How healthy are health bars?

How Healthy Are Health Bars?

Listen to my thoughts on Health Bars during my PowerFM Interview by playing the sound clip below: 

In today’s market there is a huge variety of different ‘health bars’. Not all bars are created equally, some are labeled as powerbars, energy bars, snack bars, brain boosting bars, cereal bars, diet bars and protein bars to name a few. This can be very confusing in what bar should you choose to eat as all the food companies are competing against each other for your approval in buying.

Health bars were initially developed for the endurance athlete who wanted to improve his/her athletic performance. But today everyone, from the workaholic sitting behind his desk to the super-mom running errands and running after the kids are opting ‘health bars’ as their lunch on the go.

The problem with bars comes in with the fact that it is not whole foods. This means it has been taken from a natural form, manufactured according to a specific recipe and then labelled strategically so as to lure the consumer in to buy.

Some of the main ingredients added into these bars are sugar, saturated fat and salt. If you eat these three ingredients individually or together on a very regular basis you will overload your liver with fat and sugar and your liver will then cope by making VLDL which is Very-low- density-lipo-proteins. This is a very sticky fat that can clog your arteries and block blood flow to your heart and brain. This can result in stroke and heart attacks. Sports companies add extra salt to some of their products as this is required by endurance athletes during training. But for the workaholic and super-mom, there is no real need for added salt. Excessive salt intake can affect the functioning of the kidneys and increase your risk of developing hypertension.

These bars are very convenient for the “on the go” person, but they are still labeled as snack food. Over the past two decades the obesity epidemic has increased, especially in children and one of the main reason for this is that we are not eating full meal anymore. We are relying on convenience snack food. The problem is that the snack food will give just as much energy or more as a whole meal consisting of good quality starch, protein and vegetables, but not the same nutritional quality or satisfaction. This can lead to people eating more than one snack at a time and ultimately overeating.

Health bars need to be used in moderation and for the correct purpose. Make a conscious decision and read the food label. This is very important in helping you decide which bar will suit you the best. Some bars do not assist endurance athletes with sustainable energy as expected, and some bars have the same amount of sugar as a regular candy bar.

How to make a mindful decision next time you choose a bar:

First look at the ingredients list on the bar and see what ingredients they have added. Then move on to the nutritional content label. Normally it is a good reference to compare different bars per 100g. Try and choose the bar with the least ingredients added.


If you are eating the bar as a snack you want the total energy not to be more than 200 calories or 830 kilojoules. If you are choosing a bar with more nutrient dense foods like fruit and nuts, then the total calorie count for the bar can go up to 250. It is much better to eat more nutrient dense foods than only puffed rice. If you want to use the bar for lunch it will be highly recommended to add whole foods to the bar, for example adding yogurt and a piece of fruit to your bar can make a great breakfast or lunch on the go.


A bar containing 4-5 grams of protein will help keep hunger at bay. If you have the bar as a main meal like lunch, opt for a bar with 15g of total protein content.


Fibre is an ingredient we as humans can’t digest but it is such an amazing ingredient to help with gut health, controlling your insulin levels and burning unwanted body fat. Many bars will claim they are high in fibre and have the recommended 6g/100g fibre or more. But to make sure the bar is better than the opponent you are comparing it to, make sure ½ the fibre content in the bar comes from whole-food ingredients. You can see the type of fibre added on the ingredients list of the bar.


They type of fat in the product is really important. Many bars are very high in saturated fats. If the fat in the product comes from oil or nuts, then it is more acceptable than if the fat content is coming from an animal product like full cream milk or butter. The total fat content per 100g needs to be 10g of which the saturated fat needs to be 1/3 rd of the total fat. (2g). If you find a bar that is less than 5g /100g of fat then that bar is even better.


Sugar has many aliases like glucose, corn syrup, honey, sucrose, galactose, fructose, agave and molasses to name a few. If any of these aliases are high on the list of ingredients, then it will be better to choose another bar. Look instead for bars that contain sugar in the form of fruit, dates, and raisins as you will be getting extra nutrients from that.

Sodium (salt):

Many bars do not contain much salt in them but you still need to make a mindful decision when choosing the best bar for your need. Make sure that the sodium content of the bar is less than 200mg/100g or less than 100mg/100g if you have a medical conditional requiring monitoring your salt intake.

If your bar does not fall completely into the above mentioned category it does not mean it is off limits. You need to determine the purpose you will be using it for, if the bar contains whole foods and whether the bar will benefit you. You will be faced with choices every day.

Make the right choice most of the time.

Make your own:

Power bar

(Makes 30 bars)

  • 125 ml cake flower (½C)
  • 2.5 ml salt (½ t)
  • 125 ml oat bran (½C)
  • 125 ml ProNutro, whole-wheat, original or apple bake (½C)
  • 125ml high fibre cereal, crushed (½C)
  • 250 ml lower GI oats (1C)
  • 1 large apple, peeled and grated
  • 125ml sultanas, dates or dried mango (½C)
  • 1 egg
  • 75 ml low fat plain yogurt (5 T)
  • 45ml oil, canola (3T)
  • 90 ml soft brown sugar (6T)
  • 30 ml of syrup (2T)
  • 2.5ml bicarbonate of soda (½ t)

1. Preheat the oven to 180°C and grease a swiss roll pan with a paper towel

2. Sift the flower and the salt into a large bowl. Add the oatbran, whole-wheat proNutro, cereal and oats.

3. Add the grated apple, sultanas, egg and yoghurt and mix well.

4. Heat the oil, sugar and syrup together in a sauce pan, stirring until the sugar has dissolved. Remove from the stove.

5. Add bicarbonate of soda, stirring until the mixture foams. Pour over the dry ingredients. Mix well, making sure that all the dry ingredients are moistened. The dough will be crumbly.

6. Spoon the dough onto the lightly greased swiss roll pan and press it out smoothly to about 1.5 cm thick, filling half the pan only.

7. Bake for 25-30 minutes, until golden brown.

8. Cut into 30 mini bars while still warm, using a warmed knife.

9. Leave to cool on a wire cooling rack.

Energy bar

  • 125ml natural peanut butter, almond butter, or nut butter of your choice (½ C)
  • 62 ml skim milk dry milk powder (¼ C)
  • 62 ml unsweetened flaked coconut ( ¼ C)
  • 80 ml rolled oats (1/3C)
  • 2.5 ml ground cinnamon (½ t)
  • 62 ml wheat germ (¼ C)
  • 62 ml unsweetened apple juice concentrate, thawed (¼ C)

1. Mix all ingredients thoroughly and form into bars or balls. Place in a pan layered with grease paper. Store in refrigerator

AUTHOR: Tanya Alberts RD (SA)

About the author:

Tanya has been providing dietary guidance since 2009 as a registered dietician licensed in South Africa. Her goal is to help patients understand the connection between diet and diagnosis for improved nutritional well being.

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