Most people take the time out of our grocery shopping to browse the aisles with chocolates and candies. And, if you’re one of them, you’re bound to have noticed a range of chewy bars.
Based on the brand, these bars claim to offer a boost of protein, energy, or nutrition. And, if you’ve been trying to stay healthy, you might wonder if these bars are really healthy or just a big setback to your diet goals. In order to make a decision, it’s important to look at both sides of the coin, starting with the positives.
Pros Of Packaged Bars
1. They’re Travel-Friendly
If you tend to travel a lot, packaged bars could come in handy. They’re convenient and portable and can easily fit into any bag without any hassles.
Additionally, they serve as emergency snacks if you can’t decide where to eat or don’t have access to food.1
2. They’re Good Pre-Workout Options
For people who work out often, sticking to the same old bananas and protein shakes can get boring. And, since packaged bars come in different flavors, they can help you mix it up.
Not to mention, packaged bars can easily be had while walking to the gym and offer a good boost of protein, with some containing as much as 2o grams. Additionally, they make you feel full quickly so you won’t feel like throwing up while doing any cardio.2
3. They Help Meet Nutritional Needs
Often, it can get difficult to eat enough to meet all of your nutritional requirements, including macronutrients and micronutrients. Energy bars are a good way to achieve these nutritional goals.3
In fact, it is believed that energy bars were first developed for endurance athletes who faced difficulty taking in enough calories to sustain them during their challenging training sessions.4 That said, these bars shouldn’t be replacing regular meals.
4. They Are “Healthier” Than Processed Foods
Packaged bars are relatively healthier than options like fast food, concession stand food, and food from vending machines. Additionally, snacking on one might be a better option than skipping a meal entirely.5
One reason for this is the fact that most options are pre-portioned, hence preventing overeating. Another is that a lot of them are fortified with vitamins and minerals and might even provide a decent dose of fiber. Hence, they might be a better option than a bag of chips.6
Despite all the above-listed benefits of packaged bars, it’s important to remember that they might not necessarily be the best options if you’re a health-nut.
Cons Of Packaged Bars
1. They Don’t Necessarily “Boost” Energy Levels
Most commercials for energy bars make it seem like they can get you running, leaping, and otherwise feeling “energetic.” However, this just means that they provide you with calories and not something exceptionally different.
Simple snacks like roasted nuts, fruits, and crackers can easily give you a similar “energy boost.” Hence, if you’re looking for something that can beat your post work fatigue, you could opt for more natural foods instead.7
2. They’re High In Sugar
One of the reasons why people equate packaged bars with chocolate is because of their sugar content. For instance, granola bars have healthy ingredients that are kept together with the help of sticky sugary syrups like corn syrup.
Additionally, most other energy bars have a chocolate coating, bits of chocolate in them, or simply a lot of hidden sugar. This negates all the benefits the raw ingredients might have had, not to mention, they might give you a sugar crash.8
3. The Quality Of Their “Nutritional Content” Is Low
Some packaged bars are high in heart-damaging saturated fat and trans fat. Additionally, as stated before, the carbohydrates might come from sugary additives.
Besides this, none of the bars have ingredients with healthy phytonutrients-containing whole foods like fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. In fact, most lack adequate fiber and high-quality protein. Instead, they have a long list of confusing ingredients that might not be the best way to get your nutrients in.9 10
4. They Are Expensive
Consuming packaged bars on a regular basis can get extremely expensive. And, if you’re a fan of the healthier, more branded options, then the price just goes up.
Considering the fact that they don’t necessarily offer anything that you can’t get from regular, whole foods, they might not be the best long-term options. Instead, opt for healthy snacks like peanut butter and celery or hummus and vegetables.11
5. They Might Cause Weight Gain
Packaged bars are concentrated high-calorie foods. And, for athletes and people who train regularly, these bars provide extra calories that they need to perform better.
However, people who aren’t very active or are looking to lose weight might actually not benefit from energy bars. Their high calorie and high-fat content might just lead to weight gain. Instead, opt for a cup of vegetables, fruits, or yogurt for low-calorie, healthy alternatives.12
It’s, hence, worth noting that when it comes to energy bars, consumer discretion is advised.
The Bottom Line
There isn’t anything that energy bars provide, that whole food can’t already give you. That said if you’d like to give them a try regardless, especially considering their benefits, here are a few things that you should make sure of in the ingredients.
- A short, recognizable list of whole foods.
- The presence of whole grains like oats, nuts, and seeds.
- Natural sources of sugar or low sugar content.
- No partially hydrogenated oils.
In addition to the above, be sure to look at the nutrition label (facts) and ensure the following.
- No more than 250 (kilo)calories.
- At least 5–10 grams of protein and 3 grams of fiber.
- Less than 250 milligrams of sodium.
- Less than 2 grams of saturated fat and 0 trans fat.
- Less than 10 grams of sugar.
This mental checklist will help you choose the healthiest of packaged bars. However, be sure to consume no more than 1 a day and opt for a well-rounded diet with whole grains and vegetables.13
|↑1||Healthy Snacking While Commuting. Columbia University.|
|↑2||Smart Snacking: Because Sometimes Three Meals A Day Just Isn’t Enough. The University Of North Carolina.|
|↑3||Energy Bars. Palomar College.|
|↑4||Energy bars. Columbia University.|
|↑5, ↑11||Are Protein Bars a Healthy Choice for On-the-go Kids? The University Of Nebraska-Lincoln.|
|↑6||Nutrition Bars. College of the Canyons.|
|↑7, ↑9, ↑12||Nutrition Bars. College of the Canyons.|
|↑8||To eat or not to eat? It’s really not that healthy. Penn State University.|
|↑10||Energy Bars. Columbia University.|
|↑13||Are nutrition bars really all that healthy? Tufts University.|