Compact meal options used to be a running joke about futurist
ideals of order. The idea that someday we’ll simply take a few
pills for dinner may be pass
é, but ready-to-go meal bars are a thing of the present.
Compact meal options used to be a running joke about futurist ideals of order. The idea that someday we’ll simply take a few pills for dinner may be passé, but ready-to-go meal bars are a thing of the present. Each one may look alike to the shoppers who happen upon the nutritional supplements section in their grocery store, but dieters and the uneducated, beware.
There are bars for every sort of person with every sort of fitness goal or lack thereof. It just takes a keen eye to spot the one that’s right for you.
“Everyone calls them that, but most people don’t need a protein bar,” said Keith Samuel, general manager and one of the trainers at Maverick’s Sports Club in Morgan Hill.
Bars reflect different needs, and pure protein bars – those with up to 90 percent protein in them – are generally meant for strength athletes or those wanting to build serious muscle while loosing body fat, like body builders.
For underweight clients, Samuel recommends high carbohydrate bars, which will help them to bulk up quickly, whereas someone who is simply hoping to lead a healthier lifestyle may be better off with a meal replacement bar for maintenance or a diet bar for calorie restriction.
Both contain recommended balances of protein and carbohydrates as well as a small amount of fat, which many dieters forget is essential in a healthy regimen.
Since many weight loss experts also recommend eating five or six small meals per day, bars can function as easy replacements for regular entrees in the hectic work world.
But learning to read bars themselves requires a little bit of investigation.
A 2001 study conducted by the independent evaluation service ConsumerLab found that more than 60 percent of bars tested failed to meet their labeling claims and fewer than 10 percent passed tests to determine whether real levels of calories, carbohydrate, protein, fat, sodium and cholesterol levels met those printed on the label.
Most were “hiding” the number of carbohydrates in each bar by failing to count glycerin as a carb, despite the fact that it is listed as one by the federal Food and Drug Administration. On average, the bars contained eight extra grams of sugar per serving.
The FDA dispatched warning letters to several of the companies studied immediately after the release of ConsumerLab’s findings, but the practice of deceptive packaging is not uncommon.
Most people only read the title or the flavor, said Samuel, and those can easily lead them astray.
“That’s where the public really needs to educate themselves on the breakdown of nutrients,” said Samuel. “Typically, most bars would average 40 percent protein, 40 percent carbohydrates and 10 to 20 percent fat. They may vary a bit … may have 50 percent protein and 30 percent carbohydrates, but once (a person) is able to determine that, they have to turn around and look at the bars.”
Beyond that, they’re reliant on manufacturer honesty. It is almost impossible to recommend a specific bar, as a plethora of different flavors, textures and styles are available on the market.
The best advice, said Samuel, is to read about different bar types and consult professionals, such as a trusted gym trainer and your doctor, to determine which bar type is right for you. After that, buy several to take home and taste test.
“Most people won’t stick to any diet regimen that doesn’t taste good, so make sure you like it,” said Samuel. “There are plenty of different flavors out there. Some of them are even designed to mimic candy bars.”
If you still can’t find something you like, or if you’re interested in making your own protein bars, free of glycerin, preservatives or added sugars, here’s a promising recipe from Stella’s Kitchen Cookbook, available at Bodybuilding.About.com:
Energy bar recipe
3 1/2 cup quick oats
1 1/2 cup powdered non-fat milk
1 c. sugar-free (diabetic) pancake syrup (Cozy Cottage, Cary’s or Howard’s bran
2 egg whites, beaten
1/4 cup orange juice
1 tsp. vanilla
Step 1: Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Mix all dry ingredients in bowl and blend well.
Step 2: In separate bowl, combine egg whites, orange juice, applesauce and sugar-free syrup. Stir until well blended. Stir liquid mixture into dry ingredients and mix well. The consistency will be thick and similar to cookie dough.
Step 3: Spread batter onto a baking sheet coated with non-stick spray. Use a 9×12 baking dish if you prefer thicker bars. Bake until edges are crisp and browned (about 15 minutes depending on bar thickness).
Step 4: Cut into 10 bars and refrigerate in airtight container.
Each bar can be frozen and thawed in a microwave. Nutritionally, they’re sound meal replacement bars, too, with just 140 calories per bar. Each contains 23g of carbs, 15g protein, 4g fiber and just 0.5g fat.