Supermarkets are flooded with bars. There are entire aisles devoted to them usually. Protein bars, granola bars, in gazillion flavors – dark chocolate, peanut butter, etc… They seem healthy, they are cheap – you can pick them up for about a $1 each. It is convenient to eat (just unwrap)… and portable, just put it in your purse or pocket. No need for spoons or napkins, so easy. So, why is it bad for your diet?
I wanna sell my bar in Whole Foods –
I used to stack my kitchen with these bars. I saw the popularity of these bars and did some research on what it takes to get one on the market. I was toying with the idea of using ragi (an Indian millet high in calcium content) or chickpeas for making these bars. I contacted a Professor at Michigan State University to help me. She told me the basic way to get your product on the shelf was for it to have LOW MOISTURE CONTENT. That makes sense, wetness causes bacteria to grow. Having less water content means that the density of the food is high.
But, wait…I asked her about these soft, wet bars. How do they stay on the shelves? She explained that the wetness must originate from a sugar solution that will not allow bacteria to grow in it – like honey, glucose syrup, brown rice syrup, etc.
Think about this – supermarkets agree to stock a bar only if they are shelf stable for 6 months or more. That means the drier or more sugary a product is, the longer it will last. What are the consequences of such a situation? You can easily wolf down a bar packed in calories in 10 min or less. After which, you will be wondering…hmmm, not fully satisfied, now what can I eat? In reality, you carry the unsatisfied half hungry/half full feeling until the next meal despite eating about 200 calories. When was the last time you ate a bar and declared, “I am so full now?”
So, are you an anti-bar person or what?
No, I am not. Every food product/technology has its use.
Kind bars, Larabars, Clifbars are all great products. The founders of these companies had compelling stories about launching their products. If you are an avid cyclist like Clif Bar owner Gary Erikson, an avid mountaineer like Lara of Larabar, or you spend a lot of your time travelling like Kind bar founder Daniel Lubetzky , then these portable snacks make perfect sense. But, if you are a software engineer who sits on his/her desk 12 or more hours or a mom who is juggling a million errands, you have better options for your calories… aka a proper meal.
The food companies and supermarkets will encourage us to use it everyday, because that matters to their profits and their survival. Selling is literally their job. It does not mean we have to take those suggestions to heart.
Enjoy a meal instead
Yes, cooking is a pain. Waiting in line in restaurants are a pain, agreed. But is the trade-off to sit at your desk and chomp down a bar worth it? I would argue, not. These are no substitutes to, say, a thai noodle soup, veggie packed burrito, chapathi with lentils, etc… A fresh hot meal has more water content, fiber, fresh veggies, herbs than any bar can provide. It will keep you fuller than any bar can. A meal is the best bang for your buck in terms of calories, healthy habits, nutrition and satisfaction.
So, the next time you feel like eating a bar, put it away for your next hike or road trip. Instead, go the kitchen/office pantry/neighborhood deli and choose a meal instead.
This article is modified from my original publication on LinkedIN.