Diet & Nutrition
 Nutrition Bar 101

Choosing a Bar

By Dr. L. Lee Coyne

The title does not refer to locating a local hot spot but rather to the task of choosing the right nutrition bar to meet your needs at the moment.

Grocery stores, health food stores, direct sellers, fitness and running shoe stores and even convenience stores are all stocking nutrition bars and some make big claims about their alleged value. You need to know that “NOT ALL BARS ARE CREATED EQUAL”.

Bars 101:  Bars can be divided into three categories based on ingredient characteristics and intended function.

  1. Meal Replacement Bars: These bars will have a added nutrient deck on the label that includes the vitamins and minerals added. Government regulations require such bars to meet certain Protein, Carbohydrate, Fat, salt and Calorie criteria.  Only Meal replacement bars can include a vitamin/mineral deck. They usually include meal replacement instructions that involves eating one for breakfast and one for lunch along with a responsible evening meal and each bar must contain over 250 Calories. Unfortunately, from my perspective, when a meal replacement bar adheres to Government regulations they contain too many Calories from carbohydrates and can become insulin stimulating disasters which will inhibit fat mobilization for energy. My recommendation usually suggests the inclusion of more protein when using such a bar.
  2. Snack Bars: Can really be any bar without a nutrient deck added. As long as the ingredients are generally regarded as safe (GRS) these bars can be made of any food item with a wide range of Calories, Protein, Carbohydrate and Fat.  These include all the “chocolate bars” in the confectionary/candy counters and many so-called sports bars that may be either high carbohydrate or high protein snacks. It is illegal in Canada to “fortify”, like they do with cereals, a “snack” bar. My recommendations in this category are to avoid the high carbohydrate sugary snack bar (an exception may occur if you find such a bar palatable DURING an endurance event that lasts longer than 90 minutes) and choose the higher protein sports bars. Naturally there are “quality” differences ranging from ingredient sources to chemical additives but that would take a long explanation.
  3. Fruit Bars: These are really just dried fruit pressed into the shape of a bar. The nutritional content will vary with the amount of processing the fruit was exposed to, the selection of raw materials, the preservatives added and the packaging. If this were your choice, you might find dried fruit (without chemicals) a less expensive and more reliable source of nutrients. My recommendations here are to minimize fruit bar use because they contain very little protein and will still contribute to a rise in blood insulin levels and that will lead to fat storage.
About the Author:

Lee Coyne, Ph.D. is a nutritional consultant, lecturer and author of several weight loss books, including Fat Won't Make You Fat. Dr. Coyne is also the creator of the "Lean Seekers Nutritional Coaching Program" that trains individuals on a "Better Balanced Diet" as a way of eating for better health and weight management. He may be reached at 1-800-668-4042 or by e-mail

Copyright Lee Coyne, Ph.D., reprinted with permission.