Apr 12, 2010

Protein, Energy, Diet, and Nutrition Bars: Fit or Fake?

Fitness Flash....

The answer is both; however, it all depends on what’s in your meal replacement bar –– the ingredients.

Okay, you are on a "quest" to get healthy and fit –– if not, you should be. That said, is your hectic schedule keeping you from eating fit and wholesome meals? Due to your time restraints, do you continually resort to junk food and fast food that only sabotages your chance of lasting success? Well, you are not alone. Finding "healthy and fit fast food” items can be quite a chore itself, even when it comes to sifting through the hundreds of protein, energy, diet, and nutrition bars –– AKA “meal replacement bars."

The positive sides to meal replacement bars are their convenience and portability as well as providing a way to keep you from skipping meals and starving all day long, which in reality has many benefits when it comes to weight loss, energy, mood, and overall health and fitness. But are meal replacement bars fit or fake?

The answer is both; however, there definitely is a negative side to meal replacement bars –– they are man-made food products with too many ingredients, including ones that are not conducive to health and fitness. Unlike nature, men and women have a tendency to mess things up, especially when it comes to creating food products. Moreover, meal replacement bars are packaged with “labeling hype” like healthy, diet, lean, lose weight, muscle building, and other misleading claims, yet, they fall short on many fronts. While I am sure these food-type products were designed with good intentions, the majority fail the most important trial of all, the “real and natural” purity food test. A good number of today’s meal replacement bars are "fake" and many fitness experts categorize them as "glorified candy bars" –– kind of like Snickers or Kit Kat on steroids.

Back in the early '90s when I was an avid bodybuilder, I promoted one of the first protein bars when it hit the market, the Power Bar (average rating), and oh my, they were very chewy. Since then, I have watched meal replacement bars evolve, with everyone but Grandma getting in on the craze and "bars" popping up everywhere. In analyzing most of the protein, energy, diet, and nutrition bars, not all of them are created equal when it comes to taste and, more importantly, nutritional value. The good news: you can find meal replacement bars that are healthy, those using real ingredients without all the added sugar, sodium, trans fats, and other unhealthy additives. Others also provide fiber and added vitamins and minerals to increase their value, and for those who are gluten intolerant you can find gluten-free meal replacement bars, which brings me to the “energy bar” winner, the Larabar, with the Cliff Bars scoring high points as well.

There are a few more things you should consider before "chewing on" your favorite bar along with its colorful packaging and hype:
  • Most meal replacement bars are high in calories, contain added sugar (or high fructose corn syrup and other sweeteners), wheat and other flour sources, fat and hydrogenated oil, salt, milk products, nuts, cocoa and cocoa powder as well as other additives and preservatives. Some also contain caffeine and other stimulants like ginseng.
  • Most meal replacement bars are very high in sugar (25 plus grams), still others contain sugar alcohols and nonnutritive sweeteners, which are intended to enhance flavor while lowing sugar and calorie content, however, in excess these ingredients can have certain side affects and some have the potential (depending on which argument –– for or against -- you subscribe to) of becoming harmful to your body; as in hazardous to your health.
  • So-called protein bars contain different types of protein blends like whey and casein (cow's milk), and soy, used in the Genisoy Bars (average rating), but the majority of bars contain a combination of all three.

Keep in mind that there are four main factors to consider when choosing the best meal replacement bars: nutrition, ingredients, taste, and purpose. The purpose of consuming a meal replacement bar can range from increasing your protein intake and energy requirement to a more complicated matter of losing weight. Other uses include gaining muscle mass and/or boosting strength and endurance for athletes. It could be as simple as providing yourself with a nutritious morning “fast food” breakfast, afternoon snack, or pre- or post- workout meal, or those times you may be craving something sweet.

Considering the vast variety of brands, categories, and flavors when it comes to meal replacement bars, finding and choosing quality is complicated. Taking the guesswork out of the equation can be helpful when seeking the "bar" that is right for you and AskMen.com has laid out a very useful guide, “Top 10 Energy & Protein Bars.” Interestingly, diet.com put some meal replacement bars to their own test, where they analyzed bars based on calories, calorie density, saturated fat, trans fats, protein, fiber, vitamins and minerals, and gave their “Top 5 Worst Meal Replacement Bars.”

What matters most is whether or not the protein, energy, diet, or nutrition bar you choose is healthy and fit, because at the end of the day, one “bar” is not going to make or break your diet; what counts is the totality of your diet program coupled with your activity level. Which brings me to the most important rule when selecting a meal replacement bar for yourself or your family. Just like with all man-made food products you must read labels and according to WebMD, “If you want a healthy nutrition bar you have to read past the label” and that means the ingredients panel.

My advice: go for the fit, not fake meal replacement bars, those high in fiber (close to 5 grams or more); ones with fewer ingredients, low in sodium, no added sugars, artificial sweeteners, and other flavor enhancers, additives, and preservatives. Be leery and avoid those that have trans fat and are high in saturated fats, but don't be afraid of the "good fat" grams, except those that go over ten grams per bar. Better yet, unless you are an athlete, meal replacement bars are best used in an emergency situation, because you will be much happier and healthier than if you eat that dreaded Happy Meal.

More paramount, get your calories from natural, fresh, and wholesome foods, even when you are looking for convenient and portable meal ideas –– like an apple, banana, a mixed green salad, some on-the-go carrots or celery, a cup of natural trail mix with almonds and raisins. Take advantage of the “pure fast foods” that nature offers in variety of flavors and colors –– raw fruits, vegetables, nuts, and seeds. I promise, you won't regret it (food allergies aside, of course)!

Part of Fitness Flash on Blogcritics

Protein, Energy, Diet, and Nutrition Bars: Fit or Fake?
Opinion by Christine Lakatos — on Apr 13, 2010

NOTE: Due to the fact that there are too many meal replacement bars on the market today, I could not cover them all. Considering "new bars" are produced at a rapid pace, it is best to know how to analyze them appropriately –– that way you can make good choices no matter how many "news bars" show up on the health and fitness scene.

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Alan said...

This is a very interesting blog and so i like to visit your blog again and again. Keep it up.



Christine Lakatos said...

Thank you Alan (Sharon?), and I hope you visit again!