What do you keep stashed in your desk drawer at work? A couple pens, files, a rubber band ball, and maybe an emergency snack bar or two? If you said yes to the latter, what brand and flavor did you pick? Snack bars, power bars, protein bars - whatever you want to call them - have blown up in popularity in the last few years, with enough brands and flavors now to take over entire grocery store aisles. While it can be fun to decide between chocolate-coconut with sea salt or maple-pecan and blueberry, it can also be overwhelming to try to figure out which bars are actually healthy, and which ones aren’t.
This matters in particular for employees working in companies trying to create a culture of onsite wellness, because what employees eat throughout the day can affect productivity. According to an article in Healthline, employee productivity, energy levels, and well-being decreases if their food choices are poor. Reaching for a snack bar that’s filled with not the best ingredients, for example, could make the last three hours of the work day that much harder to get through, which is not a good thing if deadlines are looming.
So, how are you supposed to choose the right kind of bar, when there’s so many options? Registered Dietitian Nutritionist, Carina Chiodo, shares her 5 Power Points for Picking out a Power Bar in this article, which you and your colleagues can use to make smart choices about what kinds of snack bars to stash.
5 Power Points for Picking a Power Bar
Make sure you can pronounce all the ingredients. Have you ever read the list of ingredients on the back of a food label, and can barely recognize- let alone pronounce- half of the words? That’s a bad sign that this ‘food’ product is filled with a bunch of stuff that’s not real food. According to certified FitPro Registered Dietitian Carina Chiodo says, “when I start reading things like whey protein isolate, isomaltooligosaccharide, maltitol, and calcium panthothenate , that’s when I put it back on the shelf, because this doesn’t sound like real food- it sounds more like a scary science experiment. Watch out for words like ‘concentrate’ and ‘isolate’, because these are just parts of real food that have been extracted and isolated, then processed and put into these bars.” Does that sound natural to you? The fact is, you’d get a lot more nutrients if you eat the whole foods that they come from, which would also come with a lot more other natural nutrients than the snack bar probably has. Replacing an unhealthy snack habit of potato chips or cookies with an equally processed type of food doesn’t mean it’s any healthier, even if it has less calories or fat. Key point: extra words and ingredients = more processed. NOT REAL FOOD
Watch out for added fiber. Usually fiber is a good thing, and a lot of snack bars advertise that they’re a great source of it. I’ve seen some bars that have as much as 10 grams! First of all, without giving too much information, I have to warn that employees and those who work in an office shared with others don’t want to find out the hard way why eating 10 grams of fiber in 2 bites, half way through the work day, is not the greatest way to go about it. On the same tolken, I have to stress that normally fiber is a great thing. The average person needs 25-35ish grams per day, depending on age, lifestyle, and exercise habits. But we can get fiber from real foods. Most of these “high-fiber” bars have, once again, processed ingredients to bulk them up with fake fiber. It’s not natural, and there are a lot of unattractive, bathroom-related side effects that come with it. Try to get most of your fiber from real foods like nuts, seeds, fruits and veggies with skin, beans, and whole grains.
Aim for one serving of protein. Since the point of eating a power bar is to stay full between meals, you want to pick one that’ll serve its purpose. To do this aim for at least 7 grams of protein, but beware of anything higher than about 15 grams. More than about 15 grams is yet another sign of extra, processed ingredients.
Watch out for added sugar. Added sugar is different from natural sugar, which comes from things like dried fruit. So, if your bar has something like dates or raisins in it, which makes it taste sweet, seeing ‘sugar’ on the nutrition facts label is expected. However, if the nutrition facts label shows ‘added sugar’ with any amount higher than about 5-7 grams, this means they’re adding way more than is probably healthy, and adds extra calories without much else in terms of nutrition. The key takeaway is that carbohydrates and a little bit of natural sugar are okay, but anything higher than about 5 grams of added sugar isn’t that great.
Get the most bang for your buck. A lot of power bars are downright expensive. They’ll try to sell you by advertising they have been enriched with “fiber”, “nutrients”, vitamins, and other superfoods, but be sure to look at the price tag. Remember the purpose of eating a snack bar- it’s to keep you full between meals. Is it really worth spending a considerable part of your paycheck on something that you’re going to eat in 3 bites, when you can get a similar flavors and nutrients from other bars that are much less expensive?
Keeping a healthy snack on hand at work can help boost employee productivity, and knowing how to make the right choices is essential. Having some simple tips for picking out a power bar is just one of the many ways that employees can strive towards healthier work habits, which fosters a culture of increased corporate wellness. However, there are many other healthy habits that can be adapted to a work environment, which a nutrition expert can assist with. Carina is available to speak to groups and individuals as