After struggling through a frustrating 45-minute airport security line where the TSA searched every single supplement in my carry-on, I raced to the monitor, only to find my flight had a three-hour delay. Of course.
Suddenly, I was facing dinner far away from home, and the options were pretty unappealing. Except for one sad-looking salad place, every airport restaurant got a big thumbs-down, and besides, I was in no mood to sit somewhere overcrowded and super-noisy.
That airport debacle was one of many times that having a protein bar on hand saved me. Whether you’re stranded in rush-hour traffic or stuck at work late, a nutritious meal-replacement bar can be the ultimate lifesaving emergency food. That’s why I never leave home without them, and you shouldn’t either.
Obviously, a meal made of clean, lean protein, fresh fruits and veggies, and high-fiber carbs is always better for you. But eating a healthy bar with wholesome nutrients is still preferable to skipping meals or heading for the drive-thru! And they can be especially handy when cravings or last-minute delays have you eyeing the vending machine or snack aisle.
Just remember: not all bars are created equal. A meal-replacement bar can mimic nutrient-rich foods, but always consider these 7 details when you buy:
- Sugar impact. Don’t let healthy-sounding sugars like “organic evaporated cane juice” fool you. Read ingredients, but also look at nutrition labels: a bar should contain no more than 5 grams of sugar, preferably less, and none of them should come from concentrated sugars like fructose, agave, or honey.
- Artificial sweeteners. They come with sophisticated-sounding names like “acesulfame potassium” or “sucralose,” but the way they affect your body is truly frightening. The same goes for aspartame and saccharin. Avoid these artificial sweeteners and their health-robbing consequences.
- Other food intolerances. Sugar and artificial sweeteners aside, be aware that gluten, soy, peanuts, dairy, corn, and other highly reactive foods lurk in many bars. Read ingredient labels carefully and learn the different names for foods that cause you problems.
- Carb count. While the Virgin Diet and Sugar Impact Diet are not low-carb diets, carbohydrates matter because too many can spike blood sugar. Here’s the thing: you’ve got total carbs and net carbs. Total carbs are all the carbs in any meal-replacement bar. Subtract fiber and sugar alcohols, which don’t break down like other carbs, and you’ve got net carbs. Pay attention to that number. Ideally, net carbs should be under 10 grams.
- Fiber. Fiber is your number one weapon to crush cravings and burn fat, and you should aim for 50 grams per day. Don’t start all at once! Add increments of 5 grams at a time and work your way up. A quality bar should contain at least 5 grams of fiber. Bonus points for noting where that fiber comes from, like digestion-resistant fiber and prebiotics.
- Protein. Both the amount and source matter here. Ideally, meal-replacement bars should contain 8-15 grams of protein. Now, let’s talk quality. Protein sourced from whey, casein, egg, and soy are trouble! They can cause congestion, skin breakouts, headaches, gut discomfort, and actually signal your body to store fat. If you see any of those sources, choose a different bar.
- Healthy fat. Despite the 1980s low-fat/no-fat craze, research proves that you have to eat fat in order to burn fat. Healthy fats are your very best fat burners and crave crushers. When you buy bars, look for quality fats like coconut oil, tree nut butters, cocoa butter, and nuts like almonds and cashews. Fractionated oils like canola oil or any ingredient with “hydrogenated” or “partially hydrogenated” are big red flags for extremely dangerous fats. Put those bars back!
Curious to know more about my bars? Take a look here.