First Annual Energy Bar Test

Backpacking Light staff members rate six "natural" energy bars on taste and nutrition.

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by Carol Crooker and Alison Simon | 2005-04-12 03:00:00-06

First Annual Energy Bar Test - 1
The bars. All the bars are full size except the Alpsnack, which is sample size.

Being a "foodie," I made it my business to investigate the various food offerings at the 2005 Winter Outdoor Retailer show. "Natural" energy bars were a prominent hit. I collected samples of six brands of bars that were either new to the show or introducing new flavors, and that made some claim about being natural. After some discussion among the four Backpacking Light staff members at the show, our analyst, Alison, set up testing criteria. We tested the Alpsnack Energy Bar, Balance Bar Trail Mix Energy Bar, Fuel Natural Endurance Bar, Lärabar Energy Bar, NuGo Nutrition to Go Energy Bar, and Probar Energy Bar. Each of the four testers (Alan, Alison, Carol, and Vic) carefully studied and sampled the bars and rated them on taste and nutrition. Our criteria for what constituted "good nutrition" varied - some cared about trans fats, others didn't; glycemic index was of interest to some, but not to others. We also rated the bars in a third category - what is the likelihood that this bar will make it into my pack? Some of us will not pack a bar that pleases our taste buds if it violates one of our criteria for good nutrition. High fat content is a plus for most of us, as is high calorie to weight ratio. Some like a bar with lots of protein. Regardless of the calories and nutrition, some of us are reluctant to carry a highly nutritional bar if we don't like the taste, others will eat anything.

Alison crunched the numbers after everyone secretly recorded their ratings in the three categories. For each bar, scores in each category were averaged over the four testers, then the resultant three scores were averaged, with the third category - will it make it into my pack - double weighted to arrive at the average overall score for each bar. The Probar emerged as a clear winner for our group of testers, and Balance Bar Trail Mix a clear loser (even though it was the favorite of one of our testers). Scores for the remaining four bars formed a close grouping.

Observations

  • Each of the testers had a different favorite: Alison - Alpsnack, Alan - Lärabar, Carol - Probar, and Vic - Balance Bar.
  • Preferences varied wildly: Vic's favorite bar - Balance Bar - was Alison's least favorite, and her favorite bar - Alpsnack - was his least favorite.
  • The two bars using hemp nuts easily had the highest calories per ounce.
  • The two bars with the most protein, NuGo and Balance Bar Trail Mix, were the only bars with soy, and also had the longest list of "processed" ingredients, i.e. furthest from their natural state.

Ratings are from 1 - worst, to 5 - Best.

Table 1 Ratings Chart for Energy Bars
Brand Overall Rating Flavor Average Nutrition Average Take it? Average
Alpsnack 13.6 3.25 3.625 3.375
Balance Bar Trail Mix 12.0 4.0 2.5 2.75
Fuel Natural Endurance 13.9 3.5 3.875 3.25
Lärabar 14.4 3.625 4.25 3.25
NuGo 14.0 4.0 3.0 3.5
Probar 17.1 4.25 4.375 4.25

Interactive Table: Javascript-Enabled Browser Required

To see the testers' individual results, click: Alison, Alan, Carol, Vic

Brand Alison's Overall Rating Flavor Nutrition Take it?
Alpsnack 18.5 4 4.5 5
Balance Bar Trail Mix 9 4 3 1
Fuel Natural Endurance 13 4 3 3
Lärabar 10 3 5 1
NuGo 14 5 3 3
Probar 16.5 3.5 5 4
Brand Alan's Overall Rating Flavor Nutrition Take it?
Alpsnack 16.5 4.5 4 4
Balance Bar Trail Mix 12.0 4 2 3
Fuel Natural Endurance 11.0 3 4 2
Lärabar 19.5 4.5 5 5
NuGo 16.0 5 3 4
Probar 19.0 4.5 4.5 5
Brand Carol's Overall Rating Flavor Nutrition Take it?
Alpsnack 13.5 3.5 3 3.5
Balance Bar Trail Mix 9 3 2 2
Fuel Natural Endurance 15.5 4 3.5 4
Lärabar 16 4 4 4
NuGo 14 3 3 4
Probar 19 5 4 5
Brand Vic's Overall Rating Flavor Nutrition Take it?
Alpsnack 6 1 3 1
Balance Bar Trail Mix 18 5 3 5
Fuel Natural Endurance 16 3 5 4
Lärabar 12 3 3 3
NuGo 12 3 3 3
Probar 14 4 4 3

Comments - Positive
Alpsnack high fat content; good flavors
Balance Bar good chocolaty taste
Fuel high fat content
Lärabar soft texture; great food content; my fruit serving for the day; the banana tastes great --- like banana bread
NuGo good variety; very tasty; nice crunch
Probar good taste; like a "sticky breakfast cereal"; good texture
Comments - Negative
Alpsnack I'll need to floss my tongue
Balance Bar too sweet; palm kernel oil makes it unacceptable
Fuel tastes like sawdust; needs more chocolate flavor; no to the cocoa butter
Lärabar bad visuals; likely to melt (Note: "melt" in this case refers to the tester's concern that the fruit portion of the bar might soften in high heat conditions)
NuGo cocoa butter means "no-go"
Probar likely to crumble outside the package
Table 2 Nutrition Information
Bar Serving size (oz) Servings per bar Calories Fat calories Total fat (g) Sodium (mg) Total Carbs (g) Fiber (g) Sugars (g) Protein (g)
Alpsnack 1.48 1 210 100 12 70 24 3 15 5
Balance Bar Trail Mix 1.76 1 210 60 7 230 23 3 12 15
Fuel Natural Endurance 2.3 1 310 - 18 25 32 4 15 8
Lärabar 1.7 1 190 80 9 0 24 4 17 5
NuGo Family 1.76 1 180 30 3 170 26 2.5 13 11
NuGo Protein 1.76 1 190 25 2.5 160 25 1 13 17
Probar (whole) 3.0 1 350 140 16 38 50 6.5 14 8
Probar 1.5 2 (TWO) 175 70 8 19 25 3.25 7 4

Notes:

1. Nutritional information is shown from one randomly chosen flavor for each brand of bar.

2. The NuGo Family and Protein bars were tested as one set of bars.


Table 3 Energy Bar Highlights
Bar Calories/ounce What makes it special First ingredient Sweetened with Flavors
Alpsnack 142 Certified organic hemp nuts, almonds, and fruits. Dairy, gluten, and wheat free. Organic almonds Organic sugar, organic rice syrup, organic cane sugar Plums & Currants; Apricots & Cranberries; Coconut, Mango & Pineapple; Fair Trade Dark Chocolate; Fair Trade Espresso Chocolate
Balance Bar Trail Mix 119 Lasting energy from ratio of carbs, protein, and dietary fat, 14-15 g protein, low glycemic index. Protein blend [soy nuggets (soy protein isolate, tapioca starch, salt), calcium caseinate, soy protein isolate, casein, whey protein isolate] Brown rice syrup, honey, evaporated cane juice invert syrup, sugar Cinnamon, Oats and Honey; Chocolate Chip; Fruit and Nut
Fuel Natural Endurance 148 Made with fresh whole seeds, nuts, and grains. All natural, no preservatives or added sugar, gluten free. Organic versions available. Hulled hemp seeds Brown rice syrup, corn syrup, honey Chocolate Crunch, Apple Caramel, Chocolate Espresso
Lärabar 124 Total of two to six ingredients: unsweetened fruit, nuts, and spices. Uncooked, unprocessed, no added sugar, non-GMO, gluten free, dairy free, soy free, vegan, kosher. Equivalent of a whole banana in the banana bar. Either dates or nuts (almond, walnut, or cashew) depending on flavor. No added sweeteners Apple Pie, Cherry Pie, Banana Cookie, Cashew Cookie, Chocolate Coconut Chew
NuGo Family Bar 102 Crunchy and processed similar to fine bakery products. Low glycemic response. Low in saturated fat, all natural, no hydrogenated oils, or trans fatty acids. Kosher. Crisped soy nuggets (isolated soy protein, rice flour, malt and salt) Beet sugar, sugar, dehydrated cane juice, corn syrup, brown rice syrup, fructose Chocolate Blast, Blueberry Boom, Coffee Break, Peanut Butter Pleaser
NuGo - Protein 108 "More soy protein per calorie than any other nutrition bar." Crisped soy nuggets (isolated soy protein, rice flour, tapioca four, malt and salt) Beet sugar, sugar, dehydrated cane juice, corn syrup, brown rice syrup, fructose Banana Chocolate, Orange Smoothie
Probar 117 Ingredients blended, not baked. 15 whole foods that are raw and organic. Vegan. No preservatives, no chemical alteration of ingredients. Tropical Mix (raisins, sunflowers seeds, unsulphured papaya, pineapple, dates, raw cashews, raw coconut, raw pumpkin seeds, raw brazil nuts) Brown rice syrup, grape juice, evaporated cane juice One flavor

Notes:

1. NuGo is also available in two Smarte Carb flovors, which were not tested

2. Fuel Bars are also available in an organic version (1.6 oz, 210 calories), and a Fun Fuel size ( 0.5 oz, 70 calories).

Index of websites:

Alpsnack

Balance Bar Trail Mix

Fuel Natural Endurance

Lärabar

NuGo

Probar


Citation

"First Annual Energy Bar Test," by Carol Crooker and Alison Simon. BackpackingLight.com (ISSN 1537-0364).
http://backpackinglight.com/cgi-bin/backpackinglight/first_annual_energy_bar_test.html, 2005-04-12 03:00:00-06.

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Forum Index » Food, Hydration, and Nutrition » Energy Bars


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J R
(RavenUL) - F
Odwalla bars on 05/05/2005 13:26:41 MDT Print View

I really like alot of the bars put out by Odwalla. Some of them *look* kind of interesting (superfood = compressed road apples) but they taste good and have a solid ingredient base.

Some Odwalla bars always get tossed in along with some Hammer gel and (now) a ProBar or two.

Steven Hardy
(hardyhiker1) - F
Cherry Pie Larabar on 05/05/2005 14:26:25 MDT Print View

I got a cherry pie flavor Lara bar. I liked it. It is a bit tart and not sugary, and is chewy, not hard. My wife and son did not like it. The person on the phone said it is their most popular flavor.

Dennis Horwitz
(dennishorwitz) - MLife

Locale: Southern California
BALANCE Energy Crunch Mix & Favorite CLIFF Bar on 05/22/2005 18:53:50 MDT Print View

I don't have the sweet tooth for most of the bars out there. There are two things I really like:
1. BALANCE Energy Crunch Mix. This is a great tasting substitute for gorp - a little healthier too. The Chocolate and Toffee mixes tast good, The Berry Crunch is awful!

2. CLIFF BAR Chocolate Almond Fudge. This is a satisfying brownie like bar. I like the texture, a little of the almond crunch, and the taste - without being overly sweet.

Andrea Feucht
(andreafeucht) - F
Larabars - how to get them cheaper! on 05/30/2005 20:23:54 MDT Print View

I have a budding addiction to Larabars that I've tempered so far by reminding myself how much they cost. Yikes.

Now, the $2.29 I've seen mentioned is a bit steeper than around here (New Mexico). Regular price at Wild Oats is $1.79, and they have been on sale a few times at $1.59. On top of that, when you buy a case of ANYTHING at Wild Oats they will bump 10% off the price (even if you mix flavors rather than just grab a case box off the shelf). That brings the unit cost down to about $1.43 plus tax. Not too bad for something that tastes so good.

The story behind Larabar is typical - she was on a backpacking trip and decided that the food she brought was gross and "why can't anyone make a bar that I like???", so after the trip she started experimenting. Usually the story includes a line about her burning through a dozen food processor motors - hehe - and finalizing the formulations.

Getting shelf life took a new wrapper technology, and then they were ready to sell.

No, I don't work for them. I just had a minor epiphany the very first bar I tried (banana cookie), and I spread the word when I can.

And, since $1.43 is still not that cheap, I of course have been experimenting with my own food processor now and then. :-)

Andrea
http://tenacity.net

Al Shaver
(Al_T.Tude) - F - M

Locale: High Sierra and CA Central Coast
Another Clif Fan on 06/27/2005 03:29:52 MDT Print View

I Consumed 5 Clif Bars/day on 12 day unsupported JMT trip last summer with no problems. they are edible in a wide range of temperatures and I get them for $.79 @ Costco Warehouse Stores. I'd love to know how to obtain them for the previously reported $.50-.60

Regarding water consumption with bars: The human body can only metabolize 7gm of carbohydrate/100ml water(referred to as The 7% Solution). (I don't know how this applies to protein and fats.) Therefore it should come as no surprise that you have to consume twice as much water with a 400 calorie bar than with a 200 calorie bar. This also means that if you eat over 70gm of carb/liter of water(or put this amt. of carb powder in your water) your body will dehydrate itself attempting to add fluid to your stomach until it's contents are diluted to 7%.

This is also why I don't understand gels. They are heavy (because they contain water) and you have to guess how much water to consume with the amount of gel that you have consumed to avoid going over 7%. I pre-measure $.25 baggies of Gatorade and toss one in each quart of water and I have a bottle of 7% solution ready to go. What could be simpler, lighter, cheaper, easier and more accurate?

Edited by Al_T.Tude on 06/27/2005 03:43:00 MDT.

Tim Kropf
(tkoutdoor) - F

Locale: Pacific Northwest
Re: another clif bar fan on 11/26/2006 14:59:24 MST Print View

Quoting you here... "My big gripe about the gel products is the packaging is awkward. I'd rather see the stuff in a tube with a cap (like toothpaste, pesto mix, or wasabi) and I could just take a hit off the tube when the urge strikes. A tube that held the equivalent of 3-4 gel packages would seem to be about right."

Have you seen the DIY food tubes that REI has? If you don't mind packaging them yourself this might be an option for you. I think the packaging weight might be more, but it is a reusable food tube that could be used again and again. They would probably hold several servings compared to the serving size of the original product.

Tim

Elliott Wolin
(ewolin) - MLife

Locale: Hampton Roads, Virginia
What about protein? on 12/01/2006 10:34:24 MST Print View

Most posts here are concerned with taste and calories. But I find that not all calories are created equal.

My family finds that bars that have a significant amount of protein are more satisfying. We each ate two bars every morning for breakfast for 14 days on the Wonderland Trail, one upon waking, the second mid-morning. This kept us going until lunch (on occasion I would have liked a third bar, though).

Bars without significant protein do not keep us going until lunch.

We tried them all: Power bars, Clif bars, Balance bars, Luna, etc, and have a mild preference for Clif bars.

Laurie Ann March
(Laurie_Ann) - F

Locale: Ontario, Canada
favorite bars on 12/03/2006 17:53:03 MST Print View

I make my own bars using a high energy cereal by Kelloggs called Vector. I'm not sure if you have it in the US but it is available up here in Canada. I add peanut butter, fruit and a few other ingredients to make my own energy bars.

Now if I had to buy bars I would have to say that Clif and Luna are my favs. I really like the Clif Carrot Cake bar.