Not all nutrition bars are created equal. Some bars are junk food in disguise and include ingredients that can be dangerous for your health. But if you find the right bar, you’ll be rewarded with a nutrient-rich snack that can help keep you full, your energy levels up, and even taste great! Today we will explore the benefits of nutrition bars and what to look for when choosing the perfect bar for you.
Benefits of a Nutrition Bar
There is a growing emphasis on the importance of health and fitness. Because of this, it’s no surprise that people are reaching for nutrition bars. They are a quick on-the-go snack or meal that can help you stay on track and avoid fast food. Many nutrition bars offer nourishing ingredients to keep you going throughout the day. In addition, 90% of American adults are not getting their recommended servings of fruit and vegetables. Nutrition bars can help fill these nutritional gaps and supplement your diet.
Ingredients to Avoid
Unfortunately, not all nutrition bars are created equal. Many bars include unnecessary and over-processed ingredients. Some ingredients can cause digestive problems, spike blood sugar levels, and even cause gastrointestinal issues. If you want to skip these problems, avoid the ingredients below!
Sugar alcohol is a popular addition to nutrition bars because it’s very sweet and can emulate the taste of table sugar well for only half the calories. Sounds too good to be true? It is! The problem with sugar alcohols is our bodies can’t fully digest most of them. This can lead to gas, bloating, stomach pain, and high blood sugar. In addition, some sugar alcohols like Maltitol have a high glycemic index and can lead to weight gain. So do yourself a favor and check the label before you buy your next bar. Below are the most common sugar alcohols.
Common Nutrition Bar Sugar alcohols:
- Hydrogenated starch hydrolysates
Sugar is found naturally in many plants and fruits. In moderation, sugar is not the enemy. Good natural sugars include cane sugar, coconut sugar, maple syrup, and raw agave nectar. All of these ingredients are forms of added sugar. Lately, there has been a push to promote “zero” grams of added sugar, but don’t be surprised when you read the nutrition facts label and see a high sugar content. Whether it is added sugar or natural sugar, it is wise to keep the sugar carb load in moderation and dependent upon your energy needs for the day. Consuming too much sugar can lead to obesity, diabetes, raise blood pressure, increase chronic inflammation, and increase your risk of heart disease.
High Fructose Corn Syrup
Think of High Fructose Corn Syrup as sugar's cheaper and sweeter sister. Because it’s low cost, it’s sneaking into foods more often. Consuming too much of this sweet syrup can lead to insulin resistance, obesity, type 2 diabetes, and high blood pressure. Only your liver can process high fructose syrups, which can overload the liver and build up fat. The build-up can lead to liver disease. It can also damage your liver just as much as alcohol. Stay away from this ingredient as much as possible.
This nutrition bar additive is used as a stabilizing and emulsifying agent in many food products. Carrageenan is extracted from seaweed and processed with alkaline substances. Unfortunately, carrageenan can cause digestive problems, such as bloating and irritable bowel disease (IBD), and inflammation. While FDA approved, there is much debate on if it’s truly safe to eat. So, we’ll skip the bloating and digestive issues it can cause!
Aside from whey’s chalky texture, this protein is made from dairy and has lactose. Essentially, if you have dairy allergies or sensitivities, this will lead to uncomfortable digestive issues. In addition, artificial sweeteners are commonly found in whey, leading to even more digestive issues!
Whey protein is heavily processed and often has unsafe toxins in it. If you’re still on the fence, Harvard Health points out, “The FDA leaves it up to manufacturers to evaluate the safety and labeling of products. So, there's no way to know if a protein powder contains what manufacturers claim.” YIKES.
IMOs made of high maltose, a mixture of short-chain carbohydrates. Your body can’t fully break down IMOs in the digestion process. Because of this, it commonly causes digestive issues. This ingredient can also cause blood sugar spikes.
What to Look for In Nutrition Bar
We’ve covered the bad, but what should you be looking for in a good nutrition bar?
Made of Real Ingredients
When choosing a nutrition bar, find a bar that has ingredients made from real food. Look for ingredients that are in their natural state. Real foods better support your body and contain nutrients like vitamins and minerals that help bodily functions.
Your macronutrient ratios will vary depending on your goals. A good starting point is 45–65% of your daily calories from carbs, 20–35% from fats, and 10–35% from protein. Then, look for a bar with the balance you need that uses real food to source these nutrients. For example, look for healthy fats with medium-chain triglycerides (MCT) and choose natural tapioca fiber over IMOs.
Look for a plant-based protein that is high in bioavailability. Bioavailability means it absorbs well into the body.
We chose to put pea protein in our Real Food Bars for four reasons.
- Pea protein is a complete protein, meaning it has all nine of the essential amino acids you need to build muscle effectively
- Pea protein is more digestion-friendly than alternatives like whey because it contains doesn’t lactose or glutens. In other words, no bloating!
- Pea protein is highly bioavailable, meaning it absorbs well in the body.
- Pea protein is vegan and is more environmentally friendly than animal proteins.
Low Glycemic Index
The last thing you need is a sugar spike from a nutrition bar that you thought was good for you. As we mentioned before, foods high on the glycemic index can elevate your blood sugar and cause harm. Look for bars that are low on the Glycemic Index. Real Food Bars use certified organic tapioca fiber. A choice supported by a low glycemic validation study conducted by Canada’s GI Labs showing a minimal glycemic response.
In short, prebiotics feed the good bacteria in your gut. Prebiotics help create a healthy microbiome and even boost immunity. They are also widely known to help keep your digestive system running smoothly and healthy. Real Food Bars include easily digestible prebiotic soluble fiber complete with a whole serving of veggies from peas, kale, sweet potato, and cauliflower. We use a tested fiber that is a resistant dextrin and recognized by the FDA.
There is a global shift in awareness surrounding sustainable food. More and more people are switching to a plant-based, locally sourced diet. It’s widely known that animal agriculture and factory farming use more water and increase deforestation. Studies have found that transitioning toward more plant-based diets could reduce food-related greenhouse gas emissions by 29–70%. Be sure to check that your nutrition bar has sustainable ingredients such as plant-based proteins that are better for the world.
For a good reason, there are food certifications all over your local grocery store. They ensure that food meets specific standards for ingredients, production methods, a pure supply chain, and many other food standards.
Some of the most common certifications include:
USDA Organic - Certified by the National Organic Program to be at least 95% organic.
USDA Smart Snack Compliant - Snacks – must have less than or equal to 200 mg sodium; less than or equal to 200 calories. Entrees – must have less than or equal to 480 mg sodium; less than or equal to 350 calories.
Certified Gluten-Free - Regulated by the FDA and must include less than 20 parts per million of gluten.
Certified Vegan - Certified by vegan.org these products cannot contain any meat, fish, fowl, animal by-products, eggs, milk, honey, or insect products.
Non-GMO Project Verified - Non-GMO means a product was produced without genetic engineering, and its ingredients aren’t derived from GMOs. Non-GMO Project Verified additionally means that a product is compliant with the Non-GMO Project Standards.
Key Takeaways When Purchasing Nutrition Bars
Nutrition bars can be an excellent option for your next snack or meal if you are choosing wisely. Now that you know which ingredients to avoid and what to look for, you can make better choices for yourself.
- Some nutrition bars are junk food in disguise and include ingredients that can be dangerous for your health. Read labels carefully and choose bars made of real food ingredients to provide the nutrients your body needs.
- Look for a plant-based protein for a more sustainable nutrition bar option.
- For a quick understanding of what is inside a bar, check the label for standard certifications. They can help save time glancing through the store.
Are you ready to switch to a better-for-you nutrition bar? Then, check out our Real Food Bars and pick up a pack! Our bars are made with only real ingredients and are proud to carry certifications such as Non-GMO project verified, and USDA Smart Snacks Compliant!