Energy bars and protein bars are perhaps one of most poorly marketed food items. Advertising leads us to believe that many common ingredients found in these all-in-one nutrition bars are actually not that bad for us – or worse, even good for us. The problem is that most of them are not even made from foods at all, but instead from synthetic derivatives from poor-quality sources.
It can be tough to figure this out on your own, so be sure to keep these tips in your back pocket next time you go to grab an energy bar.
High-fructose corn syrup: Added as an inexpensive sweetener, it is worse than regular white sugar. It is genetically modified, and is suspected to cause insulin resistance.
Soy isolate: It may sound natural and healthy, being a soy product, but it’s not something you could make yourself (warning sign!). Instead, it is put through several acidic and alkalizing baths to remove fibre, and separate and neutralize it. It’s also processed at such high temperatures that it can change the structure of some of the protein.
Whey protein: The most popular protein out there isn’t as great as many people assume it is. While it does have a high absorption rate in the body, it is also extremely allergenic. It doesn’t contain lactose, but because it is still a dairy product it can cause mild allergenic reactions such as inflammation and bloating.
Natural flavour: This is the most unassuming item on the list as one would think that “natural flavour” equals healthy, but this ingredient is actually MSG. Commonly known to reside in take-out boxes, MSG is added as a “flavour enhancer” and could have side effects like facial pressure, headaches, nausea, and chest pains.
Fractioned palm oil: A cheap oil used for its high heat stability. It is bleached, filtered, melted, degummed, and refined before it’s ever added to a food product. Look out for palm kernel oil as well, as it can’t be obtained naturally; it has to be extracted from the pit with a gasoline-like solvent.
Maltodextrine (corn): Another corn product finds its way into our food with this cheap, easily digestible sweetener. It is low calorie and absorbed as quickly as regular glucose. It is nowhere near a natural product, and is genetically modified.
Artificial sweeteners (malitol, sucralose): Common sweeteners found in “health food” products are maltitol and sucralose. Maltitol is a low-calorie hydrogenated maltose made from genetically-modified corn starch. Sucralose (yes, Splenda), is calorie-free chlorinated sugar. The problem with these low- or zero-cal products is that their sweetness tricks the body into thinking it is receiving some form of energy (sugar). When it only receives a chemical sweetener, its craving for energy isn’t satisfied, and ends up craving more sugar.
Top five things to look for in a good nutrition bar:
- Natural protein source (nuts, seeds, quinoa, brown rice protein, hemp protein)
- Natural sweeteners (brown rice syrup, honey, maple syrup, stevia)
- An understandable, short ingredient list
- It doesn’t double as a candy bar (by containing 24 grams of sugar, which is the same amount found in chocolate bars!)
- Has as few processed ingredients as possible. When in doubt, just go for the nut and seed bar. Remember to check what the sweetener is!
You can also make your own whole-food energy bars instead, with this recipe.
Energy Granola Bar
¼ cup raw sesame seeds
¼ cup coconut oil
1/3 cup honey
½ cup almond butter
½ cup rice syrup
2 cups rolled oats
1 cup puffed brown rice cereal
1 cup dried apricots and raisins
½ cup pumpkin seeds
½ cup sunflower seeds
1. Line a 13×9-inch pan with parchment paper.
2. Preheat oven to low setting (180-200F).
3. In medium saucepan, lightly toast sesame seeds over medium heat until they brown. Remove from heat.
4. Add oil, honey, almond butter and rice syrup. Stir until smooth.
5. In a large bowl, combine remainder of ingredients. Pour liquid mixture over top, and stir to combine. Do not over-mix.
6. Pack mixture into pan, pressing down firmly with back of warm, wet spatula or hands.
7. Place in preheated oven for 20 minutes.
8. Allow to cool and cut into bars with warm, wet knife. Store in fridge or freeze up to three months.
Get even more fitness-focused recipes in my Fit and Fabulous cooking class on May 7, 2012!
You can get more delicious knowledge by checking out Marni’s Purely Fit e-book, available here: http://www.marniwasserman.com/ebooks/
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