Are energy bars nutritious? Sure, energy bars, also known as nutrition bars, are convenient, but there are plenty of other convenient—and healthy—foods. After all, "How inconvenient is an organic apple and some nuts?" asks Ashley Koff, RD, the author of Mom Energy (Hay House, 2011). "The difference in calories and nutrients can be significant. The organic apple and nuts supply fiber, vitamins, minerals, and phytonutrients that you may not get in most bars—and many bars provide more calories."

A Quintessential Processed Food

The main problem with bars is that they're highly processed, and contain a lot more calories than you'd find in whole foods. Even fortified with vitamins and minerals, an energy bar's nutritional profile can be similar to that of a few cookies or a candy bar. Keep in mind that many bars:

  • Are high in carbs, but low in protein. The carbohydrate content in most brands is usually two to four servings and contains minimal protein.
  • Are high on the glycemic index. The glycemic index measures how quickly an item will increase your blood sugar. Many bars adversely affect blood sugar—despite the lack of added sugar. The concentration of dried fruit in the bar is usually to blame.
  • Don't provide satiety, or the feeling of fullness. If you eat a bar in a few quick bites, your brain may not register your food intake, leaving you wanting more. Koff recommends combining the bar with a veggie salad, or an organic green juice to help your mouth and brain register a feeling of satisfaction.
  • Contain the wrong soy protein. Many bars contain isolated soy protein—a highly processed food that's sounds healthy but isn't doing you any favors. The benefits of soy come from eating the whole, non-GMO (genetically modified organism) bean, says Koff. Eat the bean, and you get protein, fiber, antioxidants, and healthy fats.

The Good News About Energy Bars

Despite the downsides of energy bars, Koff says they do have use: when you're traveling, as a post-gym pick-up, or as a back-up plan for busy days, for example. But the whole food route is always a better option, she says. Some bars come much closer to delivering quality nutrients in their "almost whole food form."

Still want to stash an energy bar in your bag in order to avoid an afternoon trip to the vending machine for a candy bar? Koff recommends you choose a bar with balanced, quality nutrients. Look for:

  • Organic, non-GMO ingredients
  • 1 to 2 servings of carbohydrates (15 to 30 grams)
  • 1 serving of protein (15 grams)
  • 1 serving of fat (up to 10 grams), which should be from nuts, seeds or nut butters.

A bar with this balance of nutrients will not be too high in calories, and will give your body the nutrients it needs.

The following four brands offer bars that fit the bill. Find more approved options from Koff.

Clif Bar
These contain 70 percent organic ingredients. Koff likes the chocolate chip peanut crunch and the crunchy peanut butter varieties.

Each bar contains no more than nine whole food ingredients. Try the Chocolate Cherry Torte.

Gnu Food Flavor and Fiber Bars
These bars are high in fiber; both the banana walnut flavor and chocolate brownie contains 48 percent of the daily recommended amount of fiber.

Organic Square Bar
Non-GMO, gluten-, dairy-, soy-free, and yes, organic, these cocoa-covered bars come in almond, cocoa crunch, and coconut.

Ashley Koff, RD, reviewed this article.




Mom Energy (Hay House, 2011), by Ashley Koff, RD