Put your hunger behind bars
First, you need to decide whether your bar will be a snack or part of a meal. "If it's a snack, the bars should have less than 180 calories," advises Dawn Jackson Blatner, RD, the national media spokesperson for the American Dietetic Association in Chicago. "If it's a meal, the bar should be more than 200 calories and needs to be eaten with fruit and vegetables to satisfy you for four or more hours till you eat again."
In fact, substituting an energy bar-paired with an apple or veggie salad-for one meal each day can help you lose weight. "By adding fruits and vegetables, which are high in fiber and water, you'll feel more full," says Blatner. "This can help accelerate weight loss." If your goal is to drop a few pounds, Blatner says you need to read the nutrient label to make sure your meal-replacing bar contains:
- at least 200 calories
- 3 grams or less saturated fat
- 3 grams or more fiber (to help you feel full)
- at least 10 grams of protein (to help tide you over till your next meal)
Indulge in your favorite flavors
As a general rule, look for bars with the least sugar and the most fiber (in other words, "good carbs") or protein (whatever your preference) to avoid the crash that comes from eating bars that are more like candy disguised in "natural" packaging.
"After you've read the label, it all boils down to personal preference," says Blatner. Love dried berries? Go for a fruity bar. Granola, nut, or yogurt fan? Store shelves are stocked with bars for every discriminating taste. You can take your pick from grain- or yogurt-based, to nut- or fruit-dense bars.
Simply scan the ingredient list for the foods or flavors you fancy and cross-check it with the label's nutrition facts to ensure it fits with your diet goals.
Pick the best bar for the job
As the seemingly endless choices will attest, you can find a bar to fit your evolving healthy lifestyle needs. Lifting weights? Try a high-protein bar favored by weight-trainers to help repair muscle. Love jogging, hiking, and biking? Look for high-carb bars preferred by the distance runners who crave instant energy.
If you're interested in eating fewer preservatives and getting the maximum nutrients from the foods you eat, you might like a raw energy bar. The tastes may vary widely but they are typically packed with robust ingredients such as nuts, nectar, berries, and ginger.