Found on USAToday.com and written by Julia Savoacool
Energy bars are known to make people a prime target for the “fitness trap” — a tendency to eat more and exercise less when foods are labeled fitness- or health-friendly. And surprisingly, eating that fitness-labeled bar might even lead people to slack off on their workouts.
A new study in the Journal of Marketing Research shows that weight-conscious people who were offered snacks labeled “Fitness Trail Mix” vs. just “Trail Mix” ate more of the healthy-label option. “The more closely people associate a product with fitness or fit people, the less conflict there is between eating enjoyment and eating control,” says study author Jörg Königstorfer of, Technische Universität München in Germany. “People eat more because they feel a food is ‘safe.'”
Yet their workouts also suffered. “This is the first research that shows that fitness branding of food not only affects energy intake but also energy expenditure,” Königstorfer says. “It is a kind of double jeopardy for weight gain, because they are eating more and exercising less.”
Scientists have observed that the “health halo” associated with branding can sway your decisions about what and how much to eat. It’s a dangerous game to play at the grocery store, where whole rows are dedicated specifically to fuel for the fitness-conscious. <JU>Powerbars, Clif Bars and the like were once considered supplements reserved for the more athletic among us, but they have merged with the mainstream.
“These bars are now more likely to pop up in the playground diaper bag or Pilates class gym bag,” says nutritionist Jennifer McDaniel, owner of McDaniel Nutrition Therapy in Clayton, Mo.
People have little guilt over eating one, or even two, bars for a snack. That’s bad news for dieters, since it turns out these bars pack more calories than many other snack options.
“People underestimate the caloric density of energy bars — they come in around 250 calories each,” McDaniel says. “But the bigger problem might be that they are easy to eat quickly, so you can finish a bar in just a few minutes and not feel satisfied.”
Who does need one? Anyone doing something physically active for more than an hour is a good candidate. “Trail mix was one of the first energy snacks on the market, and the name itself tells you who it’s for: people who are out hiking a trail for several hours a day,” McDaniel says.
Many of these bars, though, offer a good balance of protein, carbs and fats that make them better snack options over, say, a bag of chips or handful of cookies. Looks for ones that list nuts, seeds and dried fruit on their first line of ingredients, McDaniel says. Avoid labels that list partially hydrogenated oil, and limit saturated fat to 2 grams per serving.
Also, “make sure sugar is not among the first three ingredients — including alias names like agave nectar or honey,” she says. “Some energy bars are nutritionally sound, but others are essentially candy bars that have been injected with a multivitamin.”
What’s in a bar?
PowerBar Peanut Butter Performance Energy
Calories: 240; Protein: 9g; Carbs: 44g; Fat: 4g
The scoop: One of the original energy bars, PowerBar’s heavily-processed consistency is anything but natural, but it makes them easy to digest if you are truly on the run.
Clif Bar Oatmeal Raisin Walnut
Calories: 240; Protein: 10g; Carbs: 43g; Fat: 5g
The scoop: Hints of real raisins and walnuts tease the taste buds, but still formulated for easy eating during exercise.
Picky Bar Need for Seed
Calories: 200; Protein: 7g; Carbs: 28g; Fat: 7g
The scoop: Nut, soy, gluten and dairy-free, this bar is perfect for anyone with just about any kind of food allergy. Made by a team of pro athletes who formed a small company to take on the energy bar giants.
ProBar Fuel Cran-Rasberry
Calories: 160; Protein: 3g; Carbs: 33g; Fat: 3g
The scoop: Lower in calories, but smaller, too. The company uses mostly whole ingredients that are GMO-free and organically sourced.
KIND Fruit and Nuts in Yogurt bar
Calories: 200; Protein: 5g; Carbs: 19g; Fat: 13g
The scoop: Made from whole ingredients, but higher in fat and lower in carbs than others.
Calories: 110; Protein: 1g; Carbs: 30g; Fat: 0g
The scoop: Mother Nature’s snack comes pre-wrapped and fat-free. Lowest of all in calories and fat, but lacking in protein. (Boost it by adding 1 oz of low-fat cheese for another 70 calories and 8g of protein.)