If you like the convenience of an energy bar, follow these tips to make the most of your snack.

Weight loss scale
Credit: Lee Harrelson

Have you ever wondered how to choose the right energy bar for a snack? With so many options at the health food store, grocery store, gym, and even gas station, it is easy to get confused. Energy bars are certainly convenient and many are quite tasty but not all are worth the money (or calories).

Since a variety of products are available, ask the following three questions when deciding which bars to choose:

  1. Does the product have a nutrition fact label? If not, avoid it.
  2. Does the product sound too good to be true? It probably is.
  3. What does the product claim to do? Does research back it up?

Once you have answered these questions, follow these guidelines to make the best choice for you:

  1. Choose a bar that is equal to a snack, not a meal. Remember that these foods are "engineered" and do not contain the same quality protein, fiber, and other nutrients found naturally in whole foods.
  2. Read the label. Look for an average of 200 calories, 10 or more grams of protein, less than 8 grams of added fats, no trans fat, and 3 or more grams of fiber.
  3. Higher-protein bars can work in certain circumstances, but be aware that they are usually more expensive, often taste chalky and unpalatable, and may require extra fluid intake.
  4. Avoid herbal additives if taking prescription medications because some herbs can interact adversely with certain meds.
  5. Read the labels carefully. Do not use products containing ephedrine, ma huang, yohimbe and/or mate.

Bottom Line: An energy bar cannot replace the health benefits in a "real" food snacks such as a banana with crunchy peanut butter or low-fat yogurt with almonds. It is best to limit them to no more than 3 to 4 times a week.

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Tammy Beasley, RD, CSSD, CEDRD is a registered, licensed dietitian, spinning instructor, and certified specialist in sports nutrition and eating disorders. She is the author of Rev It Up-The Lifestyle Diet That Puts You In The Driver's Seat.