The Unhealthy Side of Energy Bars

Energy bars are loaded with fiber, protein and good carbs, so they should be perfectly healthy, right? After all, they’re the go-to snack for those into fitness, weight loss, and outdoor adventure. If you’re health-conscious yourself, you might have eaten a few of these energy-giving bars in the past. You might be about to eat one right now!

But folks, there’s no single food on earth that’s perfect and complete for nourishment, otherwise, we wouldn’t need variation in our diet. Those energy bars sitting on supposedly healthy store shelves definitely aren’t 100% healthy. Well, they may be healthier than most snack items out there, but here’s the shockingly ugly truths about commercially bought energy bars.

1. High Fructose Corn Syrup


These are sweeteners chemically processed from cornstarch. Most food manufacturers use it because they’re easier to handle and cheaper than honey. There’s no scientific evidence that high-fructose corn syrup is any less healthy than other forms of sweeteners, but know that too much intake of sweets and sugar-loaded food is bad, a leading cause of obesity and diabetes.

Tip: Go for bars with the lowest content of corn syrup and other sweeteners. Pair an unsweetened energy bar with a serving of fresh fruit.

2. Inulin


Inulin are polysaccharides naturally derived from chicory and other species of plants. It is added to various processed food to elevate fiber content. But natural doesn’t mean healthy, and the extreme boost of fiber makes inulin-rich food bad for digestion.

Tip: While it’s a must to choose energy bars with high fiber content, be discreet. The amount of fiber you need depends on the amount of calories you eat per day. That is, 14grams of fiber to every 1,000 calories.

3. Soy Protein Isolate


This is no ordinary soy food product. It’s actually ultra refined soy protein, with most of its fat, carbs and moisture removed. According to Lauren Slayton, MS, RD, soy protein isolate is nothing but processed soy junk, with traces of neurotoxins hexane and aluminum, which may hurt your tummy.

Tip: The body only needs 0.5 to 0.7 gram of protein per pound of body weight, but one can go up to a gram of protein per pound of body weight when combined with regular exercise. Too much protein upsets digestion and does more harm than good.

4. Soybean-Derived Lecithin


As if having too much of soy protein isolate in your energy bar weren’t enough, it might also contain soy lecithin, another artificial additive derived from soy. It acts as food binder, but may be unhealthy when highly processed and sourced from genetically modified soy plants.

Tip: If you are into organic diet, you might want to avoid energy bars and other food that contains processed soy altogether. Make your own energy bars instead.

5. Fractionated Palm Kernel Oil


This one has higher concentrations of saturated fat than the regular form. It helps prevent food from turning rancid quickly, but it also raises bad cholesterol levels in the blood. Also, if you want to lose weight, you’d want to steer clear from fatty bars that disguises themselves as energy bars. Experts say energy bars shouldn’t have fat content higher than 5 grams per serving. But fat is fat, and too much of it is bad.

Tip: Read labels especially those about where the fat content in your energy bar comes from. Stay away from bars with processed palm oil, particularly fractionated ones.

6. Hydrogenated Palm Oil


Regular palm oil undergoes the so-called hydrogenation, the artificial addition of hydrogen to liquid oil to solidify it. There is partial hydrogenation (oil contains trans fat) and there’s full hydrogenation (oil contains no trans fat). If fractionated palm oil is bad for having high levels of saturated fats, so does fully hydrogenated palm oil, and more so with partially hydrogenated palm oil because it has high levels of trans fats. Trans fat is so bad, the US FDA has banned its use.

7. Agave Syrup


Agave syrup or agave nectar is processed sweetener from agave plants. It’s notably sweeter than sugar and less viscous than honey. While it’s becoming increasingly popular as a sweetening ingredient in various food and beverage products, agave is actually more harmful than corn syrup. As compared with high fructose corn syrup, agave syrup has higher fructose content by weight.

Tip: Agave syrup is widely used a vegan alternative to honey, but because of its high fructose content, use sparingly.

8. Refined Sugar


Refined sugars come in various forms actually, including granulated sugar, sanding sugar, confectioner’s sugar, and super-refined. Refined sugar is the result of removing impurities and colored components from raw sugar. None of these refining processes however makes raw sugar the better alternative to refined sugar. Sugar per se is bad, particularly when taken in excess. Too much sugar contributes to diabetes, obesity and heart disease, as well as increases the body’s pH.

Tip: Make your own granola or energy bar using natural sugars in fruits and/or controlling the amount of honey or other sweeteners.

Not all energy bars are the same. Check the label carefully. Some bars have very high calorie and carbohydrate content, they aren’t ripe for snacks, but as meal substitutes. Some provide empty calories and offer very little protein and fiber. Bars like that are the ultimate no-no. The same with those that have very high saturated and trans fat content.

Energy bars make for convenient snack items, meal substitutes or pre-workout treat, but when you have at least 30 minutes to spare, it’s better that you make your own energy bars or trail mixes. That way, you have control over what goes in to your plate and into your system. Commercially bought energy bars may be great for occasional munching and quick energy fixes, but if your goal is to up your nutrition, whole food (unprocessed and unrefined food) is still the best option.

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