Happy New Year guys, I am going to kick it off by cutting the crap. A little controversial subject coming up, but I want to speak out about what’s on my mind. In January we will be pointing out some home truths. May I start off by stating that this is my opinion and ingredients I avoid.
We all lead busy, time-poor lives and when it comes to scanning the supermarket shelves for healthy options, many of us don’t have the time to run through the ingredients on the growing number of food items which claim to be healthier alternatives. For the vast majority of us, we take the food brands which describe themselves as ‘healthy’ or ‘organic’ at face value: with little or no time to check, we have to entrust ourselves to these claims. And this is the problem. The guys who market these products are clever people: food marketing teams have considerable skill in making packaging – and the messaging on it – very attractive to health-conscious consumers. They make bold claims about the health credentials of their brands while keeping the reality – i.e. the actual ingredients – tucked away in the small print.
I have discovered this is a particularly prominent issue with several health and energy bars which either claim to offer health benefits or are positioned for healthy living. Frankly I’m a little pissed off, many of these bars aren’t what they seem and are skewing the definition of what represents a truly healthy snack. Bad bars are giving good bars a bad name; bars should be as clean as possible, no unnecessary ingredients and made from wholefoods. Consumers need transparency and education, otherwise what’s the point? Here are a few revealing truths about certain, so-called ‘health bars’ that I’ve managed to uncover while on my travels: please take heed.
Sugar is sugar, right?
Nope. Bar brands can choose a multitude of sugar formats from glucose, organic cane syrup, raw cane sugar, grape juice concentrate, high maltose corn syrup, rice syrup, brown rice syrup to agave and maltodextrin. While many bars contain natural sugars, a high percentage of them are highly refined which means they only offer a rack of ‘empty calories’. If you’re going to put sugar into your body at least ensure it has some nutritional value outside of pure energy. Agave is one example of a popular, highly-refined sugar source which is virtually devoid of any nutritional value once eaten in a bar.
Bars which use natural sources such as dates contain sugar which is more nutritionally dense than a refined alternative as it contains fibre, minerals and vitamins.
KEY OFFENDERS: Bounce Energy Balls, Nature Valley, Kind & Eat Natural, Clif, Trek, & 9 bar
What about Soy?
Another watch out: Soy Lecithin is used extensively in health bars as an emulsifier (allows water and oil to mix). It is a deeply unpleasant vacuum-dried sludge left over from the soy oil refining process and – as with many other soy products – usually comes from genetically modified soybean plants. Avoid this ingredient or at least look out for organic or non-GMO soy lecithin.
KEY OFFENDERS: Nature Valley, Kind, Trek & Eat Natural
Does the same go for vegetable oil?
Absolutely. Producing vegetable oil involves chemical extraction, bleaching and deodorising. If that’s not enough to put you off then please also note its excess level of Omega-6 can lead to inflammation and illness.
KEY OFFENDERS: Nature Valley, Eat Natural, Trek & 9 bar
Can we assume natural flavouring is okay?
Sadly, no. Natural flavouring, as defined by the UK Food Standards Agency, is “a flavouring substance obtained, by physical, enzymatic or microbiological processes”. While this may seem harmless enough, the term ‘natural’ is often stretched somewhat by a number of manufacturers.
Take, for instance, Castoreum which is extracted from a beaver’s anal glands and used as vanilla flavouring; it’s so popular that beavers are nearly extinct. Or the plant extract, Benzaldehyde, which is used as almond flavouring and contains traces of hydrogen cyanide which is toxic.
If you see the ingredient “Natural flavouring” on your choice of product perhaps contact the company and ask what the ingredient consists of. Ask for the official ingredient name and look it up for yourself. So this is exactly what I did, I called Natural Balance Foods to ask what their “Natural flavouring” consists of:
Natural Balance Foods: “We cannot be too specific, we use anything derived from fruit, veg or herbs. Manufacturers of flavourings won’t give exact ingredients as it’s a protected recipe.”
If a food company uses good quality and flavourful ingredients with minimal processing, there should be no need to add “Natural flavouring”.
KEY OFFENDERS: Nakd & Trek bars
Challenge your bar of choice!
Surely. It’s time to cut the crap. Health bars – or energy bars purporting to be aligned to a healthier lifestyle – have to practice what they preach. I’m a little tired of reading ‘100% Natural Ingredients’ on pack, only to find that, when I dig a bit deeper, the product just doesn’t stack up.
Get real…or get out of the game!
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