Passing The Bar

Meal-replacement bars have almost become their own food group entirely. It seems nearly every celebrity or professional athlete first creates his or her own perfume or shoe line then gets down and dirty in the kitchen to either make or endorse some sort of new, perfect “miracle” bar.

Eating real food that you prepared from real ingredients is always better than plucking something off a store shelf, but who always has time for that? Sometimes you just need the convenience, and that is nothing to feel guilty about.

When choosing the right bar for you, consider what you hold to be most important in your diet. Are you concerned with the bar’s number of calories? Do you need to keep your sugar intake low? What about a special diet? Are you gluten-free, vegan or just a purist who doesn’t want a ton of chemicals in your foods? No matter your style, just like with apps, there’s a bar for that.

If you have no idea where to begin, I always search for bars using three simple rules: they are about 200 calories; they contain less than 25 grams of sugar; and they provide at least 10 grams of protein. I find this to be the best tasting and healthiest possible ratio in the ever-expanding world of bars.

To any meal-bar newbies, I would suggest starting with the Pure Protein brand. They seem to generally be on sale, they follow my personal three rules and they offer a wide variety of flavors from which to choose.

Here are a few other gold medal winners selected from a local Columbus grocery store:

Best Value Bar Simple Truth Protein
At five bars for $4, this product is definitely a bargain. Simple Truth is the new Kroger brand of health-oriented foods and products. This bar also fits pretty nicely within the three rules. These bars taste good, too, for being so new on the market. Just don’t get confused … Simple Truth also makes an “Energy” bar and a “Nutrition” bar that are less nutritious in my opinion, and they are found right next to the “Protein” version.

Best Special Diet Bar LARABAR
Any special diet you name, Larabar makes a corresponding snack for it. There are vegan bars, dairy-free bars, gluten-free bars, kosher bars and everything in between. Just make sure you read the package carefully. Another nice thing about these bars is that you can probably pronounce all of the ingredients, and most have less than five total ingredients listed on the package. If you are used to more “processed” protein bars, give these a couple tries before you decide they aren’t for you. They definitely taste different, but the health benefits of eating real food instead of chemicals can be substantial.

Best Bar for Women Luna Protein Bars or regular Luna Bars
These bars are made by the Clif company, so you know they are good. They are best for ladies because of their increased calcium and folate content. They also closely follow along with the rules, although the regular Luna bars don’t have quite as much protein as I would like. Gentlemen, these bars are pretty tasty, so while us girls won’t judge you for chowing down on one post workout, I can’t say the same for your gym buddies … better save it to eat in the car on the way home.

Best Tasting Bar Snickers Marathon Energy Bar
What do you expect from a company that specializes in candy bars? These bars are so good that even though I left my wallet at home when I went to the store to research, when I saw they were on sale for $1 apiece, I immediately ran home to get money and stock up. The best part is that they follow my rules while tasting like candy. The tricky part about these bars is that every store I go to, they are hidden in the nutrition section by the pharmacy and aren’t on the shelves where you would expect them to be. Trust me, they are worth the search.

Best Total Meal-Replacement MET-Rx Big 100 Colossal
If you are looking for a bar to completely replace a meal, this is it. Unless a bar is for post-workout or a snack, I usually have to pair it with a banana or another 100- to 200-calorie food. If you want to skip all the hassle of adding foods to your bar of choice, go with this big daddy. They’re more than 400 calories apiece, with all the protein and taste you need but without entirely too much sugar. The day I was at the store they were three for $5, which isn’t too shabby when you calculate that $1.67 just bought your entire lunch.