Nutrition Bar Self-Help Advice

Written by Paul Wolf

Successful eating on the go with nutrition bars. They've become more healthful, thanks to the increased demand spurred by hectic lifestyles.

Read the labels and consider the claims: You can lose weight, build muscle, prevent osteoporosis, replace the nutritional value of a meal, or get a full day's worth of vitamins.

Use nutrition bars as an alternative to junk food.
Be sure to satisfy your hunger as well as your taste buds.
If you need a sandwich 20 minutes later, it didn't satisfy your hunger. 
The calcium-rich Luna bar is "the whole nutrition bar for women," while the Balance bar is "the complete nutritional food bar."

Is this snake oil salesmanship? Probably not. But it is certainly exaggeration. Nutrition bars have come a long way since the days when Tiger's Milk Bars were the only substitute for candy. Nutrition bars have much to offer in convenience and quick nutrition. They may also have a place for someone with a healthy diet and a hustle-and-bustle lifestyle.

"If you would have asked me about nutrition bars five or 10 years ago, I would have given you a different story," said Anne Dubner for the American Dietetic Association. "The quality of nutrition is generally very high, and, boy, have they improved the taste."

An essential ingredient of these bars is the proteins with mysterious names like whey protein isolate, calcium caseinate and soy protein isolate. None is derived from meat sources and all are virtually cholesterol-free.

What if your goals are weight loss or muscle building? The bars will produce no miracles, but it would be selling them short to say they are useless. A body builder may seek a high-protein bar. A dieter may prefer a low-cal snack. But what you eat the rest of the time is certainly more important than whether you eat these bars.

Walk into a drugstore, health food joint or grocery these days and you will be confronted with a dizzying array of choices, with multiple products by PowerBar, Clif, IronMan, Odwalla, Think, Balance, BlasterBar, Atkin's Advantage, Jenny Craig, Slim-Fast and a score of minor brands.

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Not All Nutrition Bars are Created Equal
OK. So your head is swimming with choices. Which nutrition bar is best for you? Answer: The one that controls your appetite and pleases your taste buds.

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Make sure there is adequate protein (12 to 14 grams) in your nutrition bar.
If you follow a particular diet, find out which bar most closely corresponds with it.
The most important feature of a nutrition bar is its ability to satisfy your appetite. 
Most nutrition bars are vitamin- and mineral-fortified and contain some fiber, in fact, as much fiber as a piece of fruit.

So how do they differ from each other? The differences are in the breakdown of carbohydrate, protein and fat, which can have a profound effect on how quickly this nutrition is available to you as energy.

During a long bike ride, you might want to chow down on a high-carbohydrate bar, such as a berry-flavor Clif bar, which is very low in protein (4 grams) and fat. Sitting at your desk, you probably seek blood sugar stability. That's achieved by a bar with a balance of protein and fat.

There is a bar for everyone. Low-carb guru Dr. Robert Atkins has his own Advantage bar. On Barry Sears' Zone diet? Try the Balance bar, which has a 40-30-30 proportion of carbs, protein and fat. If you are in with the Jenny Craig crowd, you will draw psychological support from her food bars.

Anne Dubner, for the American Dietetic Association, recommends you should choose a bar that has at least 14 grams of protein, or the equivalent of an ounce of lean meat.

The original PowerBar has 10 grams of protein. Other products vary considerably in their protein content, ranging from the Harvest bar at 7 grams to ProteinPlus at 24 grams.

More protein means better meal replacement, but usually not better taste. The carbohydrates contain the sugars that make any food taste sweet.

And now for the last word: Find a bar you like, then become loyal to the macronutrient breakdown, not the brand. Remember numbers, like protein and carbohydrate grams. When you discover what works for you in a nutrition bar, you may have picked up a few clues for your best overall diet.

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Surprise! Nutrition Bars Are Real Food
"Why don't you eat some real food?" your mother used to ask you.

Nutrition bars seem expensive only because they cost more than candy.
Most bars cost between $1.50 and $2. With calories ranging from 180 to 290, that is somewhere under a penny per calorie.
You could also spend about a penny per calorie for, say, turkey sandwich with mayo at a deli, which might contain 500 calories and cost $5. 
Would a Balance bar or Clif bar qualify as real food in her eyes? Perhaps not, but maybe it's time to question long-held skepticism.

Unless you hunt and gather for a living or subsist on staple crops, most of what you eat is cooked, refined, processed, milled, cured, pickled, preserved, salted, sweetened, minced, homogenized and fortified.

The body does not absorb or assimilate all the nutrients in a processed nutrition bar, but that's OK, says Kathleen Bell, a registered dietician at the University of California at San Francisco. The same can be said for vitamin pills.

Just think, in a 200-calorie Balance bar, you can get 50 percent of your RDA of vitamin A and 100 percent of C and E. It contains 18 other vitamins and minerals.

She said the only real drawback to nutrition bars is that people might use them as a "psychological crutch." You step into a restaurant and haven't a clue what to order.

Anne Dubner of the American Dietetic Association, says nutrition bars are much better than candy or processed junk food, and are excellent as snacks. Fiber that comes in a bar is not inferior to any other kind of fiber.

Meanwhile, most nutrition bars have no cholesterol and saturated fat. The sugar that makes them sweet does not glut the bloodstream with glucose because protein and fat slow sugar absorption, according to Dubner.

Nutritionally, nutrition bars are a good deal. Put the facts together and you come up with real food even if it's not equivalent to mom's cooking.

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