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Which Meal Replacement Bars are Best?

By: Susan Howard

At least once a week, a client or student of mine will ask about supplementation, and which ones I recommend. Not the steroids kind, although some have asked about that as well, but the various meal replacements that people use to supplement actual food.

Often times I will respond dismissively with “none of them.” This is because, as cool as we humans are with our opposable thumbs and all, I don’t think we have learned to create food better than actual FOOD with one-word ingredients like banana, potato, ice cream sandwiches, oops - that’s three words - but who’s counting?

I am sure some body builders looking to put on size would disagree, as they are trying to consume a ton of calories to turn into muscle mass. Okay, so for them, maybe supplementation is the answer. If you’re not sporting a shiny gold Speedo, not trying out for the next NFL draft, or not just hired as a bouncer at Hooters, then it’s to you I am referring.

“What about shakes and bars and all that stuff?” you persist.

Okay, here’s the word. I still think that food which you may dig up from the ground, pluck off a tree or hit over the head with a stick is better than the Jetsons’ cartoon-style meals. “Jane, stop this crazy thing.” (We really do use treadmills though…which came first, the chicken or the egg? Let’s discuss.)

Here’s the thing: if you are in a hurry, sometimes bars can be convenient and allow you to not skip meals. Also if your goal is weight loss, these nutrient-dense foods can really stave off hunger.

My rule is this: ONE FAKE FOOD A DAY. If you had a shake for breakfast, don’t then have a bar for lunch. It’s a supplement - not the main game.

Here are the bars I like because they are real food squished together:

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1. Perfect Foods Peanut Butter Bar
At 292 calories, these bars pack a punch. Super filling, satisfying, and considered a raw food – so much so that you find it in the refrigerated section. With organic peanut butter, raw honey, flax seed, wheat grass, kelp, and egg powder (to name just a few) tasting this delicious, you need to try one to believe the joy. Also I love the name “Perfect Foods”. Why be good when you can be perfect?

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2. LARA Cashew Cookie Bar
At 230 calories, this bar is delicious. My two year-old begs for them and has figured out how to open the drawer and blindly paw around for one. I love this one for its simplicity – two ingredients: cashews and dates. The end. Bravo, guys, for keeping it real. They have a ridiculously large selection of flavors from key lime pie to peanut butter and jelly. I personally love the cashew one, but all are okay in my book.

WARNING: One time I was rushing from one client to the next and thought I would eat a second Lara Bar. Let’s just say there is a good amount of fiber in this one.

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3. Clif Crunchy Peanut Butter Bar
This bar comes in at 250 calories, and tastes the sweetest to me. I wish it were a bit more nutty, but still with organic rolled oats, soy protein, organic brown rice syrup, and the star or the show: peanuts, it has fairly straight forward ingredients. This one is satisfying and yummy and can help when you are feeling snacky and all hell might break loose.

Those are my picks. They may seem a bit nut-heavy, and if you hate nuts, each company makes a variety of flavors. I prefer the nutty ones because bars tend to be sweet, and the nuts balance out all the sugars, keeping your energy even.

Also, none of the bars I picked have that coating in which so many bars are buried. The contents of the coating in some bars (which shall remain nameless) have been likened to what you might use to make SOAP. Gross.

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My last thought, if you are still with me, is: shakes. I believe I have mentioned this before, but my favorite brand is SPIRU-TEIN vanilla. The stuff they put in this one hits so many vitamins and minerals, I dare not try and list them here. If you stink at taking your one-a-day vitamins, this could be a way to get all the good stuff in. Plus, they don’t use Splenda or any other weird sugars. (It does have maltodextrin.) Throw in some banana and a splash of milk, a few ice cubes, and blend. The last ingredient they list is LOVE. I am such a sucker.

I hope this gives you some good options. If you like a different bar or shake, send the info my way; I’d love to try it.

Song pick: “Home” by Edward Sharpe and The Magnetic Zeros. Play this one when you are doing inclines on the treadmill.

Workout: Gosh, I thought we’d never get to it.

Do this one 2 times around with no rest during the series.

Chinups: 5. You can use an assist.

Pushups: 15.

Squats with feet parallel and weights on your shoulders: 15 reps.

Core-hold: 60 seconds on forearms and toes.

Abdominal toe touches from a supine position.

Swimmers. Flip onto your stomach, reaching arms overhead, and lift opposite arm and leg, then switch. Do 20. Rest for 2 minutes, then go again.

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