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March 2005 Newsletter

Choosing the Best Snack Bar for Your Travels

Dear Fellow Business Traveler,

Thank you to everyone who participated in last month's survey on snack and meal replacement bars. As many of you've discovered, bars are a convenient "grab and go" way to eat while you're on the road. What are you really eating, though? If you don't check the label, you might be surprised to find out how much sugar and fat is in your favorite bar. In this month's article, our testers compare 10 different bars, to uncover the best and worst in both taste and nutrition.

As always, there's plenty of new activity in the Travel Fitness Blog, including Travel Fit Tips and news releases from your favorite hotels and airlines.

To Your Health,
Customer Service, Healthy Travel Network and Chief Fitness Officer

squareChoose Wisely

Snack and meal replacement bars are a boon to travelers with hectic schedules. While bars are no substitute for real food (i.e., fresh vegetables, fruit, and protein), they’re a certainly a step in the right direction from burgers and fries. Plus, as those of us traveling regularly know, you can’t even get a burger and fries at 30,000 feet!

But when you grab a handful of bars at the grocery or convenience store, what are you really getting? Have you stopped to read the label to check calorie, fat, trans fats, carbohydrate, and protein content? You might be surprised at the nutritional content (or lack thereof) in your favorite bar.

The Criteria

To help you make a more informed decision, we spent some time surveying and taste testing the snack and meal replacement bar landscape. Based on research and discussion with nutritionists, we developed several rating criteria.

Note that we categorized most sports bars as meal replacement bars (perhaps somewhat erroneously). They pack a substantial amount of calories, making them inappropriate for a quick snack for the non-athlete.

Snack bars got a check mark if they have less than 200 calories each.

Meal replacement bars got a check mark if they are at least 250 calories. The rationale behind this is that you need a certain number of calories throughout the day. If you consume too few calories, you’ll be hungry and more likely to binge.
Less than 30% of calories coming from fat and less than 1/3 of total fat grams coming from saturated fats. (Fat has 9 calories per gram.)
Trans Fat
Ingredients do not include any partially hydrogenated oils.
At least 6g of fiber. Experts recommend women eat 25g of fiber per day; men should get 38g. Most American’s get less than half the recommended amount.
At least 30% of their calories coming from protein. (Protein has 4 calories per gram.)
No highly processed and refined sugars such as white sugar or corn syrup.
A totally subjective assessment of how good the bar tastes.
Retail Price
Retail price when sold individually, based on our local Raleigh, NC grocery store.

The Bars

Our selection of bars was primarily based on availability. In addition, we steered clear of “low-carb” bars, as we find them to have extremely high fat content and, as a result, high caloric content.
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We selected our bars from the “diet” aisle in the grocery store. You’ll find additional varieties in the cereal aisle. As always, be sure to check the nutrition label. Many breakfast bars are loaded with added sugar. As an example, the number 1, 2, 4, and 6 ingredients in the filling for Kellogg’s Nutri-Grain Apple Cinnamon bars are highly refined sugars—specifically, high fructose corn syrup, corn syrup, and sugar. And that’s not even the end of the story, as high fructose corn syrup and sugar both show up again in the cookie portion of the bars. (We’re not trying to pick on Kellogg’s. We know they have the ability to make a good tasting and good for you bar; one of our favorites is actually owned by Kellogg’s.)

Snack Bars
Balance Gold
Chocolate Peanut Butter
Dexatrim All in One
Lemon Bar Crisp
Kashi GoLean Crunch
Chocolate Peanut Bliss
Luna Bar
Chocolate Peppermint
Pria Nutritional Energy Snack Bar
Chocolate Peanut Crunch
Zone Perfect
Apple Cinnamon
Meal Replacement Bars
Balance Satisfaction Meal Bar
Chocolate Crisp
Lemon Poppy Seed
PowerBar Harvest
Iced Oatmeal Raisin
Slim Fast Optima Meal Bar
Oatmeal Raisin

General Thoughts

In general, while these bars are a great way to avoid snacking on junk food, they provide limited nutrition value when compared with fresh foods. In their defense, manufacturers face a big challenge; it’s difficult to duplicate Mother Nature and produce a bar that’s both good and good for you.

Many of the bars were very caloric. While most met our total fat requirement, only two bars (ClifBar and Kashi GoLean Crunch) met our saturated fat requirement. Note that many experts now recommend that you limit your saturated fat intake to only 7g per day; some of these bars have as much as 4g of saturated fat. That’s more than half of your saturated fat allowance coming from one snack alone.

Only a single bar (Balance Gold) met our fiber requirements. Word to the wise: eat your vegetables!

Only two bars (Balance Gold and Dexatrim All in One) met our protein requirements, although many of the bars were upwards of 20% protein.

Fortunately, manufacturers are getting serious about avoiding trans fats, and only two of the bars (Slim Fast Optima and Dexatrim All in One) contained any partially hydrogenated oils.

Finally, refined sugar remains the number one food additive in America, and our survey firmly confirmed that. 60% of the bars surveyed contained either white sugar or corn syrup.

Our Favorites

While everyone’s tastes are subjective, we picked our favorite snack bar and favorite meal replacement bar based on texture, flavor, and overall nutritional content. Bars that avoided trans fats, highly refined sugars and extensive preservatives helped sway our opinion.

Remember that, as with anything you put into your body, ultimately you have to make to your own choices about the foods that are “right” for you. We list our favorites and comments here only in the spirit of sharing, not as a guideline or recommendation.

Click here for our complete nutrition and taste analysis for all 10 snack and meal replacement bars.

Healthy Travel Network Favorite Snack Bar… Kashi GoLean Crunch BarTravel Fitness :: Kashi Bar
Retails for about $1.39

Overall, we like the Kashi GoLean Crunch Bars. Relatively new, the Kashi bars are unfortunately hard to find. (We found them at Target.) Don’t confuse them with the original Kashi GoLean bar, which pack on as much 100 extra calories per bar!

The GoLean Crunch bars are one of the few bars that meet both our total fat and total saturated fat requirement. In addition, we love Kashi’s approach to all natural ingredients, with minimal processing and no highly refined sugars, additives, or preservatives. You can actually save 30 calories and a gram of fat by selecting the Chocolate Carmel Karma variety, but it’s not as tasty as the Chocolate Peanut Bliss. And alas, the Sublime Lemon-Lime flavor was nowhere to be found.

Snack Bar Runner Up… Pria Nutritional Energy Snack Bar
Retails for about $0.89

Although we’re not keen on the refined sugars in this bar, the PowerBar Pria is a skinny 110 calories. That’s simply the lowest calorie bar that we could find anywhere. That coupled with its lack of trans fats and low price (lowest of the bunch, in fact) makes it a good snack choice, in our opinion.


Healthy Travel Network Favorite Meal Replacement Bar… ClifBarTravel Fitness :: ClifBar
Retails for about $1.39

Although technically a sports bar used by athletes, we like the ClifBar for its all-around goodness and 70% organic content. Besides the Kashi GoLean Crunch Bar, the ClifBar is the only other bar that met our fat requirements. And while it didn’t quite meet our fiber and protein requirements, it still provides 5g of fiber and is 20% protein.

The ClifBar comes in 14 different flavors from Lemon Poppy Seed (our favorite) to Black Cherry Almond to Peanut Toffee Buzz, so you should be able to find one that suits your fancy. At only 230 calories, the ClifBar is a little slim to be a full meal. Consider pairing it with a high-fiber salad or similar dish.

The selection of meal replacement bars seems to be fairly limited, and we didn’t find any worthy of a runner up award.

Everything in Moderation

As with anything, you should use snack and meal replacement bars in moderation. We recommend not eating more than one per day. Focus your remaining meals on fresh, unprocessed vegetables, fruit, whole grains, and lean proteins. This balanced approach will help you stay healthy and fit throughout your travels.

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