Sunday, October 10, 2010

It's Time For a Round Up: RAISING THE BAR

Remember when you were in grade school, running out the door just in time to catch the bus? What may have followed you out the door was a motherly voice screaming, “don’t forget breakfast, it’s the most important meal of the day!” Well, I am sorry to take sides- but she does have a point. Just ask the Frosted Mini-wheat in that Kellogg’s cereal commercial, and he will tell you that he helps students do better in school. This notion of breakfast improving mental capacity is actually based in scientific research. Thus, when faced with the conflict of an on-the-go city dweller and a health-conscience person, there is one great compromise: the Breakfast Bar.

These days, especially in New York City, there are an infinite number of breakfast bars, meal-replacement bars, snack bars, protein bars, etc.- each with their own claim-to-fame. I hate to discriminate- but all bars are not created equally. So let’s break it down... since it is impossible for me to say “yes” and “no” to all the bars out there, instead I will provide you with the tools to evaluate these bars on your own.

When looking at the nutrition label, prioritize! What is most important? Here is the hierarchy that I employ during my bar quests:

  1. Caloriesà It is important to keep in mind what purpose the bar is serving before deciding on an appropriate calorie level. In our case, we are looking at breakfast bars, so calories should be less than 250 for the bar (make sure that the calories you see correspond to 1 serving)
  2. Fiberà Fiber is all the buzz these days, and rightfully so with its nutrition power!Besides calories, fiber is the most important aspect of a breakfast bar: the more fiber in the bar, the longer the bar will keep you full. As a general rule of thumb, look for bars with at least 3 grams of fiber per serving, but the more the merrier!
  3. Fatà While most of the bars that I come across do not have a huge amount of fat, what is more important is looking at the type of fat. In simplest form: saturated and trans- bad; unsaturated- good. Don’t fall into the “no trans fat label trick.” The government allows food companies to list trans fat as zero if the product has less than 0.5 grams per serving. So, read the ingredients carefully and if the bar contains any hydrogenated oils or partially hydrogenated oils- ditch it!
  4. Proteinà This is usually the last stop on my bar evaluation, not because protein is not important, but because most Americans (including myself) get way more protein than they need in their typical diet. So in general, look for a bar that has at least 3 grams of protein, but don’t get too caught up onit. Protein, along with fiber, helps to keep us full and also helps stabilize our blood sugar, when couples with fat and complex carbohydrates.

Why have you done a good thing?

Breakfast has been associated with improved brain function and greater attention capacity. A recent study in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association found that breakfast-eaters tend to have a healthier weight and nutrition profile compared to breakfast-skippers. In addition, a lot of these breakfast bars have added vitamins and minerals, a great boost to start off the day. High fiber bars have the power to fight off hunger for hours and can also improve regularity and cholesterol. The “good fats” help fight heart disease and the protein is an added benefit to help us build muscle mass and keep us full.

So let’s meet the contestants…

Coming in at 90 calories, with less than 1g fiber, 1g saturated fat + hydrogenated oils, and 1g protein is Kellogg’s Special K Bar.

Eval: Not worth the 90 calories- you get nothing for it, and trans fat is a deal-breaker.

In the next corner, weighing in at 140 calories, 9g fiber, 1.5g saturated fat + 0 trans fat and 2g protein is General Mills’s Fiber One Chewy Bar.

Eval: Love it! For just 140 calories of “chewy deliciousness” (as stated by my younger sister/BFF, Mandi), you get 9g of fiber (1/3 of your daily fiber!) without trans fat and with a little added protein- so you guessed it…a great Bang for your Buck!

Moving along to our next contestant who comes in at 180 calories, 6g fiber, 2g saturated fat + 0 trans fat, and 9g protein is Kashi’s GoLean Cruncy! Protein & Fiber Bar.

Eval: Thumbs up! This is a great meal replacement bar because it has a great balance of fiber and protein, for a reasonable amount of calories and fat.

Coming in at a mere 100 calories, 1g fiber, 1.5g saturated fat + hydrogenated oils, and 1g protein is Quaker Chewy Granola Bars

Eval: Not worthy! Yes it is only 100 calories, which sounds great- but what do you get for that? Artery-clogging trans-fat and not a whole lot more.

Next we have KIND Fruit & Nut Bars, clocking in at 190 calories, 2.5g fiber, 1.5g saturated fat + 0 trans fat, 10g monounsaturated + 2g polyunsaturated fat (both great!), and 4g protein. Bonus: thisbar is wheat and gluten free!

Eval: Thumbs up! Why? Because of the “good” fat content and the very short list of ingredients! Although not a fiber powerhouse, it is full of healthy ingredients and a great option for those with Celiac’s or gluten intolerance.

Speaking of fiber powerhouses, our next contestant is just that. Measuring in at 130 calories, 12g fiber, (8 soluble, 4 insoluble), 0g saturated fat + 0g trans fat, and 3g protein is Gnu’s Flavor & Fiber Bar.

Eval: Love, love, love! I can’t say enough about this incredible bar. 12g fiber for 130 calories? No fat?3g protein? Could it be? Yes- and to top it off, this bar comes in a variety of delicious flavors (my personal favorite is Cinnamon Raisin: it really tastes like a cinnamon raisin chewy cookie! Yum!)

In the last corner of the ring, weighing in at 180 calories, 4g fiber, 2g saturated fat + 0g trans fat, and 9g protein is the Luna Bar.

Eval: Eh, it’s right in the middle. It is made with natural ingredients, has no trans fat, and a decent amount of protein, but on the other hand for 180 calories you only get 4g fiber- and 2g saturated fat. This eval I will leave up to you…they do taste great, though!

And the Winner is…

We actually have 2 winners since I can’t decide… GNU FLAVOR & FIBER BAR and Kashi’s GoLean Cruncy! Protein & Fiber Bar- both great BANGS for your BUCK! Try each one and see which one works best for you. Since all of our bodies digest food a little bit differently, it is important to know which bar keeps you full of energy longer.

You can order this Gnu bars online at You can find both bars at health-food stores, drug stores, vitamin shops, and supermarkets (including our favs: Trader Joes and Whole Foods)

**Note: These bars double in cost when sold at drug store such as CVS and Duane Reade so for a bargain, buy them by the box and look for online deals.

You are now a breakfast-bar expert, so no more excuses for skipping breakfast, ok? Keep a box in your fridge at home and at work, along with a few in your day bag, so if you forget to grab a bar during the morning dash out the door, you are covered! They last for over a year- so don’t worry about waste, and enjoy all the benefits of a nutritious breakfast on the go! PS- add a piece of fresh fruit for a truly complete breakfast!


AllisonsBigToe said...

I love Gnu bars too! My priority list in trying out different breakfast bars was different, however. Calories are not an issue if the food is wholesome, so that wasn't a concern. Next, many studies have now shown saturated fat to be a fine source of fat, and that it doesn't cause heart disease. The true enemy and what will make a person fat/unhealthy is refined sugar (anything not from fruit or maybe honey is a no-go), and processed grains. My priority list was:
1. No preservatives or anything artificial.
2. No cane sugar (obviously no high fructose corn syrup); only fruit juice sweetened.

That's it! And the Gnu Foods bars were the ONLY bar I could fid that fit these two simple priorities. I love them! I reviewed them on my blog too as a good snack for runners:

Thanks for the review!

Jessica McDade said...

Hey - how do you feel about sugar in these bars? I recently switched to organic/vegan/raw food type bars, b/c I freaked out after educating myself on the low-carb/high protein bars. They are just loaded with fake ingrediants, chemicals, and saturated fats!!! Horrible. But, I thought I was doing the right thing b/c I wanted to decrease my sugar intake. Well, now Im eating the healthy/natural bars, and they are packed w/ sugar (natural though...but still so high!)

Jessica McDade said...

Love your blog BTW!!!! Thanks for the nutrition health nut to the next :)

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