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.
- 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.
|Brand||Overall Rating||Flavor Average||Nutrition Average||Take it? Average|
|Balance Bar Trail Mix||12.0||4.0||2.5||2.75|
|Fuel Natural Endurance||13.9||3.5||3.875||3.25|
|Brand||Alison’s Overall Rating||Flavor||Nutrition||Take it?|
|Balance Bar Trail Mix||9||4||3||1|
|Fuel Natural Endurance||13||4||3||3|
|Brand||Alan’s Overall Rating||Flavor||Nutrition||Take it?|
|Balance Bar Trail Mix||12.0||4||2||3|
|Fuel Natural Endurance||11.0||3||4||2|
|Brand||Carol’s Overall Rating||Flavor||Nutrition||Take it?|
|Balance Bar Trail Mix||9||3||2||2|
|Fuel Natural Endurance||15.5||4||3.5||4|
|Brand||Vic’s Overall Rating||Flavor||Nutrition||Take it?|
|Balance Bar Trail Mix||18||5||3||5|
|Fuel Natural Endurance||16||3||5||4|
|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|
|Bar||Serving size (oz)||Servings per bar||Calories||Fat calories||Total fat (g)||Sodium (mg)||Total Carbs (g)||Fiber (g)||Sugars (g)||Protein (g)|
|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|
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.
|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|
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).