I enjoy doing endurance events such as marathons and triathlons. Often, they have “goody bags” that contain energy bars and gels. The first thing I do is flip them over and check out the ingredients. I skip to the last highlighted line first because that is where they must list the food allergens such as dairy, eggs, soy, nuts, etc. If there are eggs, whey, casein, or dairy listed I am finished and it is pitched. The next test is the main body of the ingredients looking for oils. They often spread them out and there can be a number of different types. Common types are palm, soybean, canola and coconut oil. They may even list a generic vegetable oil. You also have to take into account that nuts are 80% oil or more, so if a product contains a lot of nuts it will have a high fat content as well. If there are multiple sources of processed oils I am also finished. The next step is to look at the calories from fat versus the total calories. I do not want a “snack bar” more than 30% fat, and I prefer less.
I believe the first thing people need to realize is that many of these bars are candy bars with another name. Most are promoted as “energy bars”. This is true because “energy” as food equals “calories” and they often contain quite a few calories. I received one this week in a bag that stated it was a “Kidz” bar and “perfect” nutrition. It was also “yellow cupcake” with “natural flavor” The front packaging is what sells most folks, and if they see something acceptable they are sold. For instance my bar said it had 23 vitamins and minerals. Wow better than a steak! It contained 5 grams of protein. A bowl of oatmeal has 10 grams. It had no artificial colors or ingredients. Translated they were real and not imaginary flavors and colors. The bar weighed 1.2 ounces and contained 150 calories. A medium apple weights 3.5 ounces and has 95 calories and 4.5 grams of fiber. If I move onto the sugar content it gets even worse. The second ingredients is cane syrup followed by a list of other sugars in the various added parts. How could you expect to grow a child with this list of ingredients. There is no wonder that children are in the pediatricians office given the lack of immune supporting ingredients in the food that is consumed.
How many people do you think opened the bag and pulled out that bar and consumed it without even looking to see what the ingredients were? It even had 25 mg of cholesterol! I got tagged in a post the other day that said to take the icing off of a cupcake, and then it would be a healthy muffin. They are essentially the same thing! If a store puts “Bran” in front of the muffin word, it is considered healthy. Just like the “soluble corn fiber” gives my “perfect bar” fiber, so does a little bran sprinkled into the muffin batter. Neither are healthy. Not a fan of genetically modified foods? The soy products in things like soybean oil and soy lecithin, corn syrup and high fructose corn syrup, and canola oils all come from GMO soy and corn unless stated. I am pretty sure that the “energy” bar is no more than a feel good substitute for a candy bar and is not considered in the daily intake of most individuals if they were to be given a dietary questionnaire. But those 150 calories are not invisible to your body. Eat one of those everyday for a year and you can wind up with about 15.6 pounds of energy stored as fat around your waistline not to mention the accumulation of metabolic waste from the fat and chemicals that need to go somewhere. Because it is considered an “energy bar” it is consumed more regularly than it’s sister the candy bar but has similar side effects on ones health. Look in the desk drawers, purses and gym bags of 100 people and see how many of these “energy bars” we can find.
What if instead of taking a plastic bag and filling it with more plastic wrapped junk food, the race directors just put out bins of fruit for people to take? No plastic waste. More nutrient dense. Health promoting. Plenty of usable energy. If you want a portable snack bar, then go for a limited ingredient organic bar that does not contained added oils or preservatives. Your choices will be limited. The better option is to eat whole foods. Trail mix with dried fruits and nuts would be a better option. Better yet, save your intake for mealtime and consume a whole foods meal that is filling and nutritious. Then you will not be looking for the “energy bar” to help you make it until the next meal.