Q: I am trying to lose weight and wondered what you thought about protein/energy-type bars. My schedule is so hectic I end up skipping meals, and then I’m starving once I finally get home, so I overeat. I need something convenient I can take along as a snack when I’m on the go, but will still allow me to lose weight the right way.
A: I normally don’t like to recommend protein/energy bars, as they tend to replace healthier foods in the diet. They are processed, often containing additives, fillers, etc. that aren’t found in “real” food. They also tend to contain too much sugar, which can be a problem for anyone trying to cut back and/or stop their cravings for sweets.
That said, for most people, having a protein bar every now and then is going to be OK. I wouldn’t use it as an everyday go-to snack.
On occasions when you do opt for an energy or protein bar, read labels and look for high fiber and low calories, fat and sugars. If you plan to consume the entire bar, then remember to look at how many servings per bar are noted and calculate calories accordingly.
A quick look at the ingredient list will also help you to choose wisely.
Avoid bars that include hydrogenated oils. The first few listed ingredients should be ones that you recognize.
Ideas for healthier snack choices include fruit and veggies of any kind, yogurt, seeds (especially sunflower and pumpkin), nuts such as almonds, walnuts or cashews, and hard-boiled eggs, which are easy to take along and are only about 70 calories.
Other options include almond/peanut/cashew butter, snack-packs of tuna, and no/low-fat string cheese. I often advise staying away from too much dairy, but string cheese is one exception because it is very low calorie, easy to eat on the go and a good protein source.
Some quick and easy examples to consider:
- Half an apple with 1 tablespoon almond or peanut butter
- Yogurt mixed with fruit or nuts
- String cheese with veggies or fruit
- Tuna with veggies or fruit
- Hummus with veggies
- Hard-boiled eggs with veggies or a piece of fruit
- Celery with peanut butter
- Half a PB&J sandwich on whole-grain bread
Tip: Instead of having the same snack over and over again, mix it up. The reason for this is your body needs all of the vitamins/minerals, and certain foods contain only certain ones. Rotating through different snacks helps to ensure you get more of all essential nutrients. Do your best to consume meals that contain protein, complex carbohydrates and healthy fat.
An inexpensive option for many people is to make their own protein/energy bars, using ingredients such as rolled oats, peanut butter and/or nuts, raisins or other dried fruit and a sprinkling of protein powder (whey, soy or goat milk powders are available in most health-food stores). Many recipes for homemade bars can be found online.
With a busy schedule, along with establishing a workable eating plan, properly planning your daily exercise routine is absolutely key to reaching goals. Physical activity is a great stress-buster, and it burns significant calories and fires up your metabolism. Even if you only have a few minutes here and there, as long as you are up and moving, you can reap benefits.
Marjie Gilliam is a personal trainer and fitness consultant. E-mail: marjie(at)ohtrainer.com.