Entering the nutritional bar section of green grocers these days can be a confusing task. What started as a niche market targeted to give athletes and physically active individuals a quick energy boost has grown into a billion dollar industry that has been accused of rolling out nothing more than candy bars disguised as dietary supplements.
A handful of bar producers keeping it real and their ingredients list tight, deliver a meal replacement option that presents a host of health and wellness benefits. For the traveler, these meal replacements offer a convenient source of fuel and comfort after leaving fortified home cooking behind for a time.
If you choose wisely energy bars can save you from the temptation to indulge in over-processed convenience foods loaded with refined sugar, sodium, compromising fats and concentrated calories. They all beckon you in airports, rest stop vending machines and convenience stores along your travel route.
The portability and pack-ability of these bars make them an inviting travel companion. Their extended shelf-life and unquestioned presence at security checkpoints is a plus.
Just be aware that energy bar manufacturers are not required to offer consumers full-disclosure of their nutritional deficit on packaging. In fact, by definition, an ‘energy’ bar is merely a food that ‘contains calories’. Years after the Center for Science in the Public Interest (publisher of Nutrition Action) petitioned the FDA to require disclosure the agency hasn’t lifted a finger to divulge this energy secret to customers, so I will.
Clearly energy bars are not an equal replacement for whole foods on a regular basis but some of them ARE real food. And in combination with other healthy food and beverage choices on a trip, some bars offer a great safety valve for the discerning green traveler in search of a sure thing. And if you make mini-meals or snacks combining a portion of a one of these bars with organic nut butters, fresh nuts, seeds, dried fruit, green tea, smoothies and portable produce, you can raise the (sustainable) bar on your energy with great affect. The key while traveling is to simply keep your blood sugar on an even keel and not wait until hunger strikes to feed yourself.
Real energy bars can support a balanced diet. They go the distance, unlike convenience foods and in-flight meals, loaded with chemicalized junk food that try and succeed at draining your ‘life force’. Those little bags of airline peanuts they serve on the beverage cart are processed, over-salted and will dehydrate you while fueling only hunger.
In the interest of amping up your sustainable travels, here are some personal favorites that offer more bang for your nutritional buck and offer natural ingredients that are completely recognizable (this is no small feat.) Calories are in check but most importantly they taste really good.
1.Cashew Almond Boomi Bar (www.boomibar.com) this bar won the coveted title of winner of the Natural Products Expo Taste Award. It’s a hand-rolled gluten-free energy bar loaded generously with nuts, a touch of natural sweetness and puffed grain.
2. Mayan Spice WildBar (www.wildbar.info), the ultimate raw, superfood meal in a bar, rich in antioxidants, B12 and Omega 3’s, high in fiber and one nutrient-rich superfood, so rare and so wild that it can only be harvested a few short weeks per year. This warming bar blends raw chocolate with macadamia nuts and is spiced with whole vanilla, orange rind, cinnamon and a touch of cayenne. It’s organic, gluten-free and vegan.
3. Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Macrobar (www.gomacro.com) This vegan, macrobiotic, high protein (16g) bar has lots of peanut butter and grain-sweetened chocolate. It’s made with organic brown rice syrup by a company dedicated to biodiversity and sustainable practices. Also Tahini Date, an exotic snack containing sesame butter, raisins and dates is easy on the palate.
4. Cocoa Crunch Bar by Lydia’s Organics (www.lydiasorganics.com) is a raw 100% organic, vegan bar made without gluten and packed with sprouted buckwheat, quinoa, sunflowers, cocoa powder, agave nectar, cinnamon and sesame seeds.
5. And from a small, local Midwest producer, the best local, seasonal, sustainable granola bars ever from Eat Green Foods (www.eatgreenfoods.com.) These delicious hand-cut bars have a baked-from-scratch goodness and a wholesome ingredient list sourced from local mills and orchardists. I couldn’t get enough of the Peanut Butter and Chocolate but they’re all really good.
6. The mother of all real food bars -LARABAR, the original whole food, real energy bar www.larabar.com Eat them out of their convenient package or put your chef's hat on and whip up a homemade version. I make a DIY Lemon version with fresh medjool dates, raw cashews, lemon juice and zest. Real food for real energy.
With bars like these, there is no reason to skip a meal or snack and allow your energy to drain. Your eating plan will inevitably be challenged in travel whether from jet lag, dehydration or less than sound sleep. Your best shot at an energy boost will begin by making healthy choices.
Wherever your travels take you, rest assured that if you pack a stash of sustainable energy bars, while the porters are carrying your luggage, these healthy snacks will undoubtedly carry you!