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June 8, 2011

Breakfast bars a good option for morning meal

Each week a nutritionist from the University of Maryland Medical Center will provide a guest post. This week, Ellen Loreck weighs in on breakfast bars.

Are you frantically racing out of the house in the morning instead of preparing a healthful breakfast? If your answer is “yes,” then a breakfast bar may be a viable option. Eating breakfast is an important strategy for weight control, according to the National Weight Control Registry. In addition, eating breakfast may help you focus better in the morning. So a portable and easy-to-eat bar may help you establish a breakfast routine and get you on the road to better health.

As you peruse the grocery shelves for breakfast bars, the options may seem endless. You’ll see nutrition claims on the boxes like, “omega-3s,” “16 grams whole grains,” “no high-fructose corn syrup,” “contains yogurt,” “high in antioxidants” or “35 percent of the daily value of fiber.” What does this all mean?

Fiber up

Eating foods with fiber and whole grains is important because fiber helps with digestion and satiety. Most of us don’t get anywhere near the recommended daily intake of 25-35 grams. Eating a breakfast bar with 9 grams of fiber (35 percent of the daily value) offers a great head start to reaching that daily goal.

The 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends that we make half our grains whole. Examples of whole grains include oatmeal, rolled oats, whole rye and wheat. Look for a whole grain listed as the first or second ingredient or look for at least 8 grams of whole grains, if noted, in each 1-ounce serving of bread, cereal or other grain. The example of 16 grams of whole grains in a breakfast bar helps you to reach this goal.

Raise the bar

The calories in breakfast bars are generally in the 90-140 range, which is fairly low for a meal. To lower your intake of added sugars, look for bars with 10 grams of sweetener or less. Types of added sugar are: table sugar (granulated or white sugar), brown sugar, cane sugar, raw (or turbinado) sugar, malt sugar, high-fructose corn syrup, maple syrup, fructose sweetener, honey and molasses.

The saturated-fat content of most breakfast bars is also fairly low, typically in the 0.5-4 gram range. Stick to bars with 2 grams of saturated fat or less. You’ll likely get most of your saturated fat from lunch or dinner, so save your fat allotment for another meal.

Most breakfast bars only have 1-2 grams of protein per serving. Protein helps you feel fuller longer, so add a protein food to go along with your breakfast bar: string cheese, yogurt or hard-boiled eggs are good, on-the-go choices.


Some bars advertise antioxidants, omega 3s and yogurt. You can get these nutrients by eating other foods: antioxidants from fruit and vegetables and omega 3s from fatty fish. Eating a container of yogurt will give you the biggest nutrient bang for your buck. A breakfast bar may not be your best choice for these added nutrients and ingredients.

Bottom line: Eat breakfast. A high-fiber (and lower-sugar) breakfast bar, along with some protein, is a fine choice to start your day. You’ll get a great jump-start on your daily nutritional needs and will have more energy and focus for your day.

Posted by Kim Walker at 12:46 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Nutrition

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Anica Butler, the Sun's crime editor, is a former high school runner and recovering vegetarian who spent more of her early-adult years on a bar stool than working out. She is currently training (though poorly) for a half marathon and is trying to live a generally healthier lifestyle. She also hates the gym.
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