They come in lots of flavors and with clever marketing. Energy bars are convenient, sometimes tasty, and easy to find, but are they healthy? In other words, are those bars formulated to taste good and increase your get-up-and-go all they’re cracked up to be? Here are five of the most common myths about energy bars and why they aren’t always the best snack if you’re concerned about your health.
Myth #1: An Energy Bars is a Great Source of Energy
Despite their name, energy bars won’t necessarily supply your body with sustainable energy. If a bar is highly processed or contains lots of added sugar, you’ll get a short-term boost in energy, but it will often be followed by an energy drop.
Because these bars are processed, they usually don’t satisfy hunger longer-term or give you the steady fuel you need to push through a workout or a full day of activities. In fact, you’re better off eating something unprocessed, like an apple covered in almond butter, for satiety and continuous energy.
If you’re in a bind and need a quick snack, look for an energy bar that contains less than 6 grams of added sugar and has as few ingredients as possible. Make sure the bar you choose has at least 3 grams of fiber for added satiety. Fiber slows absorption, so it helps prevent blood sugar spikes and drops.
The bar you select should also contain quality sources of protein, like pea or whey protein. Otherwise, it’s better to add whole food sources to your plate. If you’re eating a nutritious, real food-based diet, you don’t need an energy bar in the first place.
Myth #2: Energy Bars Will Help You Lose Weight
Whether an energy bar helps you shed extra pounds of body fat depends on your diet as a whole. If eating an energy bar satisfies you and keeps you from snacking on less healthy fare, it can have benefits. However, some energy bars contain as much or more sugar as a candy bar. That’s not going to help you lose weight, keep hunger in check, or maximize your health.
The other problem is people often munch on an energy bar as an extra snack, along with regular meals. Some of these bars contain enough calories and macronutrients that they are a meal replacement bar. You’re not going to lose weight, and might even gain, if you eat energy bars in addition to your regular meals.
Myth #3: Energy Bars Are Healthy
Fast, easy, portable, supposedly healthy, and sometimes as tasty as a typical candy bar, but “healthy” just comes from the way they’re marketed. The language on the label suggests they’re healthful, but that’s not the case. No matter what the wrapper says, a bar with 15 ingredients and 15 grams of sugar does your health no favors. Read the nutritional information and make sure you recognize the ingredients. For many, it’s mostly sugar and other additives, with a little bit of actual food. You can do better than that!
Myth #4: The Sugar Alternatives in Energy Bars Are Better-For You
Some makers of energy bars make their energy bars seem healthier by reducing the sugar content, but they often replace sugar with artificial sweeteners or sugar alcohols. It’s best to avoid artificial sweeteners since there’s some evidence that they can disrupt the gut microbiome and create an energy mismatch that doesn’t curb hunger.
Sugar alcohols are safe, but they may also cause intestinal upset, including flatulence bloating, or nausea if you consume too many of them. That’s inconvenient if you’re in the middle of a workout. Some, like maltitol syrup, can even cause a blood sugar rise like sugar in some people. So don’t overdo them.
You can recognize sugar alcohol on a label because it usually ends in -ol, like xylitol, erythritol, mannitol, and maltitol. They can be a healthier alternative to sugar since, except for maltitol syrup, they don’t cause blood sugar spikes.
Myth #5: You Need an Energy Bar if You Work Out
Energy bars may be convenient, but they don’t offer an advantage over a whole food snack, except for convenience. You should have proper fuel in your system to power through a workout and you can get it from whole foods sources. There’s nothing unique to energy bars that will help your performance. It’s marketing!
Here are some fast snack ideas that will give you sustained energy without the excess sugar or artificial sweeteners:
- Protein smoothie
- Apple with peanut or almond butter
- Oatmeal with berries and nuts
- Greek yogurt with fruit
- A green smoothie with leafy greens, berries, and a scoop of protein powder
- A handful of nuts and berries.
- Avocado toast with an egg
- Nut butter roll-up or wrap
- Hummus with chopped vegetables
These snacks may take a little longer to prepare, but they’re nutrient-dense without the added sugar and additives. You can prepare some of these ahead of time, so you don’t have to rely on packaged energy bars.
The Bottom Line
Healthy energy bars are a good fallback for days, you don’t have time to sit down and eat a meal. They’re also a good carry-along snack for emergencies. Just don’t make them the staple of your diet. Think out of the wrapper and keep unprocessed snacks on hand. A jar of peanut butter or almond butter in the cabinet, containers of yogurt, seeds, nuts, and fresh fruit are better options. Also, when you bite into an energy bar, know what you’re eating. Don’t get sidetracked by the clever marketing on the wrapper.
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- Harvard Health Publishing. “Are protein bars really just candy bars in disguise?”
- “Eating to boost energy – Harvard Health.” 26 Jul. 2011, https://www.health.harvard.edu/healthbeat/eating-to-boost-energy.
- osu.edu. “Athletes Take Note: Not All Energy Bars Built the Same,”
- “Energy Bar or Candy Bar; What’s the Difference – Live ….” 12 Mar. 2020, https://livesmartcolorado.colostate.edu/energy-bar-or-candy-bar-whats-the-difference/.