Are Meal-Replacement Bars Really a “Meal Equivalent”?

There are a myriad of options in the energy bar and meal-replacement aisle these days, whether you’re trying to lose weight, fuel up before a workout, or you’re just too busy to make yourself real meals.  Meal-replacement bars, in particular, are intended to provide you with fuel, vitamins and nutrients similar to those in a balanced meal, but can what basically looks like a vitamin-enriched chocolate bar really provide you with the nutrition you need?  Research has shown that these bars actually can be a positive addition to your diet, providing that you’re also incorporating nutritious, whole foods into your day. 

For weight-loss, several studies have proven that relying on meal-replacement bar for 2 meals a day can help people lose substantial weight, and that incorporating them occasionally on a continuing basis can help maintain that loss.  These bars are especially handy if you have a difficult time estimating portions or making balanced meals, taking the guess-work out of meal-planning.  If you’re not dieting, the balanced nutrition that these bars provide make them a good go-to when you have little time for lunch at the office, or when you need a burst of energy before or after a workout.

Despite these positives, there are some watch-outs when it comes to meal-replacement bars. Experts recommend that you rely on the bars for no more than 2 meals a day, and that you should add a balanced meal and nutritious snacks each day to add fiber and important nutrients.  Lastly, these bars often provide either a fair amount of sugar or a substantial dose of artificial sweeteners (or sometimes both). Digesting these sweeteners (examples are xylitol, sucralose, sorbitol) can be tough on your body and can cause gas and bloating.

Let’s look at three of the most popular bars on the supermarket shelf to see how they compare:

Nutribar® (Stella Pharmaceutical) & Slim-Fast® (Unilever Canada)
Nutritionally, both Nutribar & Slim-Fast provide a good balance of carbohydrates, fats, and protein, as well as fortification with 24 vitamins & minerals, calcium, and iron.  Of the two, Nutribar provides higher levels of the majority of these vitamins & minerals.  Both bars use a number of natural and artificial sweeteners.  In terms of variety, Nutribar offers an assortment of sub-brands “ Original, High-Fibre, High-Protein, Whole-Grain, Women 50+, and Type 2 (for those managing Type 2 diabetes).  The nutrients in each sub-brand don’t differ very much (aside from Type 2 bars), so you can pick and choose among all 18 varieties.  Slim-Fast offers an assortment of only 4 basic flavours.  Both brands have great taste “ it really is like having a chocolate bar as a meal “ though Nutribar is a bit more filling due to its larger size (65g vs 60g).

Nutribar High Protein        Slim-Fast Optima Bar

ATKINSâ„¢ Advantage (Atkins Nutritionals, Inc)
Atkins Advantage bars are quite different from other bars in their composition “ higher in protein, fat (including saturated fat), and fibre, and lower in carbohydrates.  Atkins claims that this ratio allows your body to burn more fat, produce less insulin, and enjoy more energy and less hunger throughout the day.  Fortification with vitamins and minerals is far less substantial than Slim-Fast or Nutribar, though Calcium content is higher with Atkins Advantage.  Advantage bars do not contain any natural sugars, relying solely on artificial sweeteners.  The bars are smaller in size -55g “ but quite satisfying (and delicious) because of their rich taste and mouthfeel.

ATKINS Advantage Bar

Tags: Atkins Advantage, calories, carbohydrates, fat, meal-replacement bars, Nutribar, nutrients, Protein, ratio, Slim-Fast, vitamins, whole foods

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