Sunday, 13 July 2014

Energy bars vs well-balanced meals: There's only one winner

Energy bars are very convenient sources of energy, especially for athletes during competition.

Energy bars are very convenient sources of energy, especially for athletes during competition.

Energy bars are convenient sources of energy, not replacements for well-balanced meals.

When energy bars were first produced in the late 1960s, they were designed as convenient and easily stored energy sources for astronauts in space. It didn’t take long for the product to find its way into the sports scene, where it was used by endurance athletes for the energy boost they needed to finish gruelling marathons and long biking trails.

Today, energy bars or nutrition bars can be found everywhere, marketed as meal replacements, supplements for gym-goers, health food, and even food for weight loss. The types of nutrition bars you can choose from include high-carbohydrate or high-protein bars, wholegrain bars, energy bars, breakfast bars, diet bars and bars that claim to improve your brain function.

“Without a doubt, grab-and-gobble nutrition bars are great for people who race non-stop from sun-up to exhaustion,” says health portal WebMD on its page titled “Nutrition Bars: Healthy or Hype?”.

However, not all bars are made equal.

“They’re a convenient alternative for someone who would otherwise be reaching for a doughnut or using the vending machines for snacks at the office,” Liz Applegate, a lecturer in nutrition at the University Of California, told WebMD. “But there’s nothing magical about these bars. Most of them are fine, but some are too high in fat,” she says.

Choosing Your Energy Bar

While energy bars are convenient sources of energy, most people buy them for specific reasons. Whether it is to temporarily replace missed meals due to hectic work schedules or get the energy boost for the second half of a marathon, it is important to choose healthier energy bars with the right nutritional composition to suit your needs.

First of all, one must pay attention to the calories these energy bars contain. As energy bars are designed to deliver energy in a compact and quick manner, many are high in calorie content. Some 50g energy bars can contain up to 150 kilocalories to 200 kilocalories, almost 10% of our daily calorie needs, based on a higher 2,000 kilocalories diet.

Other nutritional components to look out for include sugar and fat content, as some energy bars can come with very high levels of sugar for quick energy delivery. Therefore, if you're looking to energy bars to ease that mid-workday hunger, you need to ensure that your calorie intake is within your daily energy needs, as it is very easy to eat more energy bars than necessary due to their compact size.

For those who consume energy bars for sports performance, a few other ingredients to look out for are fibre and sugar alcohols, says the US Cleveland Clinic’s HealthHub. Fibre, for instance, could cause gastrointestinal distress if a lot of it is taken before or during an intensive workout.

Sugar alcohols like sorbitol, xylitol, isomalt and mannitol, which are often used in energy bars for their lower calorie content compared to sugar or glucose, can also cause cramping, bloating and diarrhoea, if you're not used to consuming it.

Another ingredient to look out for is green tea extracts, which is said to slightly increase the body’s metabolic rate of burning calories. Athletes who struggle to get enough calories to replenish the ones they lose during workouts will find it more difficult to do so with green tea extracts, which led Cleveland Clinic to advise athletes who need to keep their weight, to avoid supplements with green tea.

A Good Alternative

Energy bars may be perfect solutions for many of those who lead very busy and active lives, but they're not long-term solutions or replacements for well-balanced meals. No matter what manufacturers put in an energy bar, be it fruits, grains, seeds or protein, it does not contain the wide range of vitamins and minerals you can get from a healthy, balanced meal.

If you're keeping your diet under a certain calorie count by consuming only a limited amount of energy bars a day, you have a better chance of keeping within the calorie count by consuming more low-calorie natural foods such as fruits and vegetables. This is because natural foods tend to provide bulk and satiety, which makes you full and unlikely to snack on junk food.

Energy bars also do not come with the sweetness of a fresh raisin or the fragrance of a warm bowl of oatmeal, which makes the process of eating so enjoyable. Sometimes, choosing a right energy or nutrition bar involves some trial and error, as every individual has different needs and preferences.

One of the best ways is to take note of how your body responds to different energy bars. If you're gaining weight and having hunger pangs after consuming them, it’s time to look carefully at the bar’s calorie and sugar content. If you have trouble performing physical activities at an optimum level, check the other contents of the energy bar you are consuming.

Your energy and nutrition needs may change over time, but with the choices you have on the shelves, there is always another product that may be more suitable for you.

> This article is courtesy of Nestlé.

Tags / Keywords: advertorial , nestle , energy bars , Packaged Food 101


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