Friday, July 18, 2008

Protein Bar Review: Balance Organic Cranberry Pomegranate Crisp 3.36/5

As a PhD student in the area of nutrition, I regularly adminster weight loss diets. There are many reasons why some people have trouble sticking to a meal plan. Likely, the most common barrier is a lack of time, energy, or desire to prepare healthy food. Often, quick and easy is a must-have, but this priority can often lead to a fast food disaster!

Luckily, if you are willing to redefine your concept of a "meal," protein bars can help fill the need for a quick, healthy food choice. But there are piles of bars to choose from; how do you distinguish which are healthiest and a good value? Here are some general rules to follow, and then I'll get into the specific protein bar review!

1. Buy a bar that has a protein source (like whey isolate or soy nuggets, etc) or a whole grain as the first ingredient.

2. Avoid bars that have corn syrup or high fructose corn syrup; these are especially highly processed.

3. Ideally, a protein bar will have no more than 10-15g of sugar; some (about 2-5g) of the carbohydrate should also be fiber content.

4. Avoid SUGAR ALCOHOLS. When manufacturers set out to make "low net carb" bars, they needed to replace sugar with something that has a little bulk and would allow the bars to bake properly. Sugar alchols have fewer "net carbs" because about 1/2 of the sugar alcohols are not absorbed in the small intestine. As a result, they continue through the GI tract to the large intestine, where they do two things: 1) Pull in water to the large intestine (what happens when you have too much water in #2?); and 2) Bacteria in the intestine amy go to work on the SA (hey it's food for them!). This will make excess gas in the colon and, as a result, you end the day with fewer friends; capisci? It's like nuclear holocaust to the colon; this is why low-carb bars are often on sale. Just don't go there! Look for "ol" ingredients, like sorbitol, malitol, xylitol, glycerol(in), etc, etc. Incidentally, SA are also a cause of GI upset with too much gum or sugar-free mint consumption.
More and more, I notice "organic" and "natural" type bars introduced to the market. Typically, the natural bars may replace corn syrup with brown rice syrup (hey, at the end of the day it's all concetrated suagr!) and rely on soy and nuts, instead of milk-based ingredients, for their protein content. As a result, the bars typically are not as sweet, lower in protein (higher in fat and/or sugar), and often exibit strange textures. On the other hand, many are made with more wholesome ingredients, without preservatives, and will not upset those with a milk allergy!

Balance, which produces several high-protein, reasonably-priced and tasty bars in the 200 Calorie range has recently released a 95% organic bar. I tried the Cranberry Polegrante Crisp: 180 kcal; 7g fat; 2.5g sat fat; 100mg sodium; 23g carbs; 5g fiber; 12g sugar; 10g protein; many added vitamins and minerals

Property Score (1-5)
Appearance: 4
Flavor: 3.5
Texture: 2
Heat Stability (Texas Tolerance Test): 2
Cold Stability (Buffalo Bite-ability Score): 4
Nutrition (weighted 2X): 4
Overall Score: 3.36/5

Appearance: The bar is very attractive, with a mixed soy/nut/fruit conbination with a single layer of "yogurt" coating

Flavor: Tart and very heavily cranberry; this is most likely because there is not a pomegranate to be found in the ingredients label! Perhaps it is part of the elusive "natural flavoring?"

Texture: The texture was the biggest let down for me. By the appearance, one would expect a bar with exceptional crunch, but this organic balance creation simply does not deliver. The texture somewhat chewy, in limbo between granola and stale nuts.

Heat Stability: I value heat stability so much because I live in Texas and the bars I rely on must stand up to the heat when I leave them in my car. With intra-car temperatures of 100+ it's a tough wrapper to fill, but some bars do manage. Anything with a yogurt coating will get a poor score here! The yogurt coating are also typically high in fat, so a drip of that on your shirt and goodbye chic!

Cold Stability: I used to live in Buffalo, NY, so I also understand the value of a car that is edible when cold. Typically, granola-type bars are bite-able after only a few minutes of warming.

Nutrition: And why are we eating a little nugget of fruit, soy and nut organic goodness? Because it's a step above candy! Kudos to balance for limiting the suagr to 12g, limiting saturated fat to 2.5g, and including 5g of fiber. A point was docked for two reasons: 1) only 10g protein, which is 5g less than a typical bar at this Calorie level; and 1) for including inulin as a major source of fiber. Addition of inulin means that the primary ingredients were not really so high in fiber, so inulin was added to beef up the fiber number and add bulk without adding calories. There are reports that inulin may also make some people feel "swollen."

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