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Various types of protein bars on a white cutting boardYou rarely ever can have an easy time choosing an protein bar…wherever you go, there are just far too many of them, and it’s so difficult to figure out which one is the best one (and which one doesn’t taste like tree bark). Or if you should even bother eating one at all.

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To make the decision a little easier, think about why you want a bar in the first place. Additional protein? A handy snack? A post-workout meal? Whatever your reasoning, remember that these bars are not a necessary part of a healthy, balanced diet.

Before you buy, remember these pros and cons:

Energy Bar Pros…

There are a lot of reasons why energy bars are so popular. In general, energy bars:

  • Can help meet your energy (calorie) needs
  • Can help meet your nutritional needs, especially if you need help getting calcium, zinc, vitamin D, vitamin B-12, folic acid, protein or fiber
  • Are portable, convenient and pre-packaged
  • Have a long shelf life and don’t require refrigeration

Energy Bar Cons…

  • Excessive nutrients. Energy bars can contribute to an excessive intake of nutrients, especially if you are eating more than one bar daily, take a multivitamin supplement, and eat other fortified (enriched) foods and beverages.
  • The dangers of over-supplementation vary from minor intestinal discomforts (diarrhea and constipation) to liver disease, nerve damage or even death.
  • Excessive calories. Energy bars may contribute to a high caloric intake, which can lead to weight gain.
  • Cost. At $1.00 to $2.00 a bar, this convenience food can quickly become a major expense on your grocery bill.
  • Abdominal discomforts. Some energy bars (especially low-sugar or low-carb varieties) contain sugar alcohols, which can cause bloating, gas and diarrhea in some individuals.
  • Lack of data. There is very little research to support the actual need for energy bars. They are not a magical food and should not be used as a constant replacement for whole foods in your diet.
  • Processing. Energy bars are a highly processed food, whereas whole, unprocessed foods should be the staples of a healthy diet.
  • Additives. Some energy bars contain additional herbal ingredients. There is no data to show that any of these herbs are effective. Herbs have no standards regarding potency or safety, and many result dangerous allergic and drug interactions.

To make sure the next bar you eat isn’t just a glorified candy bar masquerading as healthy, use the following checklist, based on your needs—meal replacement, afternoon snack, or workout fuel.

Meal Replacement Bars

When lunch is out of reach, an energy bar can be used on occasion. Adding a piece of fruit, some raw veggies, and a serving of yogurt or milk can help round out this quick, on-the-go meal.

Read the nutrition label to find a bar that contains:

  • About 200-300 calories
  • 2.5 to 5 grams of fiber
  • Less than 20 grams of sugar
  • Less than 2.5 grams saturated fat and 0 grams trans fat
  • About 30% of your RDA for vitamins and minerals (optional)
  • Approximately 40% carbohydrates (20-30 grams), 30% protein (15-22 grams) and 30% fat (7-10 grams or less)

Afternoon Snack Bars

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