Energy bars were originally invented as a portable and convenient source of energy for astronauts in space. Not long afterwards, energy bars arrived on the sports scene, where they were adopted by endurance athletes to fuel exhausting marathons and intense bike races. These days, energy or nutrition bars are ubiquitous, touted as substitutes for meals or portable sources of energy/nutrition for busy, active people and folks who work out. There are so many different types of energy bars in the market today – high-protein bars, high-carbohydrate bars, breakfast bars, wholegrain bars, diet bars – even energy bars tailored specifically to men or women.

How much protein do we really need?

Most Americans, male of female, are consuming far more protein than they actually need. A 125-pund woman needs about 42 grams of protein a day, while a 175-pound man needs 58 grams of protein a day. Body size is the main reason in the difference between men and women’s protein requirements. Only 15% of a healthy person’s daily caloric requirements should come from protein. In fact, men and women of all sizes will do very well with around 60 grams of protein, although athletes who work out daily for lengthy periods of time need about 20% more than that, which is the equivalent of 8 ounces of chicken and 6 ounces of canned tuna. In other words, most of us don’t really need a massive protein boost every day in the form of a protein or energy bar. Too much protein in our diet is stored as fat, the same as carbohydrates and fats; excess protein also causes calcium loss in urine, increasing the risk of osteoporosis and kidney stones.

How about carbohydrates?                            

Men and women need the same amount of carbohydrates, but men need more fiber than women. Between 45% and 65% of your daily caloric intake should come from carbohydrates – the majority of these should be complex carbohydrates, which are found in high-fiber and unrefined foods, like bran cereal, whole grain products, brown rice, beans, and many fruits and vegetables. Complex carbohydrates are digested slowly, raising blood sugar gradually and keeping you full longer. People who eat lots of complex carbohydrates have higher levels of HDL or “good” cholesterol and lower rates of obesity, diabetes and heart disease. High-fiber diets lower LDL or “bad” cholesterol, and reduce the risk of hemorrhoids, diverticulitis and colon cancers. Sugar consumption should never exceed 60 grams a day, or 10% of your daily diet.

Fat?

The fats that are bad for men are also bad for women; fat consumption for both men and women should stay under 30% to 35% of their daily calories, and definitely lower than 25% if they are dealing with weight problems. To implement these dietary guidelines, reduce saturated fat, which comes from animal products: chicken skin, whole fat dairy products, palm oil, kernel oil, coconut oil and cocoa butter. More importantly, reduce consumption of trans fatty acids – partially hydrogenated vegetable oils found in margarine, fried foods and most commercially baked goods and snacks. Increase monounsaturated fats, like olive oil and the omega-3 fatty acids found in fish. Alpha-linoleic acid (ALA), an omega-3 found in canola oil and flaxseed oil, is good for the heart, but in contrast to fish oil, which might reduce the risk of prostate cancer, ALA might be bad for the prostate. ALA also seems to confer protection against strokes for both men and women.

DOES ANYONE REALLY NEED AN ENERGY BAR?

A low-fat, low-sugar energy bar with with a healthy nutritional composition is a terrific alternative for someone who misses meals and eats junk food and sweets instead, but beware of replacing those meals with high-fat, high-sugar energy bars. Energy bars are certainly convenient sources of energy, especially for extremely busy active people or athletes, but the nutritional composition of an energy bar should conform to your health needs. Look at the sugar and fat content in an energy bar, and how many calories it contains. After all, to burn 200 calories you have to: walk for 60 minutes at a medium pace, or box (bag punching) for 20 minutes, or hike for 35 minutes, or jog on a treadmill for 30 minutes. Even the healthiest energy bar cannot replace healthy food, but energy or nutrition bars are not intended as meal replacements; they are meant to temporarily boost your energy during strenuous workouts or long busy, active days. Healthy energy bars are also great when you don’t have other convenient healthy alternatives and your energy levels drop: they are designed to help you replace unhealthy snacks with healthy ones.