So you’re racing out the door again this morning, barely taking the time to grab a breakfast bar for breakfast. First of all, kudos to you to at least take the time to grab a breakfast bar. Breakfast remains the most important meal of the day. A quality breakfast stabilizes your blood sugar, improves your mood, keeps your brain function humming and gives you some “food-bingeing” insurance for the morning ahead of you. Breakfast bars are a great invention for those days you just don’t have the time to cook a hot breakfast or maybe it’s your go-to every morning. My goal is to give you some general guidelines for choosing the best healthy breakfast bar that fits within your parameter of taste. There are SO MANY breakfast bar choices at the grocery store, my eyes can barely take in the “Great Wall of Breakfast Bars” in one glance.
These guidelines will give you some “breakfast bar focus”:
1. Ball-Park Requirements– When I say “ball-park requirements”, don’t get caught up in exact numbers or percentages that I will enumerate. Just get the general feel for what to look for.
a. Stay below 200 calories if you are just going to your office job or even just doing a light work-out in the morning. You don’t need a major slug of calories in the morning unless you are going to seriously workout, i.e. marathon running.
b. The maximum range of 30-35% of calories from sugar. This is going to be a big elimination factor for most bars in the “Great Wall”. Think of sugar as a necessary evil in your bar. You want just the right amount so that it tastes good but you don’t want to believe you’ve just eaten a candy bar that is called a breakfast bar.
c. Fiber range of 3 grams or more. Fiber assists in giving you that feeling of fullness for the morning so you aren’t tempted by the morning goodies sitting around the office.
d. Protein range of 4-5 grams or more. Protein, coupled with fiber, gives you that satiety “one-two punch”. Protein for breakfast is also a great weight loss tool. Protein in the morning, scientific studies have shown, aids in the consumption of less calories for the remainder of the day, see Egg Breakfast Enhances Weight Loss.
2. Forget the Fake Ingredients– We are blessed in the world of ours in having such a plethora of healthy foods that grow right out of the ground. The problem comes in when man sometimes tinkers with mother nature to make those healthy products more manufacturing friendly, thus losing the natural health benefits. Two examples of ingredients that you can easily avoid in breakfast bars are fractionated palm kernel oil and soy protein isolate.
a. Fractionated Palm Kernel Oil- Understand that palm kernel oil is a cheap oil that cannot be extracted organically. It requires a gasoline-like hydrocarbon for extraction. The fractionated palm kernel oil is a further processing of the already cheapened palm kernel oil that has the effect of having a much greater concentration of saturated fat. Fractionated palm kernel oil is only great from a manufacturer’s point of view, the oil has greater stability, i.e. long-shelf life and it melts more effectively. “Palm kernel oil is about 80% saturated fat and leads to increased LDL (bad) cholesterol,” say Christine Gerbstadt, M.D., R.D., a spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.
b. Soy Protein Isolate-This is natural soy that has been technically manipulated. The scientific world does not yet know the medical effects of consuming this processed ingredient, so why take the chance when there is so many other natural ingredient breakfast bar choices out there? It is true that the natural forms of soy have proven to have numerous health benefits, i.e. edamame and fermented soy, i.e. miso, tofu, but not so with the “fake soy” product of soy protein isolate. Just take a glance the next time you are in the store. You will be amazed at the number of breakfast bars that use this ingredient as their primary source of protein.
3. Volume of Ingredients- You know the old saying that “more is better”, well that does not apply to the number of ingredients in your breakfast bar. Look for breakfast bars that have limited ingredients AND ones you can actually pronounce.
4. Fake vs. Real Test- If the bar is in a wrapper you can’t see through, lightly feel the bar. If you can feel nuts or grains that make it somewhat irregular, that is a good sign. Stay away from those bars that have that, “this came right out of a manufacturer’s machine” feeling. Better yet, if the bar is in a clear wrapper and you see seeds, nuts and dried fruit, that is a good sign for a “real food” breakfast bar.
5. Take Your Own Breakfast Bar Test- There are all types of bars out there. Some manufacturers sometimes have two types of bars, i.e. one with more grains and one with more nuts (case in point, the KIND bars). Take your own test by trying out one bar one morning and write down how you feel an hour after consuming the bar then write down how you feel two-three hours after. Try a different bar the second day. Answer these questions: Do I feel full? Is my brain able to focus? Am I tempted by the thought or site of treat foods? Your response might improve regarding your required level of energy to one bar over another. Everyone is different. This is not a one size fits all type of breakfast bar world we live in.
6. Pair Up Your Breakfast Bar with Fruit- Adding a piece of fruit to your breakfast bar meal kicks in some extra fiber we all need. Remember fiber gives you that feeling of fullness that will assist in giving you that staying power until lunch. Pick fruits like pears, apples or berries that are lower in natural sugar but high in fiber.
Here are some excellent examples of two breakfast bars that fill all of the criteria I mentioned above. I know these aren’t the only bars out there, they are just, I believe, excellent templates to look for in a bar.
The KIND Plus bar has 190 calories, 3 grams of fiber, 4 grams of protein, 10 grams of sugar (21 % sugar). It has real ingredients listed, getting it’s source of fats and protein from the nuts in the bar. It has a limited number of ingredients. You also can see all of the ingredients through the wrapper, having that irregular “real” food feel. The Kashi “Crunchy Granola & Seed” has 180 calories, 3 grams of fiber, 4 grams of protein, 9 grams of sugar (20% sugar). It also has real ingredients listed, getting it’s source of fats and protein from seeds. It also has a limited number of ingredients. You can also thumb through the wrapper for that irregular feel of actual seeds and grains. Both of these bars are also very tasty!
So the next time you’re racing out the door in the morning, please give it a second thought when you think you just have to settle for any old breakfast bar. You really do have excellent natural, healthy AND tasty choices just waiting for you at the grocery store. It just takes a little breakfast bar know-how that you NOW are armed with.