Food when we have no time on the go

18 Aug

Everyone out there has probably reached for food in bar form at one time or another. It is hard to avoid when most of us live such busy hectic lives. Things can get out of hand when we rejoice for a day that we could have enough free time to actually get a full eight hours of sleep.  If we can hardly find time to sleep, how on earth are we going to find time to prepare three balance healthy meals a day?

One of the easiest quick meal options are those convenient food/energy/protein bars that are easily found in any food store. These bars are great as a grab and go breakfast, a quick snack during long work days, a snack before or after a workout or has a anytime sort of meal. They are compact, not easily perishable, easy to eat and most of the time tastes like a candy bar. If the convenience factor does not do it for you, these bars usually claim to do miracles things to your body like build muscle, burn fat, shed pounds, supply vitamin supplements and make you feel full for hours. Now before you run out and eat a dozen of these things, I regretfully have to say that most of the energy bars out there do not do any of the miraculous things listed above. In fact, most energy bars sold at your local market are no more than glorified candy bars adding extra fat calories to your diet and then leave you hungry a hour after. Flashy protein bars tend to be the most common type to false advertise.

Although there are a lot of not so healthy energy bars out there, not all of them are bad. So here is my breakdown of how to go about choosing a healthy energy bar. The first rule in choosing a healthy energy bar is to ignore any bar that advertises itself with words like max, pro, muscle, magnum, or other diet or muscle building gimmicks. Don’t get pulled in by that shiny metallic wrapper either. All the flashy colors are there to distract you from what is really important, the nutritional value and ingredients list. Ever wonder why they make the facts in such small print? They do not want you to know what kind of crap you are eating. Like any other girl out there I am easily pulled in by shiny things and anything that claims will help me lose weight. It was a lot of looking around and researching before I learned to consciously step away from that shiny label claiming the bar could help me lose five pounds in two weeks.

After taking the time to read the labels properly I have noticed several things. The first thing I noticed was the sugar content. The amount of sugar varies from most popular bars from five to over twenty grams of sugar per serving. A lot of them have a common source of sugar, high fructose corn syrup. Those that tend to range in the lower end usually have extra added sugar alcohols that do not have as much caloric value as sucrose or fructose but still acts at a sweetener. Although no serious side effects come from consuming sugar alcohol, excessive use can cause some bowel irritability in some people.  The second thing I noticed was the saturated fat content.  Most protein bars tend to have higher saturated fat content. The highest fat content goes to the bars that don’t resemble food in any way, but looks like an unrecognizable mass of fudge like thing. Over all, many of these bars are not going to be the death of you, but they are not healthy either.

So how do we find a bar that is healthy for us? I have several rules I follow and you could make adjust these rules to fit your health and preference. When looking for a good food bar, take notice of the following things: sugar content, sugar source, fiber content, fat content, and list of ingredients with things you can pronounce. By looking at these few things you could narrow down the selection of good food bars. Also keep in mind the serving size, a bar that contains 2 servings at 150 calories each means you are eating 300 calories if you eat the whole bar! This applies to all other packaged foods out there. One time I purchased a small blueberry muffin where at first glance I though it said 250 calories. However, after a closer look, it was really 250 calories for 1/3 of a muffin. If I had ate the whole thing it would be 750 calories for a muffin slightly smaller than my fist. So make sure to check the serving size before buying it.

Let’s talk about sugar first. Some of us are sugar conscious and prefer to minimize sugar as much as possible regardless of source. If you don’t mind the sugar alcohols, then one of those low sugar/low carb bars could be considered. Bars with lots of dried fruit can contain high sugar content as well, but they are natural sugars and not refined like corn syrup or sugar substitutes. It is best to stay away from bars with high sugar content from corn syrup or extra added sugars. Many granola and nut bars used corn syrup as a binding agent as well, so it is not uncommon for corn syrup to be listed pretty far up on the ingredients list. For plain nut or granola bars a sugar content of less than 10 grams is considered desirable. Bars that have dried fruits could contain as much as 25 grams of sugar in a bar. Even though the sugar is natural, sugar equates to calories. I personally recommend the Kind nut delight bar that has only 5 g of sugar that makes for a good snack or a small breakfast. To have this as a meal replacement, I would recommend supplementing it with some fruit like apples or bananas as it is a small bar.

Above is an example of a bad bar, notice corn syrup is the first thing listed and listed twice

within the first five items. Corn syrup, peanut butter, corn syrup…palm oil…brown sugar

Fiber is very important in choosing a food bar. As I have previously discussed in my last health rant, fiber has the wonderful quality of keeping us feeling full for a longer period of time. For a good meal replacement bar, you need to find a bar with at least 5 grams of fiber. Having very little fiber in a bar will only leave you hungry after an hour. If you are looking for only a quick snack a 3 gram fiber minimum should be good enough.

Fats are often added to the candy like bars that tastes like a peanut butter cup. In bars that contain chocolate coating, nut butter filling, or yogurt coats can add unnecessary fats into the bar. Palm oil, canola oil, glycerin, peanut oil, soy bean oils and vegetable oils can all be added to a bar to give it that creamy texture that is just like candy. Yes, we cannot deny that these are yummy, but they add fat and calories that we do not really need. Bars made with whole nuts will have some amount of saturated fats that are naturally contained in nuts. These are fine as long as we keep it under 3 grams.

Over all, take a good careful look at the ingredients list. Items are listed in from the most predominant ingredient to the least. Take note of how far down sugars are listed. As long as it is not within the first five things listed, consider it a possible choice. I personally like to eat food that is made of stuff that sounds like food and not a chemistry experiment. Chemistry if fun and all, but I prefer not to eat my reagents. So to recap this long and disorganized rant about food bars, take away with you these major points: do not get pulled in by shiny wrappers, read the nutritional labels and ingredients list carefully, choose a low sugar bar with less than 15 grams of natural sugar, avoid bars that sweeten with corn syrup or other types of syrups, minimize saturated fats to no more than 3 grams, choose a high fiber bar with at least 5 grams of fiber, and look for natural ingredients that sound like food. Hopefully this has help in bettering the food choice made when making that mad dash to the office or when standing in front of that vending machine 10 hours into your work shift.

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