You throw a healthy energy bar into your purse or gym bag to provide a quick nutritious snack when there’s no time to sit for a real meal. But are you really doing something good for your body when you eat an energy bar? It depends on the bar. Many are as high in fat and sugar as a candy bar. Some provide plenty of fiber, but not much else. Reading labels is crucial if you want to make sure you’re getting everything you want—and avoiding everything you don’t want—from your energy bar. But labels only tell part of the story.
Choosing a Healthy Energy Bar
The term “energy bar” leads consumers to think there might be something magical packed between the nuts and raisins. The truth is that all food provides “energy” because all food contains calories. If nutritionally balanced, a bar can be a good source of energy, but so is a banana with peanut butter or a lean turkey sandwich. To choose an energy bar that provides the amount and type of calories you most need, follow these tips:
- Look for bars that provide at least 4 grams of fiber with no more than 3 grams of saturated fat
- Avoid bars with palm kernel oil, brown rice syrup or cane syrup unless you’re a training athlete who needs the extra calories
- Select a bar heavy in fruit and nuts if you’re looking for a satisfying between-meal snack, look for one that’s high in protein if you’re replacing a meal. About 10-20 grams of protein is adequate for most people. For athletes, the more protein, the better
- Some low-calorie bars contain sugar alcohols such as erythritol or maltitol in order to reduce the sugar content. These ingredients may cause gastrointestinal distress in some people
- Energy bars shouldn’t be substituted for whole foods such as fruits, vegetables and whole grains which contain micronutrients important for overall health
Homemade Energy Bars
If you want to know exactly what’s in your energy bar, consider making them yourself. Many energy bar recipes are no-bake recipes, and you can alter the ingredients to suit your tastes. Follow these basic proportions:
- 3 cups dry ingredients such as chopped nuts and seeds, dried fruit, oats, shredded coconut, dark chocolate chips
- 2 tablespoons fat such as coconut oil, nut butters etc.
- 2 tablespoons sweetener such as honey, coconut nectar or agave syrup
- A dash of salt, ginger or cayenne pepper will give your energy bars a unique flavor
Simply chop, grate or grind the dry ingredients into bite-sized pieces, and stir in the fat, sweetener and seasonings. Spread the mixture evenly onto a parchment paper-lined baking sheet, cover with plastic wrap and allow to set for approximately 60 minutes. Cut into bars and wrap each one in plastic wrap to ensure freshness.