Nutrition bars: Friend or Foe?
Years ago “nutrition bars” were used mostly by athletes for quick energy before/during and even after endurance exercise for the most part. They were designed to provide a bit of extra energy in the time of activity, which is most necessary when working out for a long length of time (long distance runners/cyclists or long practices for sports, etc.).
In the past 10 years, these bars have come a long way and the options are amazing. If you have perused your typical grocery aisle lately at most major chain stores you’ll find quite the array of the so called “Nutrition bars”. The promise on the package comes in many forms – high fiber, high protein, low carb, no sugar added, gluten free, low glycemic, meal replacement…on and on the info on the package goes trying to ensure you feel good about this packaged product.
How healthy are nutrition bars?
To give it to you in an easy way, honestly, most of these bars…I’d estimate at least 80% of them, are nothing more than a fancy candy bar in disguise. Now, you are reading that again…WHAT? REALLY? I know, you thought that fiber filled bar with chocolate coating was so good for your digestive system because it has 5 grams of fiber right?! We are so blinded by the information on the package that it is hard to believe the 5 grams of fiber isn’t just being hidden in a bar full of other stuff that really isn’t all that healthy.
What nutrition bars are not good for people with diabetes?
1. Fiber One Bars
Take for instance the Fiber One Bars, of which there are many options now. These fancy little bars with about 9g fiber per serving are a candy bar in disguise. Really? These bars with fiber and oats and barley are a candy bar? Take a peak for yourself….these are the ingredients right from the website!
Ingredients: Chicory Root Extract, Whole Grain Oats, Semisweet Chocolate Chips (Sugar, Chocolate Liquor, Cocoa Butter, Vanilla), Corn Syrup, Rice Flour, Barley Flakes, Sugar, Canola and Palm Kernel Oil, Vegetable Glycerin, Corn Starch, Tricalcium Phosphate, Soy Lecithin, Maltodextrin, Sugarcane Fiber, Dutch Cocoa (Processed with Alkali), Salt, Water, Fructose, Malt Extract, Natural Flavor, Cellulose Gum, Baking Soda, Whole Milk Solids, Oil of Rosemary, Vitamin E (Mixed Tocopherols) added to retain freshness.
Do you see all the ingredients in red? Sugar, sugar and more sugar…just different names for it. 2 of the first 5 ingredients are sugar! And unfortunately, while chicory root extract is a good fiber source, it isn’t processed well by a good majority of the human population so watch out for that gurgly stomach as well as potential for clearing a room.
2. the KIND bar
I picked a bar that is a common one now in grocery stores and some of you are thinking “oh, but I eat the ones that are a lot of nuts and seeds, etc.” Even some of these are not much more than a glorified candy bar. A good example is the KIND bar which also has a good variety to choose from – not all with chocolate. Let’s look at one that should be a bit “kinder” so to speak in terms of ingredients. The Thai Sweet Chili bar looks like it should be pretty safe. Here are the ingredients from their website:
Ingredients: Almonds, pumpkin seeds, glucose syrup, honey, pea protein isolate, Thai seasoning (turbinado sugar, spices, onion powder, garlic powder, sea salt, paprika, tomato powder, jalapeno chili, citric acid) pea starch, rice flour, sunflower lecithin, sea salt.
Again, 2 of the first 5 ingredients are sugar – and for this one, glucose syrup is the 3rd ingredient! Thinking what I am…yes, GLUCOSE tablets are for low BG to bring BG up fast. Snarf down one of these for a healthy snack and you may find a quick rise in BG that leaves you wondering “What the heck?” I was also surprised to find they have a section that is labeled “low glycemic” likely because the products have a higher fiber content and many of these bars contain the chicory root fiber. They still contain honey, sugar and glucose syrup as sweeteners though – how is that low glycemic? And, I’d guess they haven’t asked anyone with diabetes what BG levels look like after eating these.
What nutrition bars are ok for people with diabetes?
It likely leaves you wondering, “So what can I pack for a quick meal on the go when I travel, etc.? Is anything safe and healthy?” There are a few that pass my test – and of course, everyone’s opinion is their own.
My safe picks include bars that are clean ingredients without fillers or things I can’t pronounce.
3. the RXBAR
One I like is the RXBAR, and even this one you have to be a bit choosey about which flavor. These bars all have a good macronutrient breakdown that is good for a more balanced meal replacement. They aren’t quite the wealth of calories as a full meal but they are good in a pinch. Usually containing about4-6 ingredients and most of them are about 24g carb, 12g protein and 8-10g fat. They contain:
Ingredients: 3 egg whites, 5-10 nuts of some variety, sea salt and 2 dates
I prefer the blueberry or pumpkin spice myself and find them to have an easy glycemic impact that is slow and beneficial. They also keep me full for a while despite not having a total meal replacement amount of calories. See more info here: https://www.rxbar.com
4. the LARABAR
Another one I like for the simple ingredients, but still need to be choosey about which flavor is the LARABAR. While these are not as nutritionally balanced with macronutrients as the RXbar, I love that the ingredients are just real food. They even have some now that are fruit and veggies in one bar such as the Strawberry Spinach Cashew bar.
Ingredients: Strawberry, Spinach, Cashews, Apricot, Unsweetened Apples
Look at the ingredients, they don’t lie and nothing to hide. Impact on BG is so much easier when there aren’t processed ingredients and hidden sugars.
There are more to add to both the candy bar category as well as the healthy option category and I could go on and on about many more, but in the end, my recommendation is to do your homework. If it contains chocolate drizzle, chocolate chips or anything that looks like indulgence, steer clear or at least read the ingredient list.
As always if you have questions please feel free to reach out to me at firstname.lastname@example.org – I’d be happy to set up a time to talk and help you make the best decision to fit your need.