With so many types of energy, granola, and protein bars on the market, it's difficult to determine which is best for you. The majority of people only look as far as the front of the package to see if it's a healthy bar. For example, the term "natural" is becoming a commonly used term in the food industry. People confuse this term as meaning organic, healthy, no artificial man-made ingredients, pesticides, or GMOs. However, the word "natural" has no actual definition set by the FDA, meaning companies can use this without it being all of the assumed above. Similar to the saying "you can't judge a book by it's cover", you can't trust a food product by it's cover. It's important you start reading the backs of products to know what you are really eating.
Most people look at the nutrition facts panel in search of grams of protein, carbs, sugar, fat, and fiber. While this is all useful information, the most important thing to read is the INGREDIENT LIST. This will tell you WHERE those grams of this and that are coming from. For example, a bar high in sugar…are the grams coming from healthy ingredients such as dates, raisins, and other whole dried fruits? Or are they coming from refined white sugar and high fructose corn syrup? Or for bars that are high in fat or protein…are they coming from health-promoting unsaturated fat & protein sources such as nuts and seeds? Or are they coming from partially hydrogenated oil (the long scientific term for trans fat)? Look for real ingredients, and avoid artificial colors and sweeteners.
When you look for bars that promote being "low sugar, low carb, high fiber" you're often left with an artificial product that will lead to GI upset such as stomach aches and cramps, diarrhea, bloating, or gas during your workouts. To avoid this, don't consume bars that contain sweeteners such as "erythritol", "steviol glycosides", and "sucralose (splenda)" prior to workouts.
Below, I'm comparing four bars (LARAbar and KIND bar vs. Marathon bar and Special K protein bar). The LARAbar and KIND bar on the left are higher in overall calories than a few of the marathon bar flavors and the 90 calorie Special K bar, but these calories are coming from excellent sources of energy - the carbohydrates are coming from whole fruits such as cranberries, dates, raisins, dried apples, etc. versus the other two bars containing caramel, refined sugars and high fructose corn syrups. LARA bar and KIND bars also have healthy sources of fats coming from almonds, pistachios, cashews, and seeds, versus the other bars which contain partially hydrogenated fats (trans fat). So contrary to popular belief, lower calorie is not always the healthier option.
Energy bars can be a convenient snack between meals or a good pre/post workout snack for athletes, however, they should never be used to replace a meal. You can also get just as many calories, carbs, and protein from a good pre-workout snack such as a banana with peanut butter, apple with a handful of nuts, or you could make your own energy bars using my recipe here for Homemade LARA bars, that calls for just three ingredients.