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Charge Up for Good Health

Are Meal Replacement Bars Good for You?

A growing number of companies are marketing energy bars as meal substitutes. A nutrition expert tell...

I’ve never been satisfied with simply eating a meal-replacement bar and calling it breakfast -- or lunch or dinner, for that matter. But I have plenty of friends who swear by swapping a nutrition bar for a meal when they’re on the go. One even keeps a stash of them in the glove compartment of her car.

Which made me wonder: Am I being too much of a food snob and missing out on a practical solution to working late in the office or leaving the house without breakfast? I asked Brian K. Jones, registered dietitian and clinical nutrition manager for Sodexo Heathcare in Chattanooga, Tenn., for his opinion.

“These bars have their place in a pinch,” he told me. “If the alternative is skipping breakfast or having a greasy sandwich from a fast-food restaurant, then the bar is a better option.”

But is it better than another on-the-go choice -- say peanut butter with apple slices?

“No,” Jones explained. “Even with the added nutrients in the bar, the PB and apples are more nutritious because of the healthy plant compounds they contain.”

Ah, so turns out, I’m really not missing out on anything after all. My usual portable fast fixes -- trail mix with nuts, dried fruit, and cereal and yogurt with berries -- are healthier than bars. They’re tastier too, in my opinion. But, for my friends, I have one more question for Jones: “If you do eat these bars, what should you look for in a brand?”

“If you’re using a bar as a meal substitute, it should have 300 to 400 calories -- some contain more, others much less,” he says. “Then focus on the protein and fiber. Some brands of high-protein bars are low in fiber. You want both.”

He also mentioned that if avoiding high-fructose corn syrup is important to you (it is to me!), you should read the ingredients’ list because many bars still contain the sweetener. And stay away from those that are made with brown rice syrup, which has been found to contain high levels of arsenic. As for my “bar-hopping” friends, here are some brands to check out.

Do you replace meals with granola bars?

For more great health and lifestyle content, check out the rest of Completely You