Energy Bars: Friend or Foe?

Larabar, a healthy option or not? Photo by ario_j.

Larabar, a healthy option or not? Photo by ario_j.

America is wild about health food, and in particular, energy bars have become an increasingly popular item among health-conscious shoppers. They’re convenient and often pitch themselves as a healthy alternative for those who don’t time to eat an entire meal. But it makes one wonder if there’s such thing as fast food that’s good for you.

All that an “energy” bar means is that the food gives you calories, not that it makes you more energetic. Dean Anderson of dailySpark divides energy bars into three distinct categories: bars for exercise, meal replacements, and healthy snacks. “There’s really no such thing as an energy bar or meal replacement that’s as good for you as a real meal made with good, old-fashioned whole foods,” Anderson writes. “The best time to consider an energy bar is when, for one reason or another, a real meal isn’t likely to happen, and you don’t want to go without eating something.”

According to Center for Science in the Public Interest, eating fruits or vegetables will always be a better, healthier choice. What energy bars offer instead is convenience, and considering the pace at which we live today, a fresh, locally grown apple isn’t always in arm’s reach.

Clif Bars scored high marks in Climbing Magazine's taste test. Photo by Michael Whalen.

Clif Bars scored high marks in Climbing Magazine's taste test. Photo by Michael Whalen.

A study by Consumer Labs, an independent research center, found that while many bars are heavy with saturated fat, every one of the 20 bars tested met their nutritional claims. But the real danger is assuming that they’re “healthy”; this can lead consumers to see them as a substitute for exercise.

According to Dr. Gotlin of Consumer Labs, “The problem with these bars is that if [consumers] think that we are getting healthy because we’re eating a healthy bar, we then think we don’t have to go out and exercise.”

A Matter of Taste

Of course, you don’t want to eat anything that tastes bad, even if it is for the sake of your health. Luckily, Climbing Magazine rounded up five of the most popular energy bars for a taste test. Clif Bar was the only item to score a straight A among taste testers. Writer Dave Sheldon writes, “Clif Bar also received high marks for its filling, but never heavy, portion size, which doles out long lasting energy thanks to a quality mix of carbs, protein, fat, and fiber.”

Climbing also gives high marks to the Lärabar for using only raw, unprocessed ingredients (and gratuitous umlauts). The Lärabar is also vegan, kosher, and free of gluten, dairy, soy, and corn, making it a good option for those with strict dietary regimens. Testers’ only complaint was that it wasn’t filling enough.

Another option is to make your own energy bars. For $5, you can make 30 bars, and you’ll know exactly what went into them.