Ask Mickey: Choosing a Healthy Energy Bar

What should I look for when trying to pick an energy bar? I fear that some are just candy bars in healthy clothing.

Many of us turn to energy bars to stay fueled as we move through busy days, and as long as we’re choosing carefully, they can be nutritional wins. But you’re right to be concerned about exactly what’s in that bar, and whether it’s helping or harming your quest for good health.  Checking the Nutrition Facts Label for what ingredients are included, how much additional vitamin supplementation is packed into the bar, and amounts of key nutrients will help you decide which bar you really want to reach for.

Ingredients are listed on labels in order by weight, so choose bars that are based on real, whole foods whose lists are topped by whole grains, nuts, seeds, and dried fruits. Some bars are heavily processed, and will include a long list of obscure ingredients (eg: various protein isolates, sugar under a variety of aliases) that you may want to avoid. Your best bet are ones with only a few ingredients that look similar to a product you could imagine whipping up in your own kitchen!

Next, review the level of vitamin supplementation in your potential pick. If you consume a balanced, varied diet, and perhaps even take a daily multivitamin, a heavily fortified bar may provide too much of some nutrients.  While some vitamins are present naturally (such as Vitamin C in a bar that contains fruit), numbers boasting levels like “1000% RDA” tell you there may be more of that vitamin than your body needs, especially when it’s added to the other sources you typically consume in a day.

Finally, look at the total calories and other nutrients to decide how the bar fits into your overall diet. An afternoon snack to tide you over ’til dinner may only need to provide 100-200 calories. Some bars go substantially higher and may be more appropriate as an on-the-go meal replacement. Looking for at least a few grams of protein and a few grams of fiber will help ensure the bar offers nutritional benefits, not just calories, and that it can satisfy you until your next planned meal. And finally, if your pick contains added sugars on the ingredient list, check the total grams of sugars listed under Carbohydrates  to decide if this is the kind of bar that counts more as a nourishing snack … or a decadent treat.

12-3790_bamco_askmickey_web-157x300Energy bars are a handy snack to keep on hand to stay powered up throughout busy days. By knowing what to look for, you can ensure that you are supporting your goals for energy and well-being!

About Ask Mickey: At Bon Appétit, we know there’s a lot on your plate that you worry about. Making good food choices helps you avoid unwanted pounds, work or study (and sleep!) better, and form long-lasting healthy eating habits. In the Ask Mickey column, Bon Appétit Management Company Registered Dietitian Nutritionist Lulu Cook offer tips on “chewing the right thing” and answers your nutrition questions. (Mickey, aka Michelina, is a particular feisty Italian grandmother who continues to inspire us.) Email your questions and feedback to nutrition@cafebonappetit.com.