High-Fiber Bars: The Agony and the Ecstasy

gnu bar unwrapped

This is a guest blog post by Carol Harvey, Director of food/nutrition labeling and product development at Palate Works.

How does a nutrition/energy bar compete with 100+ other brands in a $5+ billion market?

Specialize and supersize … the nutrition that is.

Successful brands offer something good tasting, while minimizing use of “unhealthy” ingredients and maximizing one or more nutrients generally lacking in the average diet.

Fiber is one of those nutrients, and it is shoe-horned into all kinds of bars via ingredients and quantities that used to be the province of laxatives. It is indigestible (although intestinal bacteria help with that), so technically it isn’t a nutrient, but we do need it for digestive health.

The Daily Reference Value (aka DV) for total fiber – soluble plus insoluble – is 25 grams for an average/2,000 calorie diet. But our bodies don’t store fiber, so eating small amounts throughout the day via foods that contain it naturally is the best approach.

This brings us to high-fiber bars (and other fiber-supplemented foods). While 5 grams is considered “high” for a food product (20% of DV), many bars contain 8 or more grams… but only a small percentage of your daily calories. Imagine baking a large pinecone into a small muffin.

Eating too much fiber at one time is rough on the digestive system, and any food consumed with it will bind up much of its beneficial mineral content (iron, calcium, zinc) and dispatch it without being absorbed… while you jog to the bathroom.

Gnu Foods has a line of good-tasting (the “ecstasy” part) bars containing a substantial 12 grams of fiber but only 130-140 calories. That’s 48% of your daily fiber (more if you eat less than 2,000 calories a day, like many women and small folk) packed into only 7% (or less) of your daily calories.  Such blasts of fiber do little to help with dieting/digestion/health four hours later when you chow down on a plate of meat and mashed potatoes.

gnu nutrition facts

Solution: If you like the taste and need more fiber in your diet, eat a couple bites of a high-fiber bar every few hours with a meal, because basically this is a fiber supplement, not a balanced food with an appropriate ratio of calories to fiber.

Or… simply eat more fresh fruits, veggies, beans  and whole grains throughout the day.

gnu bar

Inside this particular flavor (Blueberry Cobbler):

Sweetener ingredient* count = 4 (although vegetable glycerin is a sugar alcohol and rice dextrin, depending on what kind, could be another “complex” sugar, so they probably aren’t included in the “sugars” count)

Fiber ingredient (fiber extracts) count = 3 (plus fiber from whole grains/seeds and dried fruit)

Mislabeled ingredient: “fruit juices” (the fruits should be specified)

gnu bar ingredients

*These are ingredients that provide no nutrients other than calories (for sweetness). Sweetening ingredients that provide a small amount of additional nutrients are the raisins, plums (aka prunes) and blueberries. All fruits are dried, but labels don’t need to specify that.

Note: These bars contain a lot of wheat.

Carol Harvey has been a nutrition labeling and product development consultant for over 15 years. She can be reached at palatemail [AT] yahoo [DOT] com.

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  • Frank Shin

    These bars are inherently high in fibre, and can be customized to the way you like. Let me know what you think!
    http://movesfast.blogspot.ca/2012/08/customize-your-granola-bar.html

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1314702912 Aimee Bert Moreno

    Hmmm, thoughts on the inulin? It is considered a “fiber” because of it’s non-digestible nature but since it is a functional fiber, it doesn’t provide bulk as whole food (soluble/insoluble) fiber does. Many fiber bars are 30-50% inulin, which makes the fiber content look high, but IMO, is somewhat misleading. Inulin does have its benefits, but from my practical experience, many don’t tolerate the gas it causes.

  • Lizzi

    Gnu bars are so good! My dad and I are obsessed. My favorite is the chocolate brownie, I think it’s called. Yum :)

  • James Cooper

    So she’s flogging these bars? She wouldn’t be consulting for them would she? Seems a little suspicious. I never heard of them.

    • chanterelle

      What? Did you read the post?

  • nelliesabin

    I liked this post. Eating bar throughout the day is good advice. And baking a pine cone into a muffin is priceless!

  • annie

    One look at the ingredients and I know this bar is junk. Why are we so quick to go after something called “high fiber” when we ought to be running after “high REAL FOOD”? What’s happening to us?? There are some real food convenience foods if that’s what you want. Lara Bars for example. Have you ever tried a Tanka Bar?