Belly Up to the Bar

On a recent road trip, we stopped at a gas station food store.  There our daughter grabbed a couple of meal replacement bars, convenient foods that many Baby Boomers and older adults enjoy occasionally.

Choose your meal replacement bar carefully.

As she was preparing to indulge, my daughter tried to make sense of information on the label, and then asked me to write a blog about these products.  So here you go:

How They Help

A meal replacement bar is just that, designed to take the place of a full meal.  It is not a snack bar.  As such, it’s going to contain a couple hundred calories, and shouldn’t be used as an in-between meal pick-me-up.

Initially developed as replenishment fuel for athletes who worked out hard, there are now dozens of “nutrition” bars from which to choose.  Here’s where they can benefit most consumers:

  • Convenience.  What could be more simple?  Pick up a bar at your favorite store and stash it in your purse, car, or desk.  You don’t have to worry about what to fix for breakfast or lunch.  And there’s no messy and timely food preparation or clean-up.
  • Calorie- and portion-controlled.  If you’re watching calories, meal replacement bars can be a plus.  They provide a pre-measured number of calories, involve less decision-making with potentially high-calorie foods, and have been proven to be a viable option for weight loss.

Buyer Beware

While replacement bars provide a meal’s worth of calories, protein, and fiber, there are some areas to beware.  For example:

  • A bar can’t replace all the nutrients found in fruits and vegetables–phytochemicals that provide antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, and promote gut health.
  • The sweeteners used may not be friendly to your GI tract. These include sugar alcohols such as maltitol, xylitol, or sorbitol, which can lead to bloating and diarrhea.  Fine print on the label should contain this warning.
  • Be sure to drink plenty of water with this “meal.”
  • Most bars contain some kind of protein blend that might seem dry and powdery.  And the sweeteners can have an aftertaste.
  • You won’t see a lot of “real” ingredients.  You will see lots of names in the protein blends that you don’t recognize and can’t pronounce.

The Bottom Line:

  • Meal replacement bars shouldn’t be your first choice for calories, but they can be helpful in controlling calorie intake.  Limit them to two or three times per week.
  • Supplement this convenient “meal” with whole fruits and vegetables, water or vegetable juice.
  • Read labels, both the Ingredient listing and the Nutrition Label.

–Look for “real” foods like oats, nuts, seeds, dried fruit, brown rice.

–250 – 350 calories per serving

–15 – 20 grams of protein

–3 – 5 grams of dietary fiber

–Less than 3 grams of saturated fat

–Less than 15 grams of sugar (and watch for sugar alcohols such as maltitol, xylitol, or sorbitol, which can lead to bloating and diarrhea)

  • Look at the Allergy Information for products containing soy, corn, milk, or wheat.
  • Compare products.

Or, With a Little Planning…

When it comes to a quick meal replacement, remember there are other “portable” items that don’t require refrigeration and pack easily while providing a more nutritious alternative to bars: fresh fruits and vegetables, whole-grain crackers or bagels, nuts, or natural peanut butter.  With a small cooler and ice, you can add cheese, yogurt, or hard-cooked eggs.

For more information about healthy meals, give me a call!

We can discuss some practical tips and discover if any of my programs or classes are a good fit for you.
If you’d like to schedule that call with me, just CLICK THIS LINK, and let me know in the message that you would like a 1-on-1 call with me right away and I will be in touch to schedule that – oh, and leave me your phone number in there too since email is not as reliable as it used to be! Thanks.

Lisa Teresi Harris is a Registered Dietitian, Certified Personal Trainer and author of the book Building Your Enduring Fitness.  A certified Geri-Fit Instructor, she helps Boomers and seniors to regain and keep muscle strength, mobility, and energy.
Contact Lisa to inquire about a customized, in-home fitness program for you or a loved one.

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