Sorting Through the Bars

Power bars, snack bars, energy bars, protein bars, carb bars, breakfast bars, fruit bars, soy bars, all-natural bars, vitamin bars, fiber bars, meal replacement bars…the list goes on and on and on. Which one is right for you, if any? The first question to ask yourself is what need are you trying to fill? Do you want to have a bar instead of a meal or as a between-meal snack? Are you trying to add a nutrient missing in your diet or merely to curb your hunger? Once you determine what need you are trying to fill, then you should look at the list of ingredients and the nutritional “facts” on the label. How many calories does the bar have? A bar intended to be a meal replacement obviously can contain more calories than a “snack” bar. But what are the macro nutrients (protein/ carbohydrate/fat) in the bar? A meal-replacement bar should be balanced: no more than 30% of calories from fat (preferably 15-20%) and at least 20% protein. For a snack bar, you should make sure that no more than 30% of the calories are from fat, and that the nutrient composition balances out the rest of your diet regarding carbs and protein. In addition, you should look at the type of fat in any bar you are considering. Most have saturated fats or trans fatty acids (for stability and/or taste purposes), neither of which is good for you. For most adults, a healthful diet should contain no more than 10% saturated fat, so make sure that if your bar of choice contains saturated fats, the amount “works” with the rest of your diet. Trans fatty acids (or “hydrogenated fats or oils”) should be consumed sparingly if at all, so avoid them whenever possible. (Thus a bar containing hydrogenated oils or trans fatty acids would not be a good choice for either a snack or a meal replacement.) Bars can be good sources of nutrients “missing” from your diet. Many martial artists use bars as energy sources before working out, or as protein supplements. These uses are totally appropriate provided that the ingredients and nutrients fit the criteria of a “good bar,” as well as a “balanced diet.” Other uses of bars may be to include soy protein in your diet, or to increase fiber intake (which might otherwise be difficult or not satisfactorily tasty for an individual). Martial artists can decide if a bar is right for them by following the steps above: determine what your purpose is in having the bar and then determine how well the specific bar meets your needs. Choose only those bars that truly meet your needs without exceeding your daily calorie requirements. Eating a snack or meal bar should always accomplish the goal of balancing out both nutrients and calories, not tipping the scales, in your overall healthy diet.

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