“Healthy” energy bars?


Runners run races for many reasons, but what gets most of us through them is the promise of something edible at the finish line. Today was no different, although in my case I was hoping most for plain old water. Mary Ann wanted coffee. I got water, she got coffee, and we both took a few of the “energy bars” laid out on the post-run table. True to form, though, neither of us ate them.

We did, however, read the ingredients. Eye roll. Double eye roll. Next to us, Abbie Fett, another Blufftonite, albeit a much younger one, was eyeing the ingredients of her own high protein, carb controlled bar that claims to “satisfy the nutritional needs” of athletes. Triple eye roll.

Okay, even the three of us — nonprofessionals — know that’s all bunk. A crock. A pile of…well, you get the idea. As any nutrition-conscious layperson who has done any amount of research on what’s good for the gut knows that while the protein blend may contain such healthy ingredients as soy and milk proteins, peanuts, nonfat mik and assorted vitamins, the rest of the stuff could easily counteract any good a body might derive from digesting one of these bars. Read on: malitol syrup, dextrin, malitol, maltodextrin, sucralose (various forms of sugar), fractionated palm kernal oil and partially hydrogenated soybean oil. Red flags all over the place.

That set off a discussion of the various “energy” bars we’ve found to be acceptable. One, they should have a minimum of processed sugars. Two, the minimal amount of ingredients is preferable. Three, they must taste good.

Over the years, we’ve each learned that homemade is still the best and — honestly — take very little time to make. Try one of these — feel free to vary yours with assorted dried fruits, nuts, and (unsweetened) cereals/grains.

Mary Ann’s energy bars contain only three ingredients — dates, dried cherries, and almonds. Moosh them all together into a bar or ball.

Abbie’s cereal bars include peanut butter, honey and cereal. Warm 1/2 c. peanut butter and 1/2 c. honey in the microwave. Add 1 c. cereal, put in a pan in the fridge and let cool and harden. Abbie says she sometimes adds raisins.

My own version dates back about 25 years when I began trying healthier, homemade foods on my kids. The added attraction of this is that kids LOVE to help make these. In fact, one of their babysitters once brought this and told them it was “edible playdough”. Mix in a large bowl: 1/2 c. honey, 1/2 c. peanut butter, 1 c. dry milk solids, 1 c. uncooked rolled oats. Knead until blended, shape into small balls. It was one way to be sure the girls got a good chunk of protein, dairy and whole grains each day. A friend told me that she makes the same version and rolls the dough into a cylinder and rolls it in crushed nuts (almonds, walnuts), then slices. 

Sure, all of these take at least a few minutes to prepare, and yes, you have to make sure you have the ingredients. But the amount of time is negligible — certainly less time than it would take you to drive to the store to buy that purported “energy bar”.  But if it’s necessary to buy one, be sure to read the ingredients — watch for trans fats (hydrogenated or fractionated are the key “bad” words), high sugar content, fiber, whole grains and a good balance of carbs and proteins.

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4 responses to ““Healthy” energy bars?

  1. I like to see the following at the end of a race: bananas, oranges, apples, pineapple, grapes and other fruits, plus bagels and, certainly a must, water. If it’s a long run (20+ miles), baked potatoes (maybe dipped in a little sea salt) are great. I guess you wouldn’t want to be anywhere near the big “B” fruit, but most runners seem to find them rehabilitative.

  2. Pannabecker Steiner Mary

    Yeah, no bananas for me, but oranges are good and actually have LOTS of potassium. Yesterday, I’d have gone for hot chocolate even though I don’t really like it. Better than coffee, though. I was disappointed — I really like fruit and bagels the best.

  3. Andrea Clements

    I totally agree re: “health bars.” Ryan and I just discovered Larabars and they are awesome. The one I had most recently was Cashew Cookie. Ingredients? Cashews and Dates. Now that’s MY kind of HEALTH bar!

    (It’s been good to see you so much lately!)

    • Pannabecker Steiner Mary

      Thanks so much for your comment. Now think how easy those would be to make!
      (And I’m really happy to see you!)

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