With all the imposters and saboteurs getting in the way of our ‘health food’, eating well is pretty damn hard. I’ve reached for granola and protein bars many times, assuming they’re a wholesome snack, topped with grains and nuts.
But are they?
I spoke to a number of experts to help break down the ingredients, calorie count and everything else to call the bluff on these sneakily sinful foods masquerading as healthy.
What To Look For in a Health Bar?
The first step is to bypass the marketing jargon on the front and go straight to the ingredient list on the back. There’s not one single guide to walk you through what’s healthy, what’s not but scroll down to know what’s just a code for a chemical and what’s really, truly good for you:
Thumb rule of reading calorie charts: the ingredient which comes right at the top is present in maximum quantity. So in a healthy bar, sugar should be as low as possible, somewhere between 8 to 10 grams per bar.
The depth of processing is not that hard to figure. Rule of thumb: the more ingredients on the label that you can’t pronounce, the more processed it will be.
A regular-sized Snickers bar, for instance, has 250 calories, 12 grams of fat and 27 grams of sugar. A chocolate chip health bar has the same number of calories and more grams of fat.
But more than the quantity of fat, the type of fat is a concern. Avoid health bars with hydrogenated or partially-hydrogenated ingredients - these are codes for trans fats. If you are a heart patient, then look out for the saturated fat content also, anything more than 5 to 7 grams of saturated fats is unhealthy.
The Type of Protein
Whey powder, the milk fluid produced (and often discarded) in cheese-making, and brown rice protein are the ideal sources of protein in an energy bar. But rising demand in China has sent whey prices soaring, and manufacturers are increasingly using a less expensive source: soy concentrate and other soybean derivatives. Pea flour is gaining ground, too.
Nutrition on the Go!
No one really needs supplement protein, the Indian Medical Association agrees. Athletes need higher amounts of protein than the rest of us, but it is generally advisable to get it through meals. There’s nothing magical about health bars and doctors advise that they shouldn’t replace meals. Maybe a banana and a handful of nuts will be just as quick to grab and healthier in the long run.
Sorry, I’m not sorry if I just ruined your “healthy” afternoon snack. For more health bombs read here.