chocolate-2202034_1920In today’s fast paced society, the emergence of pocket-sized nutrition bars has been a boon for serious athletes looking for a competitive edge. But now anyone who feels the need for a nutritional boost seems to keep a few stashed in a purse or a briefcase. I get asked many times if food bars will substitute as meal replacements. But if you are trying to lose weight, or stay healthy, they’re not a good option.

Now it’s impossible to generalize that all protein or energy bars are unhealthy, but it’s safe to say that if you flip most of them over and read the nutrition information, you might be shocked. There are literally hundreds of these portable products competing for shelf space at gyms, health-food stores, and supermarkets, but any competent nutritionist will agree that most are pure junk food… candy bars disguised through labeling as a health food bar.

With busy consumers hungering for a quick nutritional fix — whether they’re recreational athletes, workaholics tied to their desks, or over committed moms — they may feel confused from all the overkill and heavily hyped claims. But one of the most insidious claims is that these bars are good nutrition for those working nonstop from sunup to exhaustion. Sure, a doughnut may be slightly more heart stopping in fat, but many of these bars rate a close second with their unhealthy ingredients, having as much sugar and as much saturated fat as a candy bar.

Many energy bars are filled with high fructose corn syrup, hydrogenated oils (trans fats), added sugar, and artery-clogging saturated fat. Plus, some bars (particularly meal replacement varieties) contain more than 350 calories each―a bit more than “snack size” for most people. The list goes on with nothing but junk such as artificial flavors, colors, more hydrogenated oils, artificial sweeteners, and rounded out with some highly processed soy protein isolate

In October 2001, ConsumerLab.com announced findings of its independent laboratory tests of 30 nutrition bars. Not surprisingly 18 did not meet the claims of ingredient levels on the label and about one-half of the nutrition bars exceeded the carbohydrate levels stated on the wrapper. If you want a healthy snack, eat a piece of fruit, enjoy some vegetables, a small piece of cheese, grab a few almonds, or snack on a handful of cashews.  These are all food options with a high amount of nutrients.  Some of them might be a bit high in calories, but these aren’t the empty calories of the types you’ll find in “health” bars. Eat food as close to its natural state as possible to keep yourself healthy.