Picture this–you're on the go, and out of nowhere you're hit with this sudden pang of hunger. What's the first thing that you or most people would do? Grab something to eat, such as an energy bar. But is this necessarily a 'healthy' habit? Or is it something that we should cut out? 

Whilst energy bars used to only be consumed for quick energy replacement during exercise, these days they are eaten as meal replacements or as quick snacks. They've now become something of the mainstream and I guarantee that you're bound to see an assortment of these beautifully packaged bars whilst on a grocery run.  

Home-made energy bars

humbert15 on Flickr

More recently than not, consuming energy bars have been compared to that of candy bars. In other words, they're not as healthy as you might think! According to Sari Greaves, RD, nutrition director for Step Ahead Weight Loss Center in New Jersey, "They can be packed with enriched white flour, high fructose corn syrup, and other sweeteners."

What's more, many energy bars are also high in saturated fat and lack fiber. Eating them on top of regular meals could add approximately 300 to 400 calories per day! Let's break this down. First, here are the types of energy bars:

Activity Bars 

coffee, beer
Yael Apt

Activity bars often contain more organic ingredients and have a crunchier texture. They prolong energy for things like all-day outdoor activities that require energy and meal-replacement nutritional benefits.

Example: Clif Bar

Best used for: Backpacking and Hiking 

Meal Replacement Bars

beer, spam, milk
Yael Apt

These are used for dieting and weight loss. They contain the necessary nutrition of a meal, enough to fill you up. As the name suggests, these bars are used as meal replacements rather than supplements.

Example: Luna Bar

Best used for: Snacking in between meals 

Protein Bars

Pure Protein Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough Plus Bar

theimpulsivebuy on Flickr

Protein bars are designed to help with gaining muscle mass. These bars cram as much protein as possible for recovery from strenuous exercise. 

Example: Pure Protein

Best used for: Bodybuilding 

Endurance Bars

Powerbar: New Flavor

The Master Shake Signal on Flickr

Eaten before long workouts, Endurance bars have higher complex carbohydrate content to provide slow-energy release over time. 

Example: PowerBar 

Best used for: Long bike rides, trail running  

Organic Bars

Yael Apt

Organic bars are good for providing natural energy. These bars don't contain artificial sweeteners and inserted protein, and instead, contain simple ingredients.

Example: Kind Bar 

Best used for: Snacking on the go 

So, should you stop eating energy bars?

Slow down, I'm not saying that you absolutely should not eat energy bars.

The trick here is eating smart. Here's what you should pay attention to when looking at energy bars:

1. Carbohydrates

Energy bars typically contain 10 to 60 grams of carbohydrates, depending on the brand and the use. For example, if you are backpacking or engaging in strenuous activity, look for an energy bar that is in the higher carbohydrate range, around 40 grams. 

2. Protein

Meal replacement bars typically have a higher protein content, ranging from 5 to 25 grams of protein. Higher protein content = also great snacks for moderate activity.

3. Fiber

Bars with a fiber content ranging from 3 to 5 grams should be used as meal replacements.  

4. Calories

Calorie content of energy bars often trip people up as they can contain as much as 500 calories. Check this chart out for calorie content of different bars and their rating.

Let's not forget the big picture here though — energy bars should not be used as a meal replacement, unless you know that you don't have time to make a proper meal. I don't know about you, but I could never imagine a life without proper meals. It just sounds sad. 

If you love energy bars and refuse to accept anything that you've just read, why not make some of your own? Check out this great recipe for four ways to make protein energy balls