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protein bar

Navigating Nutrition Bars: How to Choose the Best Option

Because they are so portable, which happens to make them extremely convenient, nutrition bars (or energy bars or protein bars – it doesn’t matter what you call them) are often a staple for dieters. They seem like an easy and healthy option to stave off hunger in between meals and after a workout, but don’t believe all the hype just yet. Some of these chocolate-covered “nutrition” bars are just candy bars in disguise.

It’s true that some nutrition bars can be a great option, but most are backed by outlandish claims that grossly misrepresent what’s actually in the product. We know that it’s hard to separate fact from fiction, especially when there are literally hundreds of bars lining the grocery store shelves, but we’re going to help you narrow it down with four key areas that you should be paying attention to when choosing a nutrition bar.

It’s All about the Ingredients!

Most of the nutrition bars available are loaded with chemicals and artificial ingredients that result in a good taste, but aren’t necessarily good for you. A good rule of thumb is if you can’t pronounce it or your grandparents wouldn’t recognize it, don’t eat it! Instead, choose nutrition bars that are made from natural, wholesome ingredients like nuts, seeds, and dried fruits. As a general rule, the fewer ingredients, the better.

Use Caution with Calories

Nutrition bars serve different purposes, and because of this, the calorie counts can vary significantly between bars. Some bars are meant to be a meal replacement, while others are supposed to be a quick snack to hold you over until you can enjoy your next meal. If you’re looking for a snack bar, check out the calories and stick to one that contains only 100 to 200 per bar. If you’re planning to eat the bar as a meal, choose one that packs around 300 calories and has at least 10 grams of protein – you’ll need it to help hold you over!

Figure Out Fiber Content

One of fiber’s claims to fame is that it helps keep you full. It’s slow to digest, so it stays in your system longer and it absorbs water, so it expands in your stomach, literally filling it up. If you want a bar that’s going to keep you full, choose one that offers at least 2 to 3 grams of fiber per day.

Say Sayonara to Sugar

One of the things that you’ll want to pay really close attention to when choosing a nutrition bar is the amount of sugar. This one can get tricky because many of the healthy options contain dried fruits, so a lot of the sugar content comes from natural sources. Because of this, you’ll have to look past the nutrition facts label at the ingredient list. Avoid bars that contain added sugars like cane juice, rice syrup, sucrose, fructose, honey, molasses or corn syrup. These added sugars not only increase calories (in the form of empty calories), but they also contribute to systemic, or widespread, inflammation, which is a known risk factor for heart disease, diabetes, and arthritis.

If you want to be sure that you have full control over your nutrition bars and the ingredients in them, you can also take a look at this list of homemade energy bar recipes. The Chocolate, Cashew, and Almond Bars are our favorite!

yogurt

“Healthy” Foods that Aren’t: Uncovering the Truth.

Here is an ugly truth that needs to be addressed: most food manufacturers care more about their profit margin than your health. It’s a sad reality, but it’s a reality nonetheless. These food manufacturers try to increase profits by slapping misleading claims on labels and spending millions of dollars for commercials that steer you in the wrong direction. The good news is we’re here to help. Here are some foods that are advertised as healthy – and generally believed to be healthy – that really aren’t.

Flavored Yogurt

Flavored yogurt tops the list of healthy foods that aren’t. So many people believe that they’re doing their body good when reaching for a yogurt for breakfast. In fact, this is such a common belief that many people even force yogurt into their diet even though they don’t really like it because they think it’s good for them. Here’s the truth: flavored yogurt is LOADED with sugar. If you pick up a container of flavored yogurt and compare the sugar content to a soda, it’s likely the same per serving. That’s right – you may be taking in as much sugar eating a flavored yogurt as you would drinking a can of soda. That being said, some of the sugar in yogurt is natural, but food manufacturers are not required to differentiate between the two so you never really know what you’re getting.

On the other hand, some flavored yogurts are “light”, which means instead of sugar, they’re sweetened with artificial sweeteners. This may save you calories, but research shows that consuming artificial sweeteners may actually contribute to weight GAIN rather than weight loss. The bottom line? Stay away from flavored yogurts. If you want to eat yogurt, choose plain Greek varieties, which contain a boatload of protein and only natural sugars. If you want to sweeten the deal a bit, add some fresh fruit on your own.

Flavored Oatmeal

Flavored oatmeal makes the list for the same reason as flavored yogurt: it’s packed with sugar. It doesn’t matter if it’s white sugar, brown sugar, or maple syrup – it all contributes extra calories that you don’t want when trying to lose weight. Flavored oatmeal is also highly processed. Manufacturers take oats – which are normally digested fairly slowly – and turn them into a quick-cooking product that may resemble oats, but lack the full health benefits. If you want oatmeal, choose plain steel-cut varieties or old-fashioned oats that haven’t been through a lot of processing. These take longer to cook than flavored packaged varieties, but your body will thank you. If plain oatmeal isn’t your thing, dress it up with some fresh or dried fruit, chopped raw nuts, or unsweetened coconut flakes.

Meal Replacement Bars

There are literally hundreds of different kinds of meal replacement bars on the market. Some are rich in protein and others provide a boost of carbohydrates, but the one thing many of them have in common is – you guessed it – SUGAR. If you pick up a typical meal replacement bar and compare the nutrition facts to a regular candy bar, you may be surprised to find that the sugar and saturated fat content are nearly the same. Many of these bars are also loaded with artificial ingredients and chemicals that you’d be better off skipping. That’s not to say that there are NO meal replacement bars that are healthy, but you’d be better off carrying around a container of raw nuts and raisins  as an emergency meal replacement than chowing down on these bars regularly.

Granola

I bet you can guess one of the major reasons granola isn’t such a healthy choice. You said it! Sugar. Granola may be naturally low in fat (which manufacturers love to state over and over again), but a single ½ cup serving contains 12 grams of sugar – just 2 grams less than the same serving of vanilla ice cream. The other important thing to note is that granola is often a “no brakes” food item. Many people eat way more than ½ cup at a time, so amount of sugar – and calories – you’re eating from granola alone can be significant.

The bottom line here is this: when you’re trying to lose weight, you need to stay away from excess sugar. The refined carbohydrate has no nutritional value and can easily put you over your calorie goals for the day. Don’t believe every claim you read. Remember: food manufacturers are in the business of making money. Do your research, read labels, and don’t let sugar sneak into your life.