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A source of energy

Bars can provide a boost of nutrients and vitamins,
but some also come loaded with calories
Wednesday, September 17, 2003 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 3:07 a.m. CDT, Friday, July 18, 2008

When you’re short on time and hunger sets in, an energy bar might look appealing. However, it’s important to know the caloric and nutritional content of the bar to avoid potential weight gain.

Energy bars have been around for years, but the market has recently seen a huge increase in sales. According to Ladies Home Journal and Runner’s World magazine, sales of nutrition bars grew 30 percent in 2002, and current sales total about $1.5 billion a year. Locally, energy bars seem to take up more space in supermarkets and health food stores.

“I eat them after a workout or a swim when I’m not hungry enough to eat a full meal, but I know I should eat something,” said MU student Leah Taylor.

Although energy bars were originally developed for athletes, they have become a convenience food for anybody on the go. People eat them because they’re healthier than junk food, might help with weight loss and supply several vitamins and nutrients.

How to choose an energy bar

There are many types of energy bars. Some of their various functions are to act as a meal replacement, a snack between meals, a multivitamin or a workout supplement.

According to Cynthia Sass, registered dietician and spokeswoman for the American Dietetic Association, the purpose of the bar determines which kind customers should purchase.

“If you have more than four or five hours between meals, then a meal replacement bar with up to 300 to 400 calories is a good choice,” she said.

“If you just need a snack between meals, then a 200 calorie bar is good. (It helps) you from eating everything in sight when mealtime comes.”

Sass warns that routinely eating a 300 to 400 calorie bar as a snack could contribute to weight gain, and suggests people reserve such bars for meal replacements.

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Julie Walsh, a spokeswoman for the American Dietetic Association, offers advice to consumers looking for the right energy bar.

“Read the label and choose a bar that is low in fat and contains protein and fiber,” Walsh said. “A good bar has a good mix of carbohydrates, protein and fat, and less than 250 calories.”

Walsh warns that some energy bars are overly fortified with nutrients. She said you don’t need products that provide anything more than 100 percent of the recommended daily intake of nutrients.

For example, Sass cautions women to look at the calcium content of energy bars. The recommended daily intake of calcium is 2,500 milligrams or less. If women take a calcium supplement and eat a calcium-fortified bar at the same time, they risk going over the daily intake. As far as vitamins and minerals go, it is possible to get too much of a good thing.

subhead: Why sales of energy bars grow

Many local grocery and health food stores have picked up on the trend and started carrying a variety of energy bars.

“We carry them because of customer demand,” said Eva Foley, assistant manager of Clover’s Natural Market in Columbia.

Foley said although the store has sold energy bars since its opening in 1990, she has seen an increase in sales over the last five years.

“The increase in sales probably has more to do with health consciousness, because people can go out and grab a candy bar just as easily, but people are wanting to be more healthy,” said Foley.

Laura Wacker, personal trainer and manager at Body Basics Gym in Columbia, said energy bar sales at the gym have gone up substantially in the last year.

“I think people are starting to take a look at fast food content now that the information is more prevalent, and they realize an energy bar is much better,” said Wacker.

Although energy bars are gaining popularity, not everyone thinks they’re a good addition to the food chain.

Columbia resident Tom Powell isn’t sold on energy bars.

“They taste like sawdust,” Powell said.

If they tasted better, he said, he would eat them, but until then, candy bars will do just fine.


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