The Truth about Energy Bars: Are they Really Good for You?

Energy bars are one of the few foods that started out in space and made its way back to earth. Here's all you need to know about them.

Preah Narang  |  Updated: July 14, 2017 14:52 IST

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The Truth about Energy Bars: Are they Really Good for You?
Energy bars are one of the few foods that started out in space and made its way back to earth. Yes, that’s right. Manufactured by the Pillsbury Company, these “space food sticks”, as they were called in the 1960’s, were basically non frozen snacks that provided both energy and nutrition. These slim bars were easy to carry and could fit comfortably in the helmets of the astronauts.  

It was only a matter of time before this bar was reformulated and reinvented to be used as fuel for athletes, and also for those who aspired to eat healthy and others who required the necessary nutrition. Like all food, these bars are meant to enhance your physical energy, nourish you, and give you that protein kick along with a combination of fats, carbohydrates, minerals and vitamins – all balanced together to give you what they promise.
 
The difference between an energy bar and an energy drink, besides its physical state, is that the bar does not have any caffeine. These versatile bars come in many different flavours that range from the simple vanilla, chocolate or strawberry to the more decadent raw cacao with peanut butter and the fruit-based flavours. The selection available is so vast that you name it and it’s there!

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In the 70’s, it was a company decision to drop the tag “space” from these bars and introduce them in the commercial market. However, the food sticks failed to make a mark on the masses. Then in the 80’s, the first “power” bars were commercially launched for athletes. Their selling point: packed with high protein, and ideal as an after workout snack.

It was only a matter of time before these energy bars were marketed with a different perspective. Suddenly they were everywhere and put forth as the perfect snack for all requirements – a meal replacement, a quick snack, fuel to help you through your stressful day and also a compulsory inclusion for those on a particular diet. This humble bar soon took the world by storm.

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 Whatever they may be called – protein bars, health bars, snack bars, food bars, granola bars – they all share the same story and aim at serving the same purpose. They promise to nourish you by providing you with nutrition to help you through your day. However, it is smart to go through the ingredients very carefully just to make sure that it is what it says it is. They can range from being healthy and wholesome to being artificially flavoured, sweetened and highly processed.

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What to Look for and What to Avoid: Read the Labels Carefully

Whole grains: there are a vast variety of whole grains being used today ranging from oats to whole wheat flour to buckwheat to corn. The list is endless. Whole grains are a healthy source of carbohydrates and fiber and are essential in our diets. However, there are various stages of processing, so one needs to avoid fully refined whole grain.

Nuts and seeds: They contain good fats and are excellent sources of protein and fiber. Needless to say, they must be included in the daily diet. Avoid any additional fat that may be listed in the ingredient list.

Sweeteners: Look for bars that contain dry fruits as they act as natural sweeteners and are loaded with vitamins and minerals. Avoid those that contain high sucrose or fructose such as corn syrups. Dates, raisins and berries are commonly found in energy bars. However, read the labels carefully to check the sugar content.

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The Different Kinds of Bars

Energy bars can be defined by their ingredients and the nutrients they provide -

Protein Bars
Some protein bars are specifically designed to help you build muscles. Therefore, they are protein rich so that they help the muscles to recover after exercise.

Endurance Bars
Most endurance bars are meant to be taken before a long workout. Compared to a protein bar they have more carbohydrates to give you energy.

Activity Bars
These are similar to endurance bars and focus on sustaining energy. They are ideal for outdoor exercises.

Organic Bars
These are a new range of energy bars that aim at providing energy in its natural form. They do not contain artificial sweeteners or protein, but instead have simple ingredients that speak for themselves.

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An Easy Recipe to Try at Home

Besides meeting your nutritional requirements, the next most important thing about the bars is the taste. This is why I love this recipe below -

Apple Cinnamon Bars
 
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2 cups walnuts
2 cups oats
1 ½ cups pitted dates
2 tsp cinnamon powder
¼ tsp salt
2 cups chopped apples

Method:

1. Preheat the oven to 350 F.
2. Line a baking sheet, spread the walnuts and oats in a thin layer and toast them until fragrant.
3. Put the walnuts, oats, dates, cinnamon and salt in a blender or food processor and pulse until the mixture is coarse and crumbly.
4. Add the apples and process until well mixed and the mixture comes together.
5. Gently place the mixture onto a baking try lined with butter paper. Spread the mixture evenly and flatten uniformly. Bake in the preheated oven for 20 minutes.
6. Allow to cool for 20 minutes. Then slice into bars and when completely cold, store in an airtight container.

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