Food manufacturers struck gold when they invented food in bar form. It packed easily, and provided a quick snack fix to fill the gap between meals or during and after workouts.
But with all the fine print on the wrapper featuring ingredients indecipherable to anyone without a chemistry degree, it’s difficult to sort the gold bars from the lead. We consulted Karlien Smit, dietician with Shelly Meltzer and Associates to guide us through the options.
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They’re convenient – and can form part of a healthy diet when eaten in moderation. They do, however, vary in terms of their ingredients and some may contain unhealthy fats and lots of sugar and additives.
Tip Read the food labels and choose lower fat (less than five grams of fat per bar), lower sugar and higher fibre bars, leaving out those with a long list of additives. Bars are not equal in weight. To make the task of comparison easier, the table shows the nutritional value per 100g.
They generally offer a quick, concentrated source of energy. Ideally, this energy should predominantly come from carbohydrates. In some situations, such as during ultra-endurance events, a bar with added protein and/or fat can be beneficial. The fibre content ranges between different sports bars. Those lower in fibre are ideal just before or during training or when you have a limited appetite.
Tip Some sports bars may have added “ergogenic substances” (creatine, glutamine). Professional athletes must take care when buying these to ensure there is no risk of contamination with banned substances.
Chocolate (especially dark chocolate ) contains flavonoids that have been linked to lowering the risk of heart disease and enhancing immune function. Cocoa and chocolate have also been reported to release certain compounds (phenylethylamine) that increase energy and stamina and produce some mood-lifting and even aphrodisiac effects by firing up the neurotransmitters and endorphins in the brain. Most chocolate bars contain added sugar and fat, which results in a concentrated source of kilojoules (energy).
Tip If you are controlling your kilojoule intake it is important to manage your portion sizes*. Some chocolate bars contain partially hydrogenated vegetable fat (“trans fat”) that raises bad (LDL) cholesterol. You don’t want that in your system. In certain chocolate bars, like Canderel chocolate, some sugar is replaced with artificial sweeteners to provide the same amount of sweetness. However, they are higher in fat than regular chocolate. What is interesting is that this bar contains added fibre (five grams per bar).