June 16 -- When energy bars first appeared on store shelves in the late 1980s, they were marketed as fuel for athletes, but now Americans of all activity levels plunk down more than a billion dollars a year on the bars, considered energy-boosting meals on the move.
The energy bars often sit beside candy bars on store shelves.
"Some are not much different than candy bars, but they should have less sugar and less fat," nutritionist Heidi Skolnik said. "You really have to look at the label. Energy bars are simply a portable way to deliver energy in the form of calories."
They can be a helpful part of your diet, but be careful if you eat more than one per day, she said.
"Bars contain fortified nutrients, which if you have an energy bar, eight ounces of fortified orange juice and a multi-vitamin for breakfast, you have already overshot many of your nutrient needs for the day," she said. "And you can have too many vitamins. Too much vitamin A can lead to liver damage."
Sports Bars Heavy on Carbs
There are several main types of energy bars: meal replacement, snack bars and sports or power bars, and each have different characteristics and purposes. But be wary, even if you read the label.
There are very few standards placed on nutrition bars. In 2001, an independent testing company analyzed energy bars and found that 60 percent of the bars tested failed to meet label claims concerning calories, carbohydrates, fat, protein, sugars, and other ingredients.
Sports bars, which include brands like PowerBar, Gatorade bars, Clif Bars and PowerBar Harvest bars are recommended for athletes before, during or after exercise.
They usually contain anywhere from zero to 10 grams of protein, about 40 to 50 grams of carbohydrates, two to six grams of fat, and anywhere from 200 to 500 calories. They are high in carbohydrates, which are digested and absorbed quickly and do not slow down your digestive system as you exercise.
Subbing for a Meal
Another type of bar — meal replacement bars — should contain around 300 calories, with 20 grams of protein, Skolnik said. MetRx, which comes in flavors like chocolate graham, is one brand of this type of bar.