The Truth About Nutrition Bars

The Truth About Nutrition Bars

In a recent study published by consumerlabs.com 30 nutrition bars were broken down/analyzed and over 60% of the bars failed to meet labeling claims! What is really in your “health or nutrition bar”?

Thank you to Rachel for the suggestion on this topic.

Meal replacement bars, snack bars, weight loss bars, energy bars, and protein bars are a convenient and easy way for people to get a quick snack or meal when they are on the go. The problem is that 99% of the products out there are loaded with carbs and sugars that spike insulin levels and promote fat storage. Despite the hidden ingredients and artificial additives, marketing gurus have duped consumers into thinking that these “nutrition bars” are an excellent source of vitamins and minerals when in reality this is far from the truth. The FDA claims that it currently does not have any formal guidelines for nutrition bars or the labeling on nutrition bars.

The Breakdown

“Protein Bar” is an extremely deceptive term.  Most bars contain more carbs than protein. The consumer labs study found that a typical bar is made up of

  • 49% of calories from carbohydrates (mostly from sugars)
  • 29% of calories from protein
  • 22% of calories from fat
What To Stay Away From 
Clif Bars
The concern here is the 45 grams of carbs and 21 grams of sugar (for comparison a snickers bar has 35 grams of carbs and 28 sugars). If you are not an endurance athlete than that amount of carbs in the form of a small snack is way to high. Ever notice how the Clif Bar rapper conveniently covers the ingredient list. Here is why. With over 30 ingredients, it is hard to decipher what exactly the bar is made up of.  Organic rice syrup, evaporated cane juice, organic evaporated can juice, organic date paste, are all fancy names for sugar that make up this so-called “nutrition bar”. While ingredients like evaporated cane juice are not as detrimental to refined sugar, it is close enough.
The Take Away– Stay away from Clif bars
Atkins Advantage Bar
With Atkins Advantage you get more bang for you buck because the lower carb and sugar levels. You also get a solid 15 grams of protein with only 210 calories. The unfortunate part is the saturated fat and ingredients. With over 50 ingredients, there are several hidden land mines such as glycerin, sucralose, cellulose, artificial flavors, which are all code names for SUGARS!
The take away- Eat only if there is no whole/unprocessed foods available like fruit or nuts.
Nature Valley Bar
I commend General Mills for their bold and forthright honesty. They are not trying to hide anything. The second ingredient is SUGAR! With high levels of carbohydrates and sugar, nature valley bars have nothing “natural” about them. High fructose corn syrup and brown sugar syrup are two ingredients that have single handily added to the obesity problems in the US.
The take away- Don’t even think about it
Power Bars
This label is also very informative as it provides the disclaimer that the FDA has no regulation over these “health bars”. With 45 carbs,  27 grams of sugar, ingredients such as evaporated cane juice, glucose syrup, and fructose, a power bar is basically a glorified candy bar. At least they have less than 30 ingredients as opposed to some of the other examples listed right?
The take away- If you are going to have something with the nutritional equivalent of a candy bar why not actually have a candy bar that tastes great? Opt for a snickers or twix instead.
Why so much sugar?

In their early development, nutrition bars were bland and primarily eaten by fitness enthusiasts. However, the bars underwent a transformation to appeal to general consumers. The bland, stiff, and protein packed bars didn’t necessarily appeal to the general population. To compensate, manufacturers made their products more flavorful by adding corn syrup, sugar, sugar alcohols, artificial sweeteners, artificial flavors, colors and hydrogenated oils, which are all bad for your health.

What To Eat Instead

Kind Bar

Definitely the best nutrition bar out there. The calorie, carbohydrate, protein, and sugar content is a well-balanced mixture that can provide an adequate snack  in between meals. What I love about these bars is the simplicity of the ingredients and the natural additives. Unlike the rest of the bars, you don’t see a list of 30 ingredients with names that are too long to pronounce.

The take away– A good snack that offers a variety from eating nuts or dried fruits by themselves or with trail mix.

Conclusion

As a general guideline, the less ingredients the better. Eating something in its most natural state is always your best bet. The best example I can think of is a product like peanut butter. When buying peanut butter look for one ingredient, PEANUTS! Avoid products with ingredients other than peanuts like what you see in most commercial products.  For example, Jif regular peanut butter’s list of ingredients includes peanuts, salt, sugar, fully hydrogenated vegetable oils, and diglycerides. I never encourage people to eat anything processed like nutrition bars but I understand there or some times when nothing else is available. If that is the case, choose something like a KIND Bar where there are only a few ingredients or prepare ahead and always carry around some nuts and fruits.

Thanks for reading and let me know if you have any comments or questions.

From South Bend,

Kevin
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Cheat Day

Cheat Day

A wake up call statement before we get started. The FDA makes no serious effort to control the use of the word “natural” on nutrition labels. Case in point: 7UP boasts that it’s made with “100% Natural Flavors” when, in fact, the soda is sweetened with a decidedly un-natural dose of high fructose corn syrup. Be careful of misleading food labels.

The concept of a cheat meal or cheat day has been around since the inception of diet’s themselves. Staying disciplined for 7-14 days in a row can be both physically and mentally challenging. Whether you are trying to gain muscle or lose weight, eating a disciplined diet that is filled with protein, healthy complex carbohydrates, and adequate caloric intake can be become monotonous. This is where the “cheat meal” or “cheat day” comes into play. Most of the issues people have with dieting are mental and not physical. Cravings are powerful and can be taxing on the physical and mental side of humans. The good thing is cheat days or cheat meals can actually have physical benefits for your metabolism as well as giving you a mental break

Physically

Cheat meals keep the body guessing. Similar to when your muscles adapt to the same exercises and rep range from routine and repetitiveness, your metabolism adjusts based on your calorie levels in the same fashion. Just when your body starts to think it has things figured out you surprise it with a radical change in your diet. If you eat the same thing everyday within a few weeks your body will adapt to the caloric intake. You have to spice things up and keep the body confused.

The Science

Leptin is a protein hormone that plays a key role in regulating energy intake and energy expenditure, including appetite and metabolism. Leptin signifies a slowing metabolism. Whenever you are on a diet for an extended period of time, your body will begin to adjust its metabolic functions in an effort to ‘make due’ with the amount of fuel that it is being given. Your goal is to periodically kick your leptin levels back up so as to avoid the intense physical hunger and the slowed-to-a-crawl metabolism.

Psychologically

The cheat meal can provide a mental break even more so than as a physical break. Mid-week cravings can be pushed aside knowing that you have an awesome reward in the form of a meal coming on the weekend. Allowing yourself this mental break can inhibit future cravings in the weeks to come.

Sunday Brunch; My Cheat Meal

 

Recommendations

Leptin is highly responsive to glucose metabolism. So, when eating a cheat meal,  you will benefit much more if the majority of your excess calories are coming from good sources of carbohydrates that will turn into glucose.  One day a week increase your caloric intake by 25 to 50% in any way you want but preferably in the form of healthy carbohydrates. The sudden spike in your calories will keep the body guessing and force your metabolism to readjust following the meal along with giving you a mental break.

Thanks for reading and let me know if you have any questions or comments.

From South Bend,

Kevin

The Difference In Cardio Machines

The Difference In Cardio Machines

Here is a great nutrition tip before I talk about cardio machines

Immediately after waking up, drink 16 oz of cold water to get your metabolism fired up. Studies show that drinking cold water can increase metabolism as much as 25% for 2 hours after finishing.

According to a study by the The University of California at San Francisco’s Human Performance Center, cardio machines overestimate calorie-burn by shocking amounts. (http://abcnews.go.com/GMA/Weekend/exercise-calorie-counters-work/story?id=9966500#.T1p_TvF8C80 the link to the study)

Treadmill: Overestimated calories burnt by 13%

Stationary Bike: Overestimated calories burnt by 7%

Stair Climber: Overestimated calories burnt by 12%.

Elliptical: Overestimated calories burnt by 42%

First off, there is no right or wrong answer here. Hopping on a cardio machine and doing the simplest of workouts is beneficial, and if nothing else, is useful for burning off calories from the ice cream you had the night before. With that being said, there are definitely some programs and machines that are more beneficial than others. As a general “wake up call” statement, documented studies suggest that treadmills and other cardio machines actually overestimate calories burned by up to 42%. Using cardio machines entails moving the large muscles in your body. These muscles require large amounts of oxygen which is circulated into your blood with the end goal of raising your heart rate. Taking this into account, the machine that requires the largest muscles to move the most should create the largest benefits, right? Lets take a closer look below at what I find to be the most effective machines. (4 most common machines)

1. Treadmill 

Benefits

  • Versatility– From a brisk walk to an uphill sprint, treadmills offer a wide range of tools in terms of speed, incline, and training programs.
  • Emulates Natural Movements– As technology continues to develop, fitness moguls are developing new machines that can be awkward or confusing. The treadmill is a familiar, and mostly natural movement for the human body that doesn’t allow you to rely on momentum to power the machine.
  • Seniority– Treadmills have been around since the 1800’s and are a staple at every gym and most homes.Naturally, they have been researched, developed, and perfected more than any other piece of cardio equipment.
  • Consistent Surface– As opposed to running outside, where you can encounter rocks, cracks, and other uneven surfaces, treadmills allow you to run on a consistent surface, year-round.
  • Full Body– Walking and running are rooted from the strides your legs are forced to make. In order to stride forward you have to engage your core and utilize momentum from your upper body.

Downfalls

  • Tough On Joints– In general, running can put stress on your spine, hips, knee, and ankle joints.
  • Safety Issue– Doing incline sprints can be dangerous if you are really “pushing the limits.”
  • Unnatural Handles Often times, people like to know their heart rate and find their target heart rate zone. Trying to hold on to the treadmill handles while you are running can be challenging and awkward.
  • Posture Problems Some studies show that the size of the belt can cause people to change the way they walk or run, leading to muscle imbalances and posture problems.
  • Difficulty– Running(especially on an incline) is hard. People are lazy. People will use the machine they find to be “easiest” and use that specific machine as a way to burn calories.
Consensus 
Overall, I think treadmills are the most effective cardio machine mainly because of the versatility in programs and the amount of muscles groups that are affected by a forward stride. I am a huge proponent of hill intervals (both walking and running) and I think using a treadmill to complete a high intensity training program can work wonders for your fitness goals.

2. Stair-Climber.

Benefits

  • Non Impact Conditioning Unlike the stress of running on a treadmill, stair masters can provide similar cardiovascular benefits without putting your joints in a vulnerable position.
  • Muscle Memory Almost everyone is guilty of taking the elevator or escalator in today’s technology-driven world. Naturally, the muscles in our legs become accustomed to a walking or running stride. Using a stair stepper will activate different muscles groups that may have been ignored in the past.
  • The Legs Feed The Wolf- The stair stepper is a great way to build leg muscles and increase lower body endurance. It also allows you to work on your balance and work on rehabilitative exercises.
Downfalls
  • Lower Body Specific- Climbing stairs definitely burns the quads and glutes, but your upper body is used sparingly in a stair stepper.
  • “Convenient” Handle Placement– The geniuses that created the stair stepper made handles that are easily accessible and almost invite you to hold on to them which can cause decreased energy output by your actual legs.
  • One Dimensional– You can’t change the incline on most stair steppers like you can with the treadmills which limits the overall versatility.
Consensus
Muscle memory is no joke. Using a stair stepper should be added to your weekly exercise regimen to activate different muscles in your legs that have become dormant due to technology-not your own personal laziness of taking the elevator everyday. (Yes I am guilty too)
3. The Elliptical 
Benefits
  • Non Impact Conditioning– Much like the stair stepper, the elliptical allows your body to emulate a running motion without causing the strenuous impact of actually running.
  • Cross-Training Aspect– Most ellipticals are now equipt with moveable handles which allow you to exercise your upper body and lower body simultaneously.
  • Reverse- Most ellipticals allow you to stride in reverse which can activate different muscle groups and put more emphasis on your quads.

Downfalls

  • Laziness– Ellipticals were a product of human complaint. “too hard”, “too much stress on my legs”. If running actually does cause pain on your joints, try an inclined/brisk walk on a treadmill. Check your heart rate and see how it compares to the elliptical.
  • Gravity- Elliptical pedals are suspended off the ground and lack the “weight-bearing effect” that is utilized when running.  Weight-bearing exercises strengthen bones and muscles, and is particularly important for older people in preventing osteoporosis.
  • Momentum- Operating an elliptical, especially on lower levels, can allow you to use the machines’ momentum to compensate for actual work output

The Consensus

If performed efficiently, the elliptical can be used as a valuable cardiovascular machine with interval training and tough, cross-training programs. Unfortunately, this is generally not the case. The elliptical’s reputation as the “lazy mans treadmill” is exactly that. Not to mention that ellipticals outrageously overestimate calorie expenditure.

4. The Stationary Bike

Benefits

  • Lower Body Endurance Bikes are great tools to build lower body strength, endurance, and stamina.
  • Limited Stress On Joints- Like the elliptical, the bike does not impose your entire body weight on your joints but stills allow you to reap enormous benefits.
  • Great For Rehabilitation- Bikes are great tools for people with pulled muscles or recovering from a lower-body injury.
  • Difficulty Factor- Cranking the resistance up on a bike can force you into a standing position and as a result cause enormous caloric expenditure.
Downfalls
  • Human Nature The average human spends 9.3 hours a day sitting. Why would you want to sit during exercise?
  • One Dimensional- The bike focuses primarily on lower body performance.

Conclusion

DON’T RELY ON CALORIE ESTIMATES BY CARDIO MACHINES. Joe Smith, exercise physiologist at UCSF’s Human Performance Center said the overestimation is not surprising.”I think the estimations are just that. You can’t necessarily believe everything you read on those machines.” However, cardio machines can be a great resource if you use them efficiently. Going on a 20 minute elliptical stroll will burn SOME calories, but will not give you the same benefits as an interval program on a treadmill. I give everyone credit for going to the gym and getting on a machine but why wouldn’t you use your time efficiently?

My Suggestion

Mix it up. Try different programs on different machines to constantly keep the body guessing. Rowing machines have started to make a return (thanks crossfit) and can be used as a great asset as well. Chances are, the machine you dislike the most is probably the one that is the hardest and causing the greatest amount of work output by your body. Lastly, spend one day a week doing some form of intervals. (See my Dec. 16 post for more on interval training)

Thanks for reading. Let me know if you have questions or comments.

From South Bend,

 Kevin