Energy Bars: Friend or Foe?

Are energy bars healthy or are they just glorified candy bars? It’s normal to wonder if an energy bar is a healthy friend or traitorous foe, because you can even find some energy bars next to the chocolate bars in a vending machine. Furthermore, many of them are very high in calories and sugar.

In this fast-paced world, many people rely on the quick convenience of energy bars to get through the day. After all, these tiny packaged bars are portable and convenient sources of fuel. You can bring them in your bag wherever you go for a quick pick-me-up or eat them as a meal replacement when you’re famished and don’t have time for a proper meal.

Energy bars are also popular in the fitness, wellness, and health industries. All over the pages of magazines and the news, you will find health tips promoting some of these energy bars. And, with the incredible tech boom, social media has now grown into a primary source of information with numerous influencers providing not just exercise tips but healthy snack ideas and meal plans that include energy bars with a wide variety of flavors to satisfy different palates.  

With all the accessible information out there, it can be difficult to recognize which information is legitimate, leading to some controversy or debate surrounding energy bars as an acclaimed health food. Are energy bars healthy?

Energy bars have been the topic of much discussion, with many asking are energy bars healthy. Some may say these bars have a decent amount of protein, fiber, and vitamins to fill nutrition gaps while others may counter that energy bars are processed foods high in carbs and sugar, that belong in the candy aisle. If you are wondering are energy bars healthy, keep on reading to unravel the mystery.

Are Energy Bars Healthy? Learn How it Started as Fuel For Astronauts

To answer the question, “are energy bars healthy?”, it would help to understand the food’s historical roots. According to Snack History, energy bars received inspiration from outer space and are one of those things that made it back to earth. The very first energy bars were sold by the Pillsbury Company in the 1960s and were called the Space Food Stick.

The company capitalized on the popularity of the national space program. These slim bars were inspired by the food that astronauts carried and could sneak comfortably into their suits or helmets. These tiny bars may be small but they are packed with balanced nutrients to provide energy for the demanding rigors of working in outer space.

Energy Bars Reformulated for Mainstream Consumption

Later on, the original Space Food Stick was reformulated to serve as fuel for athletes on the go who required the necessary nutrition as these bars contained a combination of fats, protein, and carbs while being fortified with vitamins and minerals. If you ask these athletes, along with their coaches, are energy bars healthy, they will probably say a resounding yes.

In light of the strenuous physical activity these athletes participate in, studies showed these energy bars indeed help provide an energy boost, give them boundless stamina, and aid with recovery. Since then, energy bars have morphed into something special. They are called different things like activity bars, endurance bars, organic bars, and protein bars.  

Now, many fitness enthusiasts rely on these bars as part of their healthy eating plans. Energy bars have become a dietary supplement. Apart from physically active individuals, people who are busy at work often have a stash of these bars to get them through a grueling day. Since these bars are loaded with nutrients, they can enhance energy, performance, and productivity. Energy bars are often the choice of those people on the go as well. They are compact and easy to take anywhere with you.

Are Energy Bars Healthy? Check Out Its Nutritional Components

A quick glance at all the energy bars available on grocery shelves would make anyone believe that they are healthy and natural. After all, most premium brands come with certifications on the packaging along with fit influencers promoting the product. Furthermore, a lot of energy bars come packed with the following healthy ingredients:

  • Fiber such as oats and healthy seeds
  • Protein powder
  • Dried berries, cranberries, or apricots
  • Dates and raisins
  • Healthy fats in the form of various nuts
  • Coconut oil
  • Dark chocolate chips
  • Honey
  • Peanut butter

While the above raw materials are supposed to boost your health, a lot of energy bars on the market contain added saturated fat and added sugars. These sweeteners could come in the form of chocolate chips, M&M’s, corn syrup, brown rice sugar syrup, or cane invert syrup. Some have sugar substitutes like xylitol, erythritol, or maltitol to lower sugar content, but note that these could result in gastrointestinal issues. Because of the different components, not all energy bars are created equal as some have extremely high calories, too many additives, and a lot of processed raw materials that only spike your blood sugar and induce more cravings.

Many energy bars also contain too many dried fruits (high in sugar) and too many nuts (high in calories) so the portions aren’t great.

So are energy bars healthy? Some of these energy bars do have a place in a well-balanced diet. You’ll be happy to know that there are still energy bars out there that have limited additives. It is just a matter of determining what ingredients are in your energy bars and making sure that there are no excessive amounts of sugar, trans fats, sodium, and other preservatives.

The Rule of Thumb: Read the Labels of Energy Bars

As a rule of thumb, when checking labels or thinking are energy bars healthy, stick to a short ingredient list. Keep in mind that the fewer the number of ingredients, the better the health outcomes. It also helps to make sure that you recognize and can pronounce the items on the ingredients list, like nuts, raisins, seeds, etc. Avoid those with fake flavorings and strive for whole ingredients.

Having items you’re familiar with lessens the chances of there being any added preservatives. Keep in mind as well that those with high preservatives tend to be higher in caloric count. Instead, opt for energy bars with whole grain ingredients versus refined ones as raw materials are higher in fiber, slow down digestion, and keep you full for longer. Choose those with natural sweeteners like dried fruits versus those ladened with sugars and chocolates.

Try to aim for energy bars that have 150 calories per bar or less, unless you plan on using it as a meal replacement. One energy bar per day should be the goal to avoid consuming excess calories.

Do Energy Bars Have a Place in Your Diet?

Energy bars could have a place in your diet if you are living a very active lifestyle. Even those with a higher caloric count may be helpful if you need a burst of energy for sports. But, if you live a sedentary lifestyle, consuming items with a lot of sugar and fats may adversely affect your health, resulting in weight gain and increasing the risk of chronic diseases like diabetes, hypertension, and high blood pressure.  

Energy bars indeed live up to their name and are great for boosting energy during physical activity. However, they are not recommended for weight loss because one bar isn’t very filling. Energy bars are not recommended as a meal replacement. You could end up eating the bar along with other meals and pump your daily caloric intake.

However, energy bars could be eaten as a midday snack if you enjoy them. The healthy energy bar brands could provide nutrients without the guild and help you last through your next meal. If you want a healthier alternative that is lower in calories and with little added sugars and fats, you can always opt to make your own.

Healthier Homemade Energy Bars

Healthy homemade energy bars are very easy to make and do not involve a lot. Plus, the benefit of making them at home is the ability to temper the taste to your liking and your health needs. Here are some simple recipes you can try.

The Nutty Energy Snack Bar

If you love nuts, this energy bar is for you. You’ll get a dose of healthy fats from various types of roasted peanuts and nut butters. However, keep in mind that this is not fit for those with nut allergies.

  • 1 cup of pitted dates
  • 1/4 cup of maple syrup or honey
  • 1/4 cup of natural peanut butter or any other nut butter
  • 1 cup roasted unsalted almonds or cashews, peanuts, and other nuts of choice
  • 1 1/2 cups of rolled oats
  • Optional toppings: chocolate, dried fruits, vanilla, banana chips, etc.

Instructions:

In a food processor or a blender, process the dates until it forms a doughy consistency. Then, in a separate bowl, mix your nuts, dates, and oats. In a saucepan, warm peanut butter and your choice of sweetener until combined. Pour this over the oats mixture and stir until combined. Lay the mixture on a pan, pressing it firmly. Lastly, top with your toppings of choice and set in the freezer before cutting up into bars.

2. Homemade Energy Balls

Seeds, dates, and cranberries are the star of this delicious energy ball. It’s also very easy to make, even kitchen newbies and kids can make them. Enjoy munching on this healthy treat to satisfy your sweet tooth.

  • 1 cup whole almonds (raw)
  • 1 cup pumpkin seeds (raw)
  • 1 cup of pitted dates
  • 1 cup of cranberries
  • 1/4 cup of unsweetened coconut flakes
  • 2 tbsp of chia seeds

Instructions:

In a food processor, mix almonds until it starts to form a lumpy mass, it should look like rough peanut butter. Then, add the rest of your ingredients and process until combined. Finally, roll them up into tiny energy balls to serve as a snack. If you’re pressed for time, you can place the mixture into a parchment-lined tray and pat down with a spatula instead. Refrigerate till firm before slicing.

3. Energy Bark

Enjoy a creamy energy bar with high-protein greek yogurt. The addition of chocolate makes this a truly decadent treat that can even be a sweet ending to any of your meals.

  • 1 cup greek yogurt
  • 1 tbsp honey
  • 1/4 cup of nuts of choice
  • 2 tbsp of strawberries or other fruit alternatives
  • 3 tbsp of chocolate

Instructions:

In a bowl, mix your yogurt with honey. Then, pour and spread the mixture on a parchment-lined tray. Sprinkle all the nuts and berries of your choice and freeze. While waiting for it to harden, melt the chocolate. Once your yogurt has hardened, drizzle some of the chocolate, and place it once again in the freezer to firm up. Once the chocolate has frozen up, you can break the frozen yogurt bark into pieces.

Be Watchful of All the Ingredients Before Eating

If you’re truly concerned and wondering “are energy bars healthy for you”, you have to stay vigilant in reading the nutritional labels. The most important thing to keep in mind is that what you choose to eat should ultimately match the needs of your body. This will depend a lot on your level of physical activity and dietary sensitivities.

For example, if you have a nut allergy or are sensitive to gluten and lactose, then some of the commercial energy bars could result in an adverse reaction like an upset stomach or loose stools. If you want to ascertain what your body’s unique dietary needs are based on your genetics, you can take a CircleDNA test to find out the optimal diet for you, based on your genes.

This is an at-home DNA test that could help you identify food sensitivities or specific nutritional needs based on your genetic makeup.

Remember, energy bars should not take the place of the five main food groups. You still need to eat a balanced diet, especially vegetables, and fruits, since these are essential for overall health. If you have time and opportunity, a proper, balanced meal is always better than eating a packaged energy bar.

References:

  1. Space Food Sticks (Snack History) https://www.snackhistory.com/space-food-sticks/
  2. Effects of Easy-to-Use Protein-Rich Energy Bar on Energy Balance, Physical Activity and Performance during 8 Days of Sustained Physical Exertion (Minna Tanskanen et.al.) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3475712/
  3. Energy Bar (Chem Europe) https://www.chemeurope.com/en/encyclopedia/Energy_bar.htmlAre energy bars healthy? (Lisa Dryer) https://edition.cnn.com/2017/08/25/health/energy-bars-healthy-food-drayer/index.html

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