Energy bars are nutritious, but think before you pick

Energy barThey usually do not have flour but have added fats and sugars. (Thinkstock)

Energy bars are usually eaten as performance enhancers — for sports, post workout refuelling, high-energy snacks, nutritional pick-me-ups, meal replacements, and even as weight loss tools. These bars are made up of grains, dried fruits, nuts, seeds, honey and high-fructose corn or other syrups. They usually do not have flour but have added fats and sugars. Sold extensively in grocery and drug stores, gyms and health food stores, energy bars are gaining popularity as they are high in carbohydrates, calories and fortified with nutrients in varying proportions, depending on their use.

All bars are not similar. There are high carbohydrate bars, low glycemic index bars, high-protein bars, 40-30-30 bars, breakfast bars, brain boosting bars, meal replacement bars, diet bars, and more. Some are nutritious and some are not. Hence, it is important to examine what you are eating and determine if it is right for you.

Ideally, look for bars that are low in fat, particularly the saturated and 'trans' variety. A giveaway for the presence of trans fats is the term "hydrogenated fat" on the label. Some bars are a good source of fibre (aim for 3 to 5 g), vitamins and minerals.

Bars with high protein and those with low glycemic index can be helpful for vegetarian athletes, long-distance runners, and people who require high protein diets. Go for bars with protein sources such as whey, soy, or casein.

Meal replacement bars help those trying to lose weight but should not be used on a regular basis. For an an occasional meal replacement, look for the bars with at least 10 to 15 g of protein. Many energy bars are aimed at people on particular weight-loss plans. However, they are not a substitute for real food which provides phytochemicals and may also be cheaper.

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