Energy Bars, Health Bars, Nutrition Bars, Gym Bars—- Mommy Bars, Kid Bars and More! The bar industry is exploding and it seems like anyone who is on the go, wants a bar that fits their specific nutritional needs- and anyone with specific nutritional needs has a bar that they have created and want to bring to market.
Carbs Were Still Ok: Years ago there used to be granola bars—lots of oats, sugar, grains and fruit. They tasted pretty good and it was essentially granola cereal all baked together with sugar. A bar that emerged from the granola era—An era where we used to eat carbohydrates without guilt. Fat was the enemy and granola bars were fat free! Nature Valley comes to mind.
Protein: Then the athletics came in- and they wanted a bar that would fit their workout needs. Thus was born the high protein “Power Bars” with lots of whey protein in there. But we were still anti fat and ok with sugar so the power bars were high in sugar. These no-bake bars were held together by their sugar-glue and were very hard and chewy. Lots of soy and whey pushed into a very small concentrated place. These bars didn’t need to be baked, with all that sugar the low water activity held them all together.
Sugar Alcohol: It then became unpopular to consume carbohydrates and the bar landscape changed. Companies like Quest emerged and replaced the sugar syrups with sugar alcohols. Sugar alcohols used to be something that was consumed in small quantities by diabetics- so they could enjoy a small piece of chocolate but now sugar alcohols were being consumed in larger amounts and used to replace most or all of the sugar syrups found in bars.
Soluble Fibers: Sugar alcohols started getting a bad rep because of the gastro-distress they caused. Bar companies turned to soluble fibers like chicory root, inulin, 0ligiosaccharides, prebiotic fiber, soluble corn fiber. There were lots of names and varieties but ultimately it translated to carbs that are not digested.
Fat is Ok: Guess what, we get to eat fats again- and not just olive oil but the stuff that used to be bad for us like saturated fats from coconut oil and palm oil. Remember when the CSPI said coconut oil and saturated fats were bad—well, now we are told its good! The bar market continued to emerge with bars very high in fat like coconut oil, palm oil and MCT (medium chain triglycerides). This was all propelled forward by Dave Asprey and his Bullet Proof Coffee. Now we see bars emerging that are just dripping with oil and fat. This is ok—this is acceptable because there are no carbs, there are healthy fats and all the protein comes from nuts. Of course a bit of sugar is needed to keep it from getting moldy so the soluble fibers and sugar alcohols are used for water activity control.
Soluble Fiber Rules Change: In 2016 the FDA put out their updates including noting that not all soluble fibers would count as dietary fiber on the label. Fibers that count include natural fibers from fruits and vegetables but processed inulin fiber may not count. The FDA says, and I quote:
“The F.D.A. plans to publish a separate notice that will seek comment on the available scientific data on non-digestible carbohydrates. Publicly available clinical trial data will be identified and summarized for non-digestible carbohydrates, including inulin, bamboo fiber, soy fiber, pea fiber, wheat fiber, cotton seed fiber, sugar cane fiber, sugar beet fiber and oat fiber”
Glycemic Index: But what about glycemic index?! That’s the new buzz word in the health bar space. Glycemic index and blood sugar are important and the emerging thought now is, its ok if the carbs are actually GASP* digested- but wouldn’t it be nice if it didn’t’ affect our blood sugar levels! The bars are now high in fat (from nuts and coconut- it’s so great not to have to worry about saturated fat anymore!)
Sugar Is Back– FODMAP friendly bars: We have come full circle with a new bar trend- the latest bar trend uses actual glucose syrup (and in the spirit of keeping it real—let’s all agree that corn syrup, tapioca syrup, brown rice syrup and glucose syrup are all the same thing-just because its not high fructose corn syrup doesn’t mean its healthier) The goal of these bars is to get the FODMAPs, an acronym for Fermentable Oligosaccharides, Disaccharides, Monosaccharides and Polyols, AKA poorly absorbed carbohydrates- that cause severe abdominal pain, bloating, gas and constipation. I shake my head and wonder—how is this different from the very same high protein low fiber, high sugar Powerbars we used to eat so long ago. Its not– its the same concept, with a brand new marketing twist! Powerbar should have marketed their 90’s bar to the FODMAP sensitive people!
Allulose Bars: A new emerging trend on the horizon. Allulose is a natural rare sugar that is created in bulk by enzymatically extracting it from Non-GMO corn. Allulose is not a sugar alcohol and it is not a soluble fiber. It is actually a sugar, you just pee it out. It tastes great, it lowers water activity, it doesn’t cause FODMAP issues. Could allulose be the answer to our prayers? It probably will once consumers can be educated to understand that the sugar from allulose listed on a label doesn’t count – not much anyway. It’s about 0.29 calories per gram. The FDA has some recommended levels on it that may or may not be followed- we don’t really know yet because no one has actually put out any products with allulose—YET! That will change in 2017!
It started with Core Foods (they were doing it back in 2009!) and now we have Perfect Bar– both bars don’t rely on high sugar (or sugar alcohols or soluble fibers) to lower water activity to inhibit mold—because they have the cold refrigerated air to keep the bacteria at bay. What a novel, new and exciting idea—refrigeration! Fresh Food! This emerging bar category is one to keep an eye on! A move away from bars that need some form of sugar (digestible or not) to keep it safe won’t be necessary if we keep it cold. A short shelf life will be involved though!
The energy bar world has evolved and changed over the past 10 years and we are now at a point where the trend is basically to eat and excrete. The less food from that bar that you eat and the more you push out of your body—the more popular the bar becomes. Bar entrepreneurs consider anything that is a fiber or sugar alcohol as not counting towards the net carbs- or they think it’s not going to be digested. (this is not totally true as parts of some fibers are digested –as the FDA is beginning to regulate-but no one really talks about that!)
2017 and Beyond
What kind of bar will be next—I have an idea! How about a RETORT bar— yes, this would be a bar that would be pushed into flexible pouch packaging, heated to 250’F to ensure no botulism and to make the product completely sterile. Water activity won’t be a concern, it won’t need refrigeration and pH won’t matter. It will be like the cans of tuna fish that are now in a pouch- on the shelf. Shelf stable retorted energy bars- you heard it from me first!