N. Sai Prasanna*

In our  modern fast paced eating lifestyle,  customers are constantly looking for frequent snacking alternatives that can replace their traditional pattern of the daily  breakfast, lunch, and dinner meals in a day. This made consumers  choose food bars as quick snack options that can satisfy different hunger requirements of different lifestyles –  recreational athletes, workaholics tied up for long hours to their desks, people on dieting for weight gain or lose, irregular meals, etc., and to provide quick energy release with good nutritional values. In today’s food market, healthy snacking alternatives like nutrition bars have been seen gaining momentum, as consumers demand for more functional and nutritional filled instant foods. Thereby, the Indian snack bar market has forecasted an annual growth of around 25% during the period 2019-2024¹. The snack bar market has seen much growth in western countries such as the  United States, United Kingdom, Germany and Australia. About 34% raise in bar consumption in last year has been seen amongst US consumers². In present times, consumers are much more aware of healthy lifestyle, fortified foods, smaller meal consumptions, which made the food industries develop foods like nutrition bars that combined both nutrition and convenience of consumption. The bar market offers new and healthier snack bars containing dried fruits and nuts, energy bars fortified with high quality protein and cereal bars that include granola/muesli bars. The consumption of cereal bars made with oats, nuts, honey, wheat, millets, puffed rice and corn, as a snack or meal replacement is expected to intensify the global cereal bar market by 2023. The global cereal bar market has been categorised on the basis of bar types, like snack bars, protein bars, energy bars, granola bars, cereal bars, nutrition bars and others³.

Nutritional bar Guidelines

Nutritional bars were introduced in early 1980s, and found healthy, convenient and proportioned snacks that provide quick energy release on demand basis and nutrients in adequate amounts to athletes and fitness enthusiasts⁴. The most important concerns in the selection of nutritional bars are their caloric content, hydrogenated fats and sodium content. A few common factors are listed  below:

  • Select a bar with low fat (less than 5 grams) and fibre content (3 to 5 grams).
  • Choose bars with less saturated fats (3gm).
  • Select a meal-replacement bar with protein (more than 15 grams) and been fortified with about 35% of the recommended daily allowances (RDAs) for vitamins and minerals.
  • Athletes should choose an energy bar with less fat (below 5 g), fibre (5 g) and protein (10 g) to provide extra energy during long workouts of more than 60 minutes.
  • Along with bars, consume fresh foods like tomatoes or few fruit pieces.
  • Choose recommended levels of vitamins and minerals when multiple bars are consumed per day.
  • Sodium levels should be kept low to reduce problems associated with blood pressure.

Types of bars

Though food bars provide health benefits, nutritionists say that all bars created do not provide the same needs and purpose. Depending on consumer needs and purposes, food market has focused on launching a variety of bars like that of high-carbohydrate bars, protein bars, energy bars, breakfast bars, brain-boosting bars, meal-replacement bars, diet bars and women-only bars⁵. A few of the bars are described here.

Energy bars are dense and portable foods with protein, carbohydrates and fats as the primary sources of energy. At present times, energy bars have emerged as supplement cereal-based foods, being formulated to target consumers requiring immediate energy release and full-meal replacement. But at the same time, these bars can’t be the main staple diet. Energy bars containing mostly fruit and nuts can serve as snack bars satisfying hunger at work sites. A typical energy bar weighs between 45 and 80 g and likely to supply about 200 to 300 calories, 3 to 9 gram of fat, 7 to 15 gram of protein, and 20 to 40 gram of carbohydrates⁶. Energy bars used for snacking purposes should contain about 100 to 180 calories. Within an hour after the workout ends, the athlete may enhance muscle recovery on eating an energy bar containing 200 to 250 calories with 3:1 ratio of carbohydrates: protein⁷. Eating energy bars on regular meal basis could add approximately 300 to 500 calories per day. These energy bars do not contain caffeine, unless ingredients like coffee powder or tea extracts are incorporated.

Meal-replacement bars provide the necessary nutrition of a low calorie meal, enough to fill up our stomach and satisfy our hunger needs. These bars contain higher protein content of about 10 to 25 grams, dietary fibre content ranging from 3 to 5 grams, appropriate carbohydrates and with energy limited to 150 to 400 calories. These bars are found particularly best choice for athletes as they consume in place of meals and for those people looking for dieting and weight loss. These bars can sometimes be consumed as snack between meals. 

Protein bars basically designed for athletes in their bodybuilding and muscle gaining purposes. These bars are packed with much extra and high quality protein about 20 to 35 grams, which helps gym persons or athletes to gain energy from strenuous exercise. High protein bar comprises about 34% of nutritional bar market. About 16 to 20 grams of protein, 10 to 20 grams of carbohydrate, 5 to 10 grams of fat, and 130 to 230 calories (per 50 grams serving size) can be found in high protein bars. These high protein bars are traditionally used as protein supplement for body building and weight loss activities. While protein bars may contain 10 to 15 grams of protein, 15 to 25 grams of carbohydrate, 5 to 15 grams of fat, and 180 to 240 calories (per 50 grams serving size). The protein bars should have water activity in the range of 0.50 to 0.85 to ensure longer shelf life and to preserve the flavour, colour and texture of the bar. 

Endurance bars have higher complex carbohydrate content that provides slow-energy release when eaten before long workouts. These have more carbohydrates that releases energy compared to a protein bar. These bars may improve performance of athletes when consumed at specified intervals. Suppose on eating an endurance bar with 25 to 40 g of carbohydrates with about 100 to 200 calories just an hour before a workout or an athletic event will helps to build energy reserves and provides quick energy at timely need. These bars are best for long bike rides and trail running. 

Organic Bars are a new range of energy bars that contain all organic or natural ingredients and sometimes little processed. They have a crunchier texture and provide energy for all-day outdoor exercise and other activities that require energy and meal-replacement nutritional benefits. These are often referred as activity bars and found similar to endurance bars which majorly focus on sustaining energy. If you are on backpacking, hiking and engaging in strenuous activity, search for organic bars with higher carbohydrate range around 40 grams. As such these organic bars can satisfy these purposes along with good nutritional contents. 

Carbohydrate Bars provides carbohydrates, protein, fibre and vitamins as a supplement to regular diet. These bars provides immediate energy or sustained energy to the bar eaters. The high carbohydrate bars contain 2 to 9 grams of protein, 30 to 40 grams of carbohydrate, 5 to 15 grams of fat, and 160 to 230 calories (per 50 grams of serving size). 

Balanced Carbohydrate/Protein/Fat Bars are designed based on different diet plans like weight loss, low calorie diet, carbohydrate diet. These bars contain 5 to 10 grams of protein, 20 to 30 grams of carbohydrate, 5 to 20 grams of fat, and 200 to 275 calories (per 50 grams serving size). These bars provide more balanced nutrition to the customers¹. The customers on diet of weight loss should choose bars around 150 calories, and those on weight gain can choose around 200 calories. Women should choose a bar marketed for females only with added vitamins and minerals such as iron, calcium and vitamin D than those for endurance athletes that provide few calories.

In all these bars, formulations must be developed around novel ingredients that will provide required functions, good taste, mouthfeel and texture, and bar shelf stability. Three specific objectives to be considered during formulating a snack/energy bar are nutritional targets, labelling requirements and flavour expectations. This made the food industry specialists to continuously change formulations and ingredients as per consumers demand, and to introduce newer technologies to produce food bars with increasing nutritional values to meet consumers’ requirements and safety. At present, low-carbohydrates and high-protein trends in nutritional bar formulation have been replaced by fibres and nutraceuticals.  Regardless of the bar type, the crucial ingredients that influence bar formulation are protein source, sweetener type, fibre source, fats and oils, emulsifiers, vitamins and minerals, nutraceuticals and flavours. Thus a food formulator needs to choose ingredients so as to enhance taste and sweetness of the nutritional bar, without impacting its caloric content and texture. At the same time, he should also focus to develop cost-effective bars with natural and nutritional ingredients, and plant based by-products so that resource wastage can be minimized and economy can also be increased. It is also equally important that the bar should be good, stable and safe when opened to eat after few months from the time it made. The ideal shelf life of any nutritional bar is one year and though 6 – 9 months is more realistic. In coming years, all of the newly launched snack/energy bars need to be completely labelled with all their ingredients and even ingredients that used in less than 1%. The allergen-free tag on the nutritional bar label has the potential to evolve into next level of clean label identity. It would be promising to develop fortified snack/energy bars with improved availability of vitamins and nutrients to tackle malnutrition in school children and women. Also the developed nutritional bars should meet RDAs requirements and guidelines as specified by the respective nutritional institutes all around the world. 

More references on request

*Research team

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