Energy bars are supposedly low calorie, high nutrient packed snacks; a great alternative to a candy bar. They satisfy the craving for something sweet, while providing a generous serving of protein; great for an athlete or busy person on the go. Lately, energy bars formulated specifically for kids are hitting the markets. Their labels are littered with promises of extra vitamins, fiber, and even celebrated ALA omega 3 fatty acids. Often these products are sweetened, so they taste good to kids, while soothing the parent’s conscience that they are a healthier alternative to a corn-syrup based candy bar.
Since exorbitant health claims on labels tend to mask less than savory truths revealed by reading the ingredient list, it seems prudent to examine a few of these products more closely. Let’s take a look:
Kashi Soft Baked Squares:
Ingredients: Organic whole wheat flour, sweet potatoes, expeller pressed canola oil, organic agave syrup, evaporated cane juice medium invert syrup, tapioca syrup, black bean flour, kashi seven grain flour (whole: oats, hard red wheat, rye, brown rice, triticale, barley, buckwheat) acacia gum, evaporated cane juice crystals, vegetable glycerin, chocolate liquor, semisweet chocolate (organic evaporated cane juice, chocolate liquor, cocoa butter, soy lecithin, ground vanilla beans), cocoa, potassium bicarbonate, sea salt, natural flavor, soy lecithin, peanut flour, almond flour, nonfat milk. Contains wheat, soy, peanut, almond and milk ingredients. May contain other tree nuts.
Pros: Largely organic ingredients, no corn syrup. Many of the ingredients listed come from whole food sources such as the sweet potatoes, black beans and whole grains.
Cons: This is not a gluten free food, nor is it suitable for kids with peanut allergies. Furthermore, on this product’s website, the following description can be found, “And with natural sweetness from agave, 4g of fiber and 300mg of ALA omega-3, they’re a nutritious snack your kids will ask for by name!” However, when inspecting the ingredient list, not a single ingredient can be attributed with containing the ALA omega 3′s that Kashi claims are in this product. The only oil in this product is from canola, which is an omega 6, and nothing on the nutrition facts table seems able to substantiate this omega 3 claim either. This product is also loaded with cane sugar.
Ingredients: Organic Oat Blend (Organic Rolled Oats, Organic Oat Flour, Organic Oat Fiber), Organic Tapioca Syrup, Organic Cane Syrup, Organic Chocolate Chips (Organic Dried Cane Syrup, Organic Unsweetened Chocolate, Organic Cocoa Butter, Organic Soy Lecithin, Organic Vanilla Extract), Organic Fig Paste, Organic Cocoa, Organic Soy Butter (Organic Roasted Soybeans, Organic Soybean Oil, Salt), Organic Chocolate (Organic Dried Cane Syrup, Organic Unsweetened Chocolate, Organic Cocoa Butter, Organic Soy Lecithin, Organic Vanilla Extract), Natural Flavors, Organic Milled Flaxseed, Organic Sunflower Oil, Sea Salt, Baking Soda.
Pros: Organic ingredients and many whole food ingredients including oats, figs and flaxseed. Does not contain peanuts.
Cons: May not be suitable for gluten free individuals, or those who are allergic to soy. Contains cane sugar. Also contains chocolate, which contains small amounts of caffeine, which can rapidly lower the blood sugar and be overly stimulating to the nervous system. Children are the most susceptible to the negative effects of caffeine, which includes stomach irritation, insomnia, restlessness, behavioral problems and bone loss.
(This is a bake-it-yourself energy bar mix. You add your own applesauce, oil and water to the mixture below and then bake them at home)
Ingredients: Organic Whole Grain Rolled Oats, Whole Grain Oat Flour, Flax Seeds, Ground Soy Nuts, Semi-sweet Chocolate Chips (Sugar, Unsweetened Chocolate, Cocoa Butter, Soy Lecithin, Vanilla), Evaporated Cane Juice, Unbleached Wheat Flour, Light Brown Sugar, M&J’s TextureBlend (Rice Syrup Solids, Oat Bran), Vital Wheat Gluten, Fructose, Non-GMO Soy Protein Isolate, Natural Flavors, Sea Salt, Calcium (Tricalcium Phosphate), Cinnamon, Baking Soda.
Pros: Organic and non-gmo ingredients. Peanut free. Some whole food ingredients such as oats and flax.
Cons: Not suitable for kids who are allergic to soy or need gluten free food. Contains several different sources of sugar and chocolate.
In conclusion, all of these products can be considered OK as a once in a while sweet treat. To treat them as a healthy, nutritious alternative to a whole food is another story. Excessive consumption of chocolate, sugar and omega-6 containing oils has been shown to do more harm than good in the body. The next time you’re craving a sweet, healthy treat, reach for a piece of fruit. Choose food over food products for sustained energy and good health!
4.) Fallon, Sally with Mary G Enig, Ph. D. Nourishing Traditions. Revised Second Edition, New Trends Publishing. Washington DC, 1999.