Monday, May 4, 2009

Raising the Bar on Nutrition Bars

Last Friday I attended the New York State Dietetic Association's Annual Meeting, which featured several food, beverage, and pharmaceutical exhibitors. One of the exhibitors, Kardea Nutrition, was giving out samples of a nutrition bar designed for "natural cholesterol management." I glanced over but didn't check it out; typically bars like this are made of cheap sweeteners, isolated fiber, and vitamins.

Fortunately, the founder of the company, Rob Leighton, stopped at my booth (the Vegetarian Nutrition and Nutrition in Complementary Care Dietetic Practice Groups) and asked me to try a sample. "They're vegan," he told me. Even so, I was wary at first because most bars made up of functional foods (specialty ingredients designed to manage a health issue) are kind of gross. But I tried one and was completely amazed. (Click on the image above to see the details of the bar.) Then I tried the other flavors and was totally blown away. Really. The founder went on to tell me that his mission was to create nutrition bars with unique and scrumptious flavor profiles, based primarily on whole foods and natural ingredients, that people managing their cholesterol could enjoy.

Check out these flavors!

  • Chai Spice: the real cardamom and clove flavors linger on the tongue
  • Banana Walnut: reminiscent of a thick, rich slice of homemade banana bread
  • Cranberry Almond: the perfect balance of sweet and tart, chewy and crunchy
  • Lemon Ginger: with REAL lemon zest and ginger -- the flavors literally pop!

Yesterday DH and I bought 2 of every flavor at Whole Foods! I got the high-five approval from him as well as from my pre-schooler.

Each bar has 150 calories, 5 grams of fat (mostly from real almonds and canola or sunflower oil)between 9 and 11 grams of sugar (depending on the flavor), 7 grams of fiber, 5 grams of soluble fiber, and less than 100 milligrams of sodium. They each contain 7 grams of protein, primarily from almonds, soy protein, and brown rice protein. They are sweetened primarily with whole foods (bananas, cranberries, etc.), brown rice syrup, agave nectar, and molasses. They also have psyllium husk, chicory root fiber, and acacia fiber, natural ingredients known to promote cholesterol health.

Disclaimer -- two of the flavors, lemon ginger and cranberry almond are not listed as vegan because they contain an ingredient (lemon zest) that is made with sugar (the company cannot find a supplier of pure zest at this time). Because it could not be determined with 100% certainty that the sugar in this ingredient was not processed with bone char, the company did the responsible thing and listed them as vegetarian but not vegan. My take on that? One, the amount of sugar that ends up in a bar is miniscule; it's just a carrier for a flavoring. Two, these days, most sugar is manufactured without the use of bone char, so there's a good chance it may be purely vegan anyway. How far we take our veganism is an individual choice; the way I see it is, the company goes out of its way to use whole foods and vegan ingredients, and even declines to label them as "vegan" because of the undetermined source of the sugar, and that's a company I'm going to support.

Ok, I know. You may be thinking, "But I don't need to reduce my cholesterol. Why would I want these bars?" I had the same thought. I even brought up this question to the founder. After all, these bars are so delicious, but ANYONE can enjoy them, not just folks who need to closely monitor their cholesterol.

Well, here's how I see it. Reasonably healthy and moderately processed foods such as this can have a place in a healthful diet. (They're not completely processed; they also have whole foods in them, like nuts and fruits.) These bars are not designed to replace a healthy diet. A healthy diet will always consist primarily of vegetables, whole grains, beans/nuts/seeds, and fruits. These bars are a tasty and nutritious compromise when you'd like a quick and easy snack, and they support healthy cholesterol levels. Those of us with normal cholesterol will not see a dangerous plummet with these bars, just as we wouldn't see it with daily inclusion of oatmeal (known to lower cholesterol). We all have choices. If you're hankering for an in-between-meal snack, this bar is reasonable for its nutrition profile (for most people, 100-200 calories is ideal between meals, and it's got a healthy dose of fiber and protein) and exceptionally yummy flavor.

1 comment:

Paulina said...

Wow, these bars look great! I'll have to look for them the next time I go to Whole Foods.