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Some energy bars don'tdeliver theproper goods

February 19, 2003|by LYNN F. LITTLE

Sports or energy bars are no longer just for endurance athletes. They're being marketed to soccer moms, busy kids and just about anyone who wants a pick-me-up snack. Are they really the nutritious snack they claim to be or just an expensive version of a Snickers bar?

That depends on the one you choose. The original energy bars were chewy, high-carbohydrate bars that tasted bland and left a metallic aftertaste from the added vitamins and minerals. Today, many taste more like candy than nutritional bars. In some cases, this is because of perfecting formulations. In others, it's because they truly are more like candy. What should you look for in an energy bar?

  • Size: Energy bars vary from just over an ounce to nearly four ounces. In general, the larger the bar, the more calories it will provide.

  • Fat and calories: Not all of today's energy bars are low in fat. Look for one that provides less than 30 percent of total calories from fat and no more than 5 grams of fat per bar. If you're watching calories, choose bars that provide less than 250 calories per bar.

  • Carbohydrates and fiber: Some bars have 60 to 70 percent of calories from a mix of simple and complex carbohydrates. Many bars follow the 40-30-30 ratio: 40 percent of calories from carbohydrates, 30 percent from protein and 30 percent from fat. Either formula probably works as long as fiber is included in the mix. Look for a bar that provides at least 3 grams of fiber.

  • Protein: Protein is popular, and many bars are packing plenty of it. In a survey reported by Environmental Nutrition, protein content ranged from 2 to 27 grams per bar among 28 bars evaluated. Some protein is good, but too much of it is hard on the kidneys. It's best to choose a bar with no more than 20 grams or 30 percent of total calories from protein.

  • Vitamins, minerals, herbs and other stuff: Energy bars traditionally come fortified with vitamins and minerals. While it may be argued that you could just as easily take a vitamin-mineral supplement, as long as the level of fortification doesn't exceed 100 percent and you don't eat too many energy bars, the extra vitamins and minerals probably aren't an issue. As for herbs, bee pollen and other special ingredients that may be added to bars, the amount added generally isn't enough to have either a positive or negative effect.

  • Cost: Energy bars are not cheap and they won't make you leaner, stronger or faster on their own. In fact, there are no magic ingredients that can pump up muscle or enhance performance without proper training. On the other hand, energy bars are a convenient, quick source of high-carb energy. They are a better choice than a candy bar when you're running low on fuel and your day doesn't allow time to reload between events.

    Also, be sure you wash down your energy bar with plenty of water. On the label of almost every bar on the market is a recommendation for drinking at least six ounces of water with the bar. Most bars are very concentrated. Water aids in absorption of the nutrients in the bar. It also helps protect against dehydration, a major concern among athletes at all levels and a common cause of impaired performance.

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Lynn F. Little is the extension educator with Family & Consumer Sciences, Maryland Cooperative Extension, Washington County.

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