan! I've only tried Cherry Cashew and Chocolate Brownie, both delicious.

I got to thinking about this when I was flipping through the newest issue of SELF Magazine. For the most part, I love SELF, but I didn't agree with what they were promoting on page 62. They laid out a beautiful and enticing graphic of different energy bars trying to help people navigate these overstuffed aisles. Unfortunately, the majority of the bars listed are packed with sugars, refined carbohydrates and ingredient lists that read like a novel. Many nutrition bars in general are actually closer to a candy bar than anything else filled with oils, high fructose corn syrup, and other sugars. Also, the protein used in these bars often isn't high quality and may even be from gelatin, collagen and soy. One more thing, don't be fooled by the word 'energy.' These bars don't have a magic ingredient that will give you an energy boost. They provide extra calories to keep you moving, and may be loaded with sugar and in turn give you a sugar high, but that's about all they can do.

A few of the bars listed in SELF are okay, but now that I know more about nutrition, I definitely would leave several of them on the shelf and point anyone else shopping around in another direction. Bars can be great snacks when you're rushing to or from a workout or just super busy, but look for one that has only a few ingredients and if a protein bar is what you're looking for, pick one with whey or casein protein, which have the amino acids we need.

Do you have a favorite protein/nutrition bar? Why do you choose that one and when do you usually enjoy it?

Workout Stats -
17mi bike
3x10 overhead tricep extension
3x10 straight front arm raise
3x10 tricep kickbacks
3x10 pullovers with dumbells

(I have not been contacted by either Pure Bars or Larabars for reviews. These are 100% my own thoughts and unsolicited review of the products).


Jennifer said...

Great post. I hardly use energy bars except when biking and have always just gone with the classic Power Bar. I have tried Luna and yes Lemon zest is my fav. I may try out the others you mention. thanks for the review!

Katie @ Health for the Whole Self said...

You make some important points in this post. Too many people think that just b/c it's labeled a "nutrition bar" that it's healthy; they don't bother to look at the ingredients and realize it's basically a candy bar, like you said!

I am a die-hard Larabar fan! As soon as I discovered them I never looked back. I like the Pure bars too!

Christy said...

I'll have to try out those Pure Bars! I'm not a fan of Larabars at all, so this might be a good alternative!

Holly - Run Like the Wind (or Shuffle Like an Old Lady) said...

I just looked at the nutrition bar aisle in the grocery store the other day and was totally overwhelmed. Thanks for the great post!!

celmore said...

Nice post. I don't eat a lot of energy bars. I usually try to eat a peanut butter sandwich before morning rides or swims. If I run in the morning I drink Monster Pump.

I do eat Zone Bars for a mid-morning snack. They are pretty well balanced and taste great.

Molly said...

I'm going to do a post soon for energy bars that I make at home, love it because you control what goes in them said...

I loe Larabars! Never have tried the Pure Bars. Just might have to, though!

Evelyn @ cheers2healthy said...

Have you checked out Angela's GloBars? They're a pretty reasonable price and I think they are quite nutritious! I haven't tried them yet but I've been wanting to. Here's the link!

Jon said...

Small world! Never heard of a Larabar until I read this post yesterday. Went for a run with a friend this morning. Post-run he hands me a cherry Larabar.

WOW! Was that good! Only three ingredients. I'm sold!

Laury Ann said...

Lara Bars are my new fav...used to be Luna, Odwalla or Clif..but I am a Larabar girl now....that or I make my own!

Lisa said...

I used to eat a lot Luna bars, but now I don't think I could ever go back! They're too dry and not that tasty. I love larabars. Some flavors are better than others though! Also, larabars & purebars are gluten-free, that's a plus!

April said...

I totally agree with the misunderstanding so many people seem to have over energy bars. I'm a LaraBar fan myself--the peanut butter and jelly taste like the real thing, a bonus for a gluten-free girl like me. Also like the cherry pie and the chocolate coconut. Will have to find these purebars to sample; thanks for the lead!