Energy Bar Ingredients: Healthy vs. Unhealthy Sugars
By Jenny Maxwell
JAMBAR began as project and a mission to create a 100% organic, super healthy, delicious energy bar that you could feel good about eating. Thirty-five years after creating PowerBar, could I once again make a bar that made me want to JAM to music and run up a mountain? I wanted something that tasted great and included only organic ingredients… the kind I could eat off a spoon.
As a lifelong runner and mother of six who loves to create, I was up for the challenge. There were tons of exciting innovations in the food industry since the PowerBar days, and one of the first things I wanted to tackle was finding the most natural sweeteners available.
An excess of sugar in Americans’ diets undoubtably causes serious health issues. Much of our country’s sugar consumption comes in the form of added sugars. Added sugars include any sugars or sweeteners that are put in foods or beverages during processing or preparation.
Naturally occurring sugars are found in foods such as fruit or honey. The American Heart Association recommends that men consume no more than 36 grams of added sugar per day and women consume no more than 25 grams of added sugar. For reference, one 12-ounce can of Coke contains a whopping 39 grams of added sugar!
Sugar is Not a Four-Letter Word
My degree is in nutrition and food science, and I encourage people to not be sugar-phobic. Instead, the best approach is to be educated and sugar-conscious. When deciding on an energy bar, it’s important to remember that not all sugars are created equal.
In fact, the sugar you should look for when selecting a bar isn’t “created” at all – the best choice when it comes to sugar is a source found in nature, not in a lab.
Let’s step back and talk about how energy bars fuel your body. Bars supply calories in the form of macro nutrients such as carbohydrates (including sugars), fats, and proteins. The best source of energy for your body is carbs because they are used predominantly to fuel your muscles and brain, and are stored in your body for later use, making carbs an efficient fuel. Fat, and to a lesser extent protein, can also be used as fuel but requires more oxygen for utilization and a slightly more complex metabolic process.
The ratio of carbs to protein to fat in your diet is important, as is the source of those carbs. Equally important is how efficiently your body digests and assimilates the energy you give it whether from carbs, protein, or fat. Physical fitness and regular daily exercise has been correlated with improvements in carbohydrate metabolism by increasing your cell’s response to insulin, so that a lower concentration of insulin is required to control blood glucose. Also, eating foods with some fiber, protein and/or fat will modulate the absorption of the simple sugars avoiding insulin spikes.
Some energy bars use manufactured sugars such as brown rice syrup and/or tapioca syrup.
While brown rice syrup and tapioca syrup may sound healthy, the sugar from these sources needs to be extracted and processed. Brown rice syrup is made from soaked and cooked brown rice, adding enzymes or acids, to convert the starchy solution into digestible sugars. After manufacturing and processing this solution, the result is a syrup composed mostly of maltose and maltotriose, with an extremely high glycemic index of 98!
The glycemic index is a scale from 1-100 showing how quickly a carbohydrate will raise your blood sugar (glucose) level. The higher the number, the faster your body absorbs the sugar. In comparison, the glycemic index of maple syrup is 54 and grape syrup is 56.
Tapioca syrup is manufactured much the same way but uses cassava root instead of rice. The starch is soaked in enzymes/acids to convert the long chain of glucose chains to smaller units, and is then processed into a syrup. The final syrup can vary in the amount of conversion to adjust the desired sweetness.
Other sweeteners often found in bars are undigestible, including allulose or chicory root fiber (sugar alcohols), and sucralose (chlorinated sugar derivative). Low-calorie sweeteners including stevia, erythritol and monk fruit extract are chemically derived and may partially metabolize or not metabolize well. Side effects from ingesting these sweeteners may include bloating, gas, and diarrhea. No thank you!
Athletes and active people tend to utilize fuel more efficiently, especially carbohydrates and sugars.
When it comes to eating sugar, it’s important to limit sugar consumption to real sugars and match consumption to your activity level.
Think of your body as a complex orchestra of systems - cardiovascular, muscular, enzymatic, neurologic, etc. that work to keep your body functioning as it should. Throughout your life, development and maintenance of muscles and your cardiovascular system, in particular, affect how well you convert the food you eat into usable energy and how well your metabolic system stores, utilizes, and eliminates waste products.
Physical activity is key to improving every function of your body, including sugar metabolism.
Having a higher amount of muscle development and limiting excess adipose (fat tissue) throughout your life will allow your body to utilize energy more efficiently, improving your overall health and metabolism.
In addition, consuming protein, fat, and fiber along with carbs will help to regulate absorption and avoid the sugar highs and lows that can accompany consuming simple sugars. This may be a problem in particular for people who are overweight or not physically active. A balanced diet focusing on a variety of protein sources both from animals and/or plants, natural fats (no trans fats) lots of colorful fruits and veggies, and whole grains, delivers nutrition that will meet the needs of most people.
JAMBAR provides real food energy with ingredients that only exist in nature.
Our products include a healthy ratio of carbs at 60-63% carbs, 17-18% protein, and 20-25% fat, depending on each JAMBAR flavor. Consuming protein and fat in combination with both simple and complex carbs helps to regulate the absorption of nutrients.
When looking for sweeteners, I wanted to use ingredients that exist in nature as sugars – things you can actually eat off a spoon. The sweeteners JAMBAR uses in our in-house production process are all real food ingredients, not sugars converted in a lab. We use real Grade A maple syrup, along with sugar from grapes, dates, and honey.
If I’m going to eat something sweet, I want it to be something my body can recognize. And the bottom line is that sugar from nature tastes better! In addition to tasting great, the sweeteners found in JAMBARs provide micronutrients like manganese, potassium, iron, and antioxidants.
If you have any questions about sugars or other ingredients in our bars, please write to me at firstname.lastname@example.org with “Question for Jenny” in the subject line. I’d be happy to answer your questions in a future post.