What makes a nutritional bar different from a candy bar? Quite simply, the addition of nutritional supplements. A candy bar is mostly sugar, and provides little nutrition. A nutritional bar, while it can often have just as many calories, or the same amount of carbohydrates, provides vitamins, minerals, protein, fibre and/or greens.
When choosing a nutritional, or protein bar it is important to read the amount of carbohydrates present, specifically the amount of sugars. Each 5 grams of carbohydrates is equal to one teaspoon of sugar, so a product that contains 25 g of refined carbs is equal to eating 5 teaspoons of sugar. Unless we’re exercising, the only time that is a reasonable amount of carbs is post-exercise, when it constitutes part of “carb-loading”. At other times it can be fattening, or cause an insulin spike, followed later by an energy “crash”.
When the carb count is coming from dried fruit, the story is a little different. Unlike carbs from sugars, fruit contains some fibre, and has nutrients present, both of which help to reduce the insulin spike caused by simple sugars.
Because nutritional bars are more dense and lacking in moisture, they should generally be taken with some liquid, as they can be constipating for some people. Nutritional bars are attempting to serve the function of a meal replacement, and compared to a candy bar, they do the job quite well. They can be divided into two main categories: Sports bars, and Superfoods.
Sports bars are high in protein and carbs, often with some vitamins and minerals added. These are the best option when looking for a nutritional fix post-exercise, or when just looking to replace a meal.
Greens, Berries, and Maca are some examples of superfoods that are now being added to bars. These bars are designed to provide extra nutritional support for those who don’t get enough fruits and vegetables, or to provide the bonus health benefits that superfoods offer. For example, Maca helps to balance hormones, spirulina is rich in detoxifying chlorophyll, goji berries high in antioxidants. These bars aren’t categorized as a “sports bar” and are best used as between meal snacks rather than as meal replacements or post workout support.