Bar Exam

Energy snacks that pass the "good-for-you" test.
By Nicole Duncan

Energy bars are perfect for your on-the-go nutrition needs. But choosing just the right one can be an overwhelming proposition, especially when most gimmicky “energy bars” come stuffed with refined sugars and other processed ingredients. Here, we look past the wrappers, and steer you clear of the glorified candy bar to find those tailor-made for your needs, whether you’re gearing up for the day, fueling a workout, trying to beat an afternoon slump, or cleaning up your diet.

For breakfast
To gain steady, lasting energy, look for wholesome, unrefined ingredients like fruits and nuts, says Mike Adams, a nutritionist from Tucson, Arizona, and author of Seven Laws of Nutrition (Truth Publishing, 2006). “The fruits are naturally sweet, while the nuts have the fats and the calories to carry you through the day.” Sweet potatoes are also a new ingredient used in energy bars, and for good reason: They’re rich in energizing complex carbohydrates, and since they absorb 20 to 30 more minerals than any other soil-grown food, they’re loaded with nutrients. Try it: YAMMIT! Almond Energy Bar ($2.75, 2 oz; jayrobb.net) with sweet potatoes, or Kashi GOLEAN Chewy Chocolate Almond Toffee bar, packed with fiber-rich whole grains ($1.59, 2.75 oz; kashi.com)

For a snack
First, match the calories to your daily activity level. For example, if you exchange your usual 80-calorie apple for a 300-calorie food bar, “don’t think you won’t see some changes in your body,” says Molly Kimball, RD, a nutritionist in New Orleans. “That kind of calorie increase won’t coordinate with sitting on your tush all day.” Second, choose nutrient-dense bars over empty carbs and calories. Look for essential fatty acids, fiber, and protein, which will keep you full until your next meal. Try it: PureBar ($2.39, 1.7 oz; thepurebar. com) or Larabar ($1.39, 1.8 oz; larabar.com), both packed with fruit and nuts

For an afternoon boost
Robert Yang, a nutritionist from San Diego, recommends looking for a bar that contains coconut, which offers a natural sugar boost, healthy fats, moderate protein levels, and slow-digesting carbs to ensure stable blood-sugar levels. “Coconut is a medium-chain fatty acid, which means it bypasses the stomach and goes directly in the portal vein and is immediately used by the body to create energy,” says Yang. Raw honey can also provide sustained energy, according to Adams, because the body digests it more slowly than other sugars and it doesn’t cause a hypoglycemic energy slump. Try it: CocoChia bar ($29.97 for a box of 12 1.7 oz bars; livingfuel.com), which has coconut, or Organic Perfect Food Bar ($2.99, 2.25 oz; gardenoflife.com), sweetened with raw honey

For fueling a workout
Whether you’re headed to the gym or into the mountains for an all-day trek, you’ll need a combination of protein and complex carbohydrates to keep you energized. Look for bars with brown rice protein, Adams says, which is better than dairy-based whey. When it comes to carbs, opt for bars packed with fruits instead of wheat-based ingredients, since the sugar content in wheat will give you an instant surge but likely will lead to a crash before your workout’s over. Try it: Organic Food Bar Active Greens ($2.69, 2.4 oz; activegreens.com), with agave nectar, or Pure Protein Karma Bar ($11.50 for a box of nine; karma-bar.com), with organic brown rice flour

For detox
Blue-algae extract “has a very powerful alchemizing effect that helps detoxify your blood and liver,” says Adams. It protects against free radicals, soothes the intestinal tract, and protects against colon cancer. Another ingredient to look for when it comes to cleansing your insides? Cinnamon. “It has been clinically shown to control blood-sugar levels for diabetics,” says Adams. “If you eat a bar that contains cinnamon in addition to sugar, the sugar won’t be able to spike your blood sugar like it normally would because the cinnamon effectively counteracts it and serves as a regulator.” Maca, a Peruvian ingredient, is also thought to have therapeutic benefits, including balancing hormones and supporting the immune system. Try it: WildBar ($4.95, 1.6 oz; wildbar.info), which has blue-algae extract and cinnamon, or Organic Maca Bar ($2.99, 2 oz; potent foods.com), boasting 5,000 mg of maca