PowerBar was the first.
Founded in 1986 by Canadian athlete Brian Maxwell, PowerBar gave athletes and civilians alike a quick, convenient burst of sustenance in the first ever mass-marketed "energy bar."
Yes, you had to literally peel the wrapper off of the bar. Yes, you could easily pop a filling when chewing. No, they didn't exactly taste like the advertised flavor on the wrapper.
But it was 240 calories, eight grams of protein and only 3.5 grams of fat. It required no preparation. You could eat it while driving, running, updating spreadsheets, cycling or shopping. Once people realized that the market for energy bars was real, the industry grew exponentially.
In 2013, the estimated energy-bar market was a little under $7 billion, and trends suggest it will climb above $8 billion in 2016.
What makes the energy-market industry murky is that people who eat energy bars are most likely trying to eat healthfully. They think they are being good, but not all energy bars are created equal.
We read "nutritional facts." They give us the numbers, but they don't tell the real story, or at least not the full story.
It is similar to purchasing a house. You might love the paint color and curb appeal, the stainless-steel appliances, the remodeled bathrooms and the kitchen countertops, but you need to examine the foundation, the builder's reputation and the quality of the materials used to build the house.
Ingredients, not just nutritional facts, are the building blocks of our food.
When it comes to healthful eating, we know that "less is more" in almost all aspects of our diets.
Less food is better for us than more food.
Fewer calories is better than more.
Fat is bad, right? It makes us fat. It must. So less fat is better. Right?
Answer: Sort of. There are good fats out there like avocados and olives. However, fewer ingredients is almost always better for us.
Many energy bars are packed with sugar, chemicals and carbs and lack trace minerals found in vegetables and real food. They are often placed next to the candy bars because their ingredients and health benefits are not that dissimilar.
There are many companies that produce delicious bars with real ingredients that are good for you.
For example, Larabar's bars don't include a full paragraph of ingredients on their packaging. Created by Lara Merriken, the Larabar uses only unprocessed ingredients. When she started out, Merriken wanted to create a "very healthy product that tasted delicious."
Many energy-bar companies take their ingredients, grind them together, wrap up the bar and slap their logo on the packaging. KIND decided to go a different route with its bars. KIND bars are made primarily from nuts and fruit, and founder Daniel Lubetzky wanted to show the ingredients. Lubetzky said, "Our packaging allowed (customers) to see all the ingredients and know exactly what they are getting." Moreover, if you look at the ingredients of a KIND bar, you can pronounce and recognize all of the words.
MacroBars (GoMacro) have fully embraced the "less is more" mantra. MacroBars are USDA organic, gluten-free certified, kosher certified, Non-GMO Project verified, vegan certified, soy-free and macrobiotic. Their company "believes in feeling good about what we eat -- how it tastes, how it's made and how it sustains the environment." Lofty goals. Simple ingredients.
Finally, if you're looking for extra protein in your energy bars but want to eat clean food, there is a bar for you. The appropriately named Perfect Bar is produced in San Diego, Calif. According to their website, their products "are rich in whole food proteins, high energy, gluten-free, GMO-free, soy-free, and contain over 20 different organic superfoods." And like the "less is more" trend suggests, they boast what's not in their bars: "They contain no preservatives, additives, salt, coatings, refined sugars or any other synthetic ingredients."
The bottom line is that when it comes to energy bars, check the ingredients, not just the nutritional facts. Less is more, and if it seems too good to be true, it probably is.