Friday, April 19, 2013

Food Reward Friday

This week's lucky "winner"... energy bars!



Energy bars are a way to feel less guilty about eating a candy bar.  Let's compare a Snickers candy bar and a Clif energy bar.  One regular-size Snickers bar contains 250 calories, 12 g fat, 4 g protein, and 27 g sugar.  One crunchy peanut butter Clif bar contains 240 calories, 6 g fat, 11 g protein, and 21 g sugar.  Both go down the hatch in a jiffy.  Besides a modest protein-fat swap and a bunch of added micronutrients, they're not that different.  But don't worry, Clif bars are organic!

In all seriousness though, I don't have a problem with eating an energy bar (or Snickers bar) from time to time, particularly when doing something energy-intensive like hiking or climbing where you actually need the fuel.  The problem comes when people don't need the fuel, and they're eating energy bars and drinking energy drinks instead of real food and water, often thinking they're being healthy.  The fact that people perceive these foods as healthy is no accident: they're marketed that way.  But fundamentally, it isn't that different from eating candy bars and drinking soda.

Energy bars are calorie-dense and fairly palatable, so they often don't provide the same level of satiety as regular food.  To maximize satiety per calorie, look for bars with a high protein and fiber content.  Also, look for bars that are made from a short list of recognizable ingredients.

Thanks to reader Kevin for the suggestion.

11 comments:

Robert said...

Thanks for the interesting post, Dr. Guyenet.

Anecdotally, I tried to lose the Freshman 30 with Cliff bars (esp. Chocolate chip flavour). It did not work.

In a similar vein as energy bars, I would add energy drinks and sports drinks.

You may have already covered these but I think the data show that non-glycogen deplete teens are downing these sugary drinks like there is no tomorrow. I hate to think what the high amount of liquid sugar and caffiene is doing to their livers and brains.

Diandra said...

I only use protein bars if I know I will be away from the kitchen for long beyond my usual eating hours and not sure whether I will find something healthy on the way (train journeys and such). Together with an apple, they make kind of a decent meal. Most of the time, however, I prefer real food.

arnoud said...

After realizing how easy it is to consume two or three 'energy bars' in short order, I now stick to protein/fibre bars only, such as those offered by Quest.

Phil Koop said...

Is this a real problem? Does anybody really eat these as candy? Personally, I think they taste disagreeable and I wish I could eat more of them. I would never consume one except on a hard ride of at least two hours duration.

Now Gatorade and similar sports drinks are a different matter. These are clearly being marketed as a general-purpose beverage. In a way that makes me happy: it makes them available to me when I need one. But they taste revolting unless you actually do need them! Who the heck is drinking them for pleasure??

There are even low- and zero-calorie versions! I thought this was bizarre - when I need a sports drink, my problem is to get enough calories, not too many. But then I was climbing in the Italian alps and I saw all the motorcyclists, sweating in their leathers, and the light dawned ...

Keith Hansen said...

Even the sound of processed food packaging is palatable; the crinkle of a bag of chips or a wrapper will always result in visual investigation at minimum.

RLL said...

Someone at the pool said they had to quit coming because the only time they had was right after work, and they didn't have the energy to swim for an hour, and would bonk. I suggested eating a candy bar on the way to the pool. They looked like I told them to eat arsenic.

Phil Koop said...

Even a world-class athlete can't bonk in an hour (unless the day's work involved a lot of physical activity, of course.) The problem would be fatigue, rather than the bonk, and a cup of coffee would work better than a candy bar.

Medjoub said...

I work in a food cooperative, and Clif bars are one of the biggest selling "health food" items by far. People eat them constantly, apparently thinking that they are adequate for meal replacement.

Humaun Kabir said...

Hi There, I just spent a little time reading through your posts, which I found entirely by mistake whilst researching one of my projects. Please continue to write more because it’s unusual that someone has something interesting to say about this. Will be waiting for more!

healthy eating

Kevin Burciaga said...

Thanks for this post, Dr. Guyenet. I used to binge on these. I would eat 12-15 Clif or Luna bars at a time. It must be that soft, gooey texture, and the variety of flavors never makes them boring. But I would never binge on candy bars, because I labeled those as "unhealthy." But Clif bars are organic, and they have protein, vitamins, minerals, so they must be healthy! Anything with protein is healthy. But like you said, they go "down the hatch" easily. That I could eat a dozen at a time shows how unsatisfying they are. Great post.

Kevin B

indiaindiana said...

I have never considered these palatable, and was relieved to realize a few years ago that they are not actually healthy. (Except as you said--when a boost of calories is needed.) The Snickers bar is another matter altogether. At least it has peanuts in it, right? That's what my mom always said, but the peanuts usually taste a little rancid.