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How Healthy Is That Energy Bar?

When you’re hungry and on the go, an energy bar can seem like a good idea—but is it a healthy choice or just another example of smart marketing? That depends. And the only way to know for sure is to be label-savvy.

Once relegated to long endurance sessions, energy bars have become a snack for just about anyone on the go. If a bar was designed to fuel you on a 20-mile run, it might be too much for your afternoon slump at the office. The right energy bar under the right circumstances can be a healthy choice—but it’s up to you to discern.

Read the Label
It may sound obvious, but read that label—and beware a long list full of unpronounceable ingredients. Here’s what you want to look for:

  • Ingredients you can pronounce (usually an indicator of “real food”)
  • The fewer ingredients, the better. More than 10 ingredients is a red flag.
  • Whole-food ingredients, such as nuts, dried fruit, or oats
  • Low sugar. If sugar or high fructose corn syrup is one of the first ingredients, just say no.
  • Check the calorie count. Energy bars can be a deceivingly high-calorie snack—they range from 150 to over 500 calories. Choose wisely.
  • Choose the right carbohydrate/protein ratio. Many bars are high in carbohydrates because they are designed for endurance exercise, but if you’re just eating a bar as a snack, choose one with a higher protein content.

Choose Wisely
Energy bars can be a good snack in a pinch, but real food is always the better alternative. Don’t let convenience trump nutrition. Sure, energy bars are easy and come in their own wrapper—but so do bananas and oranges, only they offer more nutrients and fewer calories.

Remember—it’s up to you to discern the health from the junk. It’s no accident that the energy bars are typically placed next to the candy bars in the grocery store—a lot of times there is not much difference between the two. The bottom line—not all energy bars are created equally. Some are healthier than others. The burden is on you to choose wisely.