Reaching for a Meal Replacement Bar?

June 9, 2011
Ann Louise Gittleman, PhD, CNS

Ann Louise Gittleman, PhD, CNS

Award-winning nutritionist and New York Times bestselling author.

stk62503corCaution: You may be entering the marketing spin-zone.

It seems like a good idea.

You’re busy, you’re hungry, and you have the best intentions to eat something nutritious, so you make what you think is the best possible choice—you grab a meal replacement bar. You’re optimistic about the promise of increased energy and boosted nutrition. But most bars are just “glorified candy bars” in my estimation. Under attention-grabbing packaging lurks a whole lot of sugar in the form of the white stuff, agave syrup, high fructose corn syrup, honey, and/or dried fruit that offer a jolt of sugar that could go toe to toe with any candy bar in town.

While they may wear many labels—meal replacement, cereal bar, energy bar, diet bar, snack bar, supplement bar, energy bar, and so on—they’re essentially all the same. It’s true that some bars do contain some added vitamins and minerals, but they’re in no way a substitute for a well-balanced meal or snack. And they certainly are not on an equal par to real food, as marketers try to imply.

But what really concerns me when it comes to raising the bar is that marketers use deceptive labeling when they give the promise of increased energy, which is dangled as a buying perk. The truth is the FDA allows any product containing calories to be labeled and marketed as providing “energy.” So, the consumer sees the word “energy” and thinks stamina and alertness when all “energy” on a label means is “this product contains calories…that produce energy.” Since all calories produce energy, that’s a rather empty promise—it doesn’t mean anything.

And besides that, the bars are actually pretty expensive. A couple of dollars a bar may seem reasonable, but if you’re gobbling down one or two a day that adds up as easily and quickly as a Starbucks habit—with a similar health sabotage: a quick sugar or caffeine high and then a blood sugar low, making you even more hungry.

If you absolutely insist that you’re just too busy to ditch the bars entirely, at least opt for granola bars—but don’t make them a habit. Look for whole grains and at least two grams of fiber per serving, and low or no added sugar and preservatives. And, please, stay away from bars with “fun fillers” like chocolate, M&M’S, and other candies.

You can always choose a really healthy meal replacement in the form of a shake or smoothie, but steer clear of the ones that contain heavy metals and their own brand of sneaky ingredients—like Splenda or sucralose—that isn’t on the label. I recommend fast food shakes made from Fat Flush Whey Protein or Fat Flush Body Protein, which are both third-party tested to be free of hormones, pesticides, chemicals, heavy metals, GMO, artificial sweeteners, sugar, gluten, and lactose.

For more ideas on healthy snacks, do check out my Fat Flush Cookbook, which will provide you with speedy snacks for all phases to keep blood sugar levels on an even keel all day long with the right mix of protein, carbs, and healthy fats.

Related Articles and Podcasts

Ann Louise Gittleman, PhD, CNS, is an award-winning New York Times bestselling author of more than thirty books including The Fat Flush Plan series and her latest book, Radical Metabolism. She’s been rewriting the rules of nutrition for more than 40 years and is internationally recognized as a pioneer in the field of diet, detox and women’s health issues. 

For a FREE daily dose of tips and strategies for maintaining healthy weight, conquering insomnia, and much more…check out my Radical Health Tips.

I’d like to meet and greet you on my Facebook groups, so won’t you check us out at the Radical Metabolism RevolutionFat Flush Nation, or my Inner Circle!




  2. Administrator

    The Standard Bar by Standard Process seems to be the best of the bunch with regard to satiety, taste, and natural vitamins and minerals.

  3. jen taylor

    What about the Larabar? Made only with unsweetened fruit, nuts and spices… all whole foods. Much better than a candybar–I would think.

  4. Administrator

    The Larabar is one of the better natural bars out there in terms of ingredients. We wish they had a higher protein content for longer lasting satiety and “energy.”

  5. sheri

    The Think Thin bars have great ingredients and high protein & fiber! 0 sugars! And taste great. They should have a different name, though.


    Thanks for your comments, everyone. While some bars definitely “raise the bar,” they are all a source of sugar in some manner, facet, or form.

  7. Heather

    I’m not a fan of bars. They can be ok when traveling and need something, but they are not really filled with anything. I have moved on to my shake as a healthy meal replacement that I never regret and truly does give me energy! (I even drink less coffee now). You should check it out and let me know what you think of it-
    This shake is so easy to take and go, I never go back to bars anymore.

  8. Regien Hasperhoven

    How about the Pegan Protein Bar from Julian Bakery? I need to eat a high fiber diet and it has 24 grams of it.

  9. Team ALG

    Regian, the Pegan Protein Bar looks good. It is clean and has 20 gm of protein.


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