Glow Nutrition 

Energy Bars: A Taste Test

Energy Bars: A Taste Test

Faced with the prospect of a very long day at work last week, I stopped at Sunshine Grocery for a couple of energy bars. Although I don’t usually eat them, I thought they’d be good food to have around the office if I couldn’t get away for lunch. But when I found them on the appropriate aisle, I was confronted with an overwhelming number of choices. In fact, there were so many different bars that I found myself momentarily paralyzed. What did the Govinda Blissbar taste like? Or the Kashi GoLean Strawberry Vanilla? Or the Balance + Honey Ginseng?

Then I began to wonder which ones were better for me. The Clif Bar promised sustained energy, while the Twinlab Ironman contained “40-30-30 nutrition.” The AB Bar described itself as a “perfect whole food” but was a supplement for people with blood type AB.

I’d been standing there so long looking through all the different choices that I found myself already late for work; most likely I’d be eating one of these bars for lunch at my desk after all. So I did what I usually do when faced with such a choice: I bought them all.

It was at this point that I decided to write a story: A taste test of the various energy bars would be in order to help the harried consumer, an on-the-go person like myself, decide what to buy. It’s bad enough eating lunch at your desk. It’s worse if the energy bar you bought tastes like drywall.

But this ignores an even more important question: whether these sports bars are good food after all. To find out, I got in touch with Jim Burkard, the team leader of Medical Nutrition Therapy at Saint Thomas Health Services.

“Unfortunately,” Burkard says, “most of the public turn to these bars because they want to be fitter, trimmer, and more energetic. But energy, in this case, just means calories.”

In fact, Burkard points out, one of the ironies of the marketing of energy bars is that the very people who shouldn’t be eating them are often the ones who buy them.

“Like a lot of health-related products, sports bars are over-consumed, much like SnackWells cookies were when they came out with their fat-free brands. They’re fat-free, but not calorie-free, and too many calories will lead to obesity just as certainly. Also, they’re consumed by sedentary people. Unless you’re doing an hour or more of exercise a day, you don’t need an energy bar. Your body has plenty of glycogen stored in it already.”

But if you’re going to choose a bar, what should the nutritional criteria be? According to Burkard, the enriched 40-30-30 bars (the ratio of carbs, proteins, and fat respectively) are “better for you than a Big Mac,” but lack the complete nutrition of whole foods. “They’re fortified, but they don’t have, for instance, phytochemicals that plant foods do. And the complex carbohydrates they use aren’t special in any way. You’re not getting better energy by eating them.”

Burkard points out that consumers should start by paying attention to the bar’s fat content. He offers the following guideline: The American Heart Association recommends that with any food, less than 30 percent of the calories should come from fat, and of those fat calories, less than 10 percent should be from saturated fat. Saturated fat produces LDL, the bad cholesterol, an overabundance of which can cause heart disease.

“You’re better off taking a plastic bag of raisins and peanuts to work,” Burkard says, “along with, say, a bag of carrot sticks. A snack like that is low-calorie and nutrient-dense, as long as you aren’t overeating.”

If, however, you find yourself drawn to eating energy bars and you too are paralyzed by the plethora of choices, we offer our taste test below. Bars are reviewed and rated on an A through F scale. And always remember to read the nutritional label on the back.

Clif Bar (Chocolate Chip Peanut Butter Crunch) Has a gaseous first bite that melts, after a few chews, into its peanut butter and chocolate components. Very chewable with a nice crunch, like a Nestle. Doesn’t send you grabbing for water. A-.

Govinda’s Macadamia Blissbar Delicious. A chewy, sweet mix of macadamia, pineapple, and coconut. Unfortunately, 116 of its 217 calories are from fat. A for taste, F for nutrition.

Balance Outdoor (Honey Peanut) Compared to similar bars, this one has more honey and peanut taste, bite for bite. Slightly oily aftertaste and a bit tough to chew, but it fended off hunger longer than most of the other bars I tested. B+.

Bodhi Bar (Cherry Schitzandra) Godawful. Has a pungent citrus scent that makes it difficult to taste and a sandy, seedy crunch. Impossible to recommend. F.

Boulder Bar (Apple Cinnamon) The citrus taste puckers the mouth and the cinnamon lingers. Smells a little like wood polish. Has a dry, sandy finish. D.

Balance (Honey Peanut Ginseng) Excellent. Chocolate-coated with a strong taste of honey. Not terribly dry. Yummy small chunks of ginseng crunch. B+.

Kashi GoLean (Strawberry Vanilla Yogurt) Like choking down a piece of birthday cake with too much icing. The yogurt coating is bad enough, but the dense inside is no better. Hideously sweet aftertaste. D.

PowerBar (Oatmeal Raisin) Tolerably good. Very chewy, like stale fruitcake. Not something you’d want to eat to curb a little hunger in the morning, but it probably would taste pretty good mid-marathon. C.

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