Dirty Little Secrets Of The “Healthy” Energy Bar Industry (& The Shocking Truth About Protein Bars, Paleo Bars & Beyond).

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I used to be an energy and “health” bar addict.

I’d easily consume 2-3 energy bars an hour on a long bike ride, always have some kind of satiating, healthy “Paleo-ish” bar tucked away somewhere during a run or a long road trip or airplane ride and would typically be munching on some kind of massive, forearm-sized protein bar while wandering out of the gym after weightlifting.

No wonder I struggled for years with chronically elevated blood sugar, gut rot, excess protein intake, energy level roller coaster rides and toxins in my blood tests. And no wonder so many other folks who depend on health bars as a staple wind up constantly fighting an uphill battle against weight gain, poor energy levels (ironic, right?), bloating, gas, constipation and more.

Why this seeming paradox?

Unfortunately, most energy bars are chock full of sugar and starch, which may be good for a sudden burst of energy, but not so great if you’re trying to avoid sugar crashes. And if the sugar gets removed from a bar, it’s often replaced with nasty artificial sweeteners that can kill gut bacteria and cause neurotoxicity.

Or the bar is packed with so much excess protein that you get ammonia build-up, acidity, or gut issues like bloating, gas and constipation. Finally, from peanuts to soy to whey and beyond, the ingredients of many bars can cause food intolerance reactions, resulting in weight gain, skin, gut and immune system problems and a host of other health issues.

Finally, if a bar actually is healthy, it either tastes like cardboard, falls apart in the heat, or is like biting into tree bark in the cold and simply hasn’t been tested “in-the-trenches” by people living hard-charging lives or athletes competing under real conditions that exist outside of some whitewashed food laboratory.

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And I’ve only scratched the surface of the issues and the shocking truth about so-called “healthy” energy bars, protein bars, Paleo bars and beyond. But in this article, I’m going to pull back the curtain on all the dirty little secrets of the energy bar industry, reveal the disturbing truth about everything from IMOs to processing, preservatives and beyond and fill you in on my hunt for the perfect superfood energy bar.


Where’d Energy Bars Come From Anyways? The Intriguing History of Energy Bars

The first energy bars were actually made for astronauts. Pillsbury (yep, the Pillsbury doughboy folks) created Space Food Sticks in the 1960s, modeling them after the small “space food cubes” eaten by astronaut Scott Carpenter on board Aurora 7 in 1962. (fellow astronaut John Glenn had consumed the fruit-flavored drink Tang in space three months earlier).

Pillsbury’s food engineers had already been hard at work on similar engineered sources of nutrients and calories, such as non-crumbly cake, relish that could be served in slices and meat that needed no refrigeration to be able to take into space and to have a long shelf life. In 1970, Pillsbury filed a trademark for Space Food Sticks, then repackaged and advertised them to consumers as a “nutritionally balanced between-meal snack.”

Space Food Sticks faded from the market as the space program faded from government focus and after that, the energy bar as we know it today didn’t appear back on the scene until 1986 when Canadian marathoner Brian Maxwell founded a company you may already be familiar with: PowerBar. Maxwell claimed to be “creating the perfect energy bar, to help athletes survive long-distance events without running out of glycogen”. He and his wife progressed from handing out the fledgling bar to marathoners after races to eventually selling to Nestlé in 2000 for $375 million…

…and we all know what happened then: a host of flashy energy bar and processed health food marketing companies from Clif Bar to Muscle Milk emerged to form the nearly $9 billion food bar market that now exists today, unfortunately primarily comprised of a host of chemical cocktails neatly packaged in plastic and full of a host of nasty compounds I discovered as I began to take a deeper look into what I was fueling my body with each day.


The Dirty Little Secrets Of The Energy Bar Industry

Anytime a food, compound or supplement is a staple in my diet, I certainly want to make sure I’m not slowly killing myself. Coffee is a perfect example of a staple that can be bad news or good news (and I tell you the story of my quest to discover the healthiest coffee bean on the planet here). As a fit guy who is constantly on the go, food bars are another staple in my diet, and they have been for quite some time, ever since I was a fledgling competitive bodybuilder in search of convenient packaged nutrients and energy.

But it was four years ago, after struggling with a serious bout of gastrointestinal issues, high cortisol, rampant blood sugar swings and a host of other puzzling health issues – issues that a healthy active man shouldn’t have to be frustrated by – that I decided I should “audit my diet” and take a closer look at the Powerbars, Clif Bars, granola bars, artificially sweetened bars and so-called “healthy energy bars” I was consuming as a staple in my active, traveling lifestyle as a CEO, Ironman triathlete and obstacle course racer. After all, it’s one thing to blindly trust healthy ingredient packaging and quite another to see what’s really going on behind the scenes.

So I turned to my friends in the natural products and nutrition industry: bar and natural product formulators, food scientists, nutrition researchers and more…

…and what I learned from during the many conversations that occurred after I first turned to these industry experts for a solution to my energy bar conundrum turned out to unveil many shocking issues with nearly all of the leading protein, “Paleo”, energy and health bars that currently line the shelves of supplement stores and are sitting in the warehouses of internet supplement companies. As a matter of fact, on the first page of one of the key energy bar health surveys, I discovered the following sentence:

“A review of leading Paleo bars reveals that most of them are quite similar to non-Paleo health bars.”

I then went on to find that many of the leading Paleo bars have a sugar content that matches the sugar content of Snickers and Three Musketeers candy bars – with sugar content as high as 28 grams in a single bar – matched with a total energy and protein profile that makes most popular bars a bomb of excess sugar and calories. But his survey revealed that the problems with the modern energy bar industry went way beyond sugar, excess calories and excess protein.

Take IMOs for example. Ever heard of them? I certainly hadn’t.

Here’s how IMOs work: Health or energy bars that claim to have high amounts of protein but very low levels of net or available carbohydrate, (the carbohydrate left over after dietary fiber and sugar alcohols are subtracted out) have become wildly popular in certain segments of the fitness community. You’ve no doubt seen these so-called “high protein, low carb” bars all over the place. But a key ingredient in many of these bars is a carbohydrate called isomalto-oligosaccharide (IMO), which is promoted as a “prebiotic dietary fiber”. Bars made with IMO often include over 15g of IMO, allowing the bar manufacturer to make claims of high dietary fiber.

Of course, we innocent consumers see this as a win, because this gives us a nutrition bar that appears to have a low level of net carbohydrate and relatively low calories with the added benefit of a prebiotic dietary fiber to go along with all that protein. But a deeper dive into the research shows that IMOs might not live up to their sterling reputation as a calorie-free, guilt-free source of dietary fiber.

First, IMO syrup isn’t really “natural”, as the bar label would claim. Although IMOs do occur naturally in some foods, it is not economically feasible to extract IMO from foods on a large scale. Because of this, commercially-available IMO syrups are enzymatically synthesized from starch. This process converts starch into smaller chains of glucose units that are linked together via chemical bonds. So it is completely incorrect to say that the IMO syrup added to foods is natural.

Next, IMO syrup is not a completely undigestible dietary fiber, as claimed. Studies using a digestive modeling system and human salivary or hog pancreatic alpha-amylase showed a lack of hydrolysis of IMO, suggesting that it may be a dietary fiber that would largely resist hydrolysis in the small intestine and reach the colon intact. In these studies, under resting conditions, consumption of IMO causes mean serum glucose levels to increase from 109 mg/dL pre-ingestion to a peak of 136 mg/dL at 30 minutes post-ingestion. Serum insulin also rises in parallel with glucose, reaching a peak of 32 μU/mL at 30 min post-IMO ingestion, up from 4.8 μU/mL pre-ingestion. So what’s this mean? In a nutshell, the majority of the carbohydrate in the IMO syrup used in these bars is, in fact, digested, absorbed, and metabolized.

And, despite industry claims, IMO is definitely not calorie-free, but instead contains about 2.7 to 3.3 calories per gram. So, it would be dead wrong to assume that the carbohydrates from IMO don’t count as available carbohydrates to the body simply because IMO is often referred to as a dietary fiber. It is also misleading for manufacturers to list the entire carbohydrate content of IMO as dietary fiber since the studies you can read here clearly show that this is not the case. 

Just in case IMO isn’t showing up on your energy bar ingredient label, there’s a reason for that: it’s also often simply called “inulin”. Sound familiar? I thought so.

Then there’s the problem with excess preservatives.

Preservatives such as BHA, BHT, sodium nitrate, sulfites, sodium benzoate and more are often being dumped into these bars to ensure a shelf life of years and years – which saves an energy bar producing company plenty of money, but results in plenty of chemicals getting shoved into your gaping maw every time you bite down on that “organic” packaged munchable.

Next up is excess protein.

Most bars are using proteins from cheap sources such as soy and whey protein isolate, both of which can cause allergies, autoimmune reactions, constipation, bloating, and other unpleasant reactions. But hey – at least they’re inexpensive!

Soy protein is a big culprit in this department. Many folks give soy protein props for being a high-quality protein with an amino acid profile similar to meat, but in reality, soy protein isolate is more Twix bar than tofu. Soy protein isolate, for example, is basically processed soy leftovers. The process of “isolating” the soy protein leaves behind traces of neurotoxins such as hexane and aluminum, not to mention the digestive woes caused by high concentrations of trypsin inhibitors that can block the digestion of plant protein. And then, of course, there’s the fact that almost 90% of all soy is genetically modified.

After learning all this, and many other disturbing truths, from the natural products formulator and ingredients expert I spoke with, I decided to ask a great big “what if” question.

And my question to the energy bar industry experts was this…

…”What if I wanted you to help me formulate a clean-burning bar that would “hold up” under rigorous conditions of people living hard-charging, high-achieving lives…

…and that wouldn’t necessarily be a high-fat, slightly greasy, low-energy “ketogenic” bar as much as a lowish-carb, high-fat, moderate-protein bar with zero dairy, zero soy, zero whey protein isolate, and instead contain a clean hypoallergenic protein source…

…a bar that is low in lectins and free of gluten, saponins and other notorious gut assailants…

…a bar that has plenty of minerals and electrolytes, adequate fiber (but no IMOs!) to keep one from getting the notorious “energy bar constipation”, and a bar that supports recovery with sufficient levels of all essential amino acids and antioxidants, without excess protein…

…a bar that contains just enough carbohydrate for liver and muscle glycogen restoration and appetite satiety…

…a bar that doesn’t freeze and turn into a rock-solid brick in frigid temperatures while snowboarding, skiing and hiking and that doesn’t melt into a pile of seedy goo upon exposure to hot bike rides, runs and car glove compartments…

…and just as importantly, a bar that doesn’t taste like cardboard, has a good crunch and mouthfeel and keeps me satisfied without a “dissolve in my mouth” type of here-and-gone taste…

…what if I wanted you to create that for me?”

To my delight, one fellow health nerd, ketogenic expert, and seasoned formulator David Urman said yes. And so, a culinary and nutrition science adventure of nearly two years began – my personal quest to hunt down the best ingredients on the face of the planet to create the ultimate, healthy, clean energy bar.


How To Minimize Preservatives In An Energy Bar

David and I began with something quite simple: how do you minimize preservatives without requiring for a bar to be (quite inconveniently) refrigerated or frozen? In other words, how can a bar be made shelf stable without turning it into chemical-infused frankenfuel?

It turns out that the only preservatives really necessary to make a bar shelf stable can indeed be a few simple ingredients such as sea salt, chia seeds, Vitamin E contributors like almonds and tocopherols (a family of vitamin E compounds naturally found in foods like nuts, fish and leafy green vegetables).

Sea salt is, of course, a classic preservative that humans have used for thousands of years to preserve food, almonds are dense with tocopherols and vitamin E (a natural preservative due to its antioxidant effects), chia seeds’ overwhelming antioxidant stores allow them to hold up extremely well (two to three years at least) and skin, joint and gut nourishing gelatin is stable over a two year period.

And voila! That’s how you give a bar healthy shelf stability, with minimal preservatives (and that’s also how you leave me scratching my head about why so many bar companies cut corners with cheap fillers and artificial preservatives so that they save money and so that their bars can sit in a warehouse for years and years).


How To Pack Protein Into A Bar Without Producing Allergies

Next up came protein, amino acids and everything necessary to allow an energy bar to enhance recovery, satiety and muscle-building.

The big question I had to tackle here was this: how can a bar provide adequate amino acids for recovery without creating mTor and longevity issues from excess protein intake? After all, I’ve written in the past about how excess protein can not only cause something called “gluconeogenesis” (essentially, the creation of sugar out of protein) but can also accelerate aging and create excess ammonia build-up and net body acidity.

Furthermore, and perhaps just as important, is the question of how to pack protein into a bar without introducing allergenic, cheap or GMO ingredients like soy protein isolate or whey protein isolate? Tackling this conundrum was actually far easier than I originally anticipated.

kion-bar-grass-fed-gelatinIt turns out that a bar can contain roughly the equivalent of a half-cup of an entire bone broth’s worth of gut nourishing gelatin by simply adding ample amounts of gelatin from grass-fed cows. As you probably already know, gelatin is a well-researched ingredient that has been actively studied for its benefits for the gut, joints and skin. Gelatin is highly bioavailable, provides a full spectrum of long-chain amino acids for muscle support and serves as the building block of connective tissues such as bones, cartilage, skin, and tendons.

kion-bar-kaniwa

 

In addition to gelatin, another fantastic and hypoallergenic protein source is something called “kaniwa”, a close cousin of quinoa that is often referred to as baby quinoa. Kaniwa is a high-density, plant-based protein with a higher amount of protein than quinoa but, like quinoa, is a “perfect” protein in that it contains all nine essential amino acids that your body cannot produce on its own. It is also a good source of flavonoids, which means it doesn’t need extra preservatives added to keep it stable.

Like quinoa, kaniwa also hails from South America. Cultivated in Peru and Bolivia, kaniwa is the seed from a flowering plant called goosefoot (Chenopodium pallidicaule). Quinoa is from the same genus (Chenopodium) but is a different species (quinoa) with slightly different properties. Quinoa consists of small seed grains that may be red, dark brown, or white in appearance. Kaniwa is smaller than quinoa seeds (about half the size) and are dark red or brownish in color. Both quinoa and kaniwa have a delicious nutty flavor, although kaniwa is slightly sweeter than quinoa. Additionally, kaniwa has a slightly crunchy texture, while quinoa is fluffy and soft – making kaniwa a perfect ingredient for an energy bar to give it added mouthfeel and “crunch”.

Kaniwa is particularly high in lysine, an amino acid that is typically found only in small amounts in grain products. It also contains an enormous variety of vitamins and minerals, including iron, B vitamins, vitamin E, magnesium, phosphorus, zinc, copper, and manganese.

 

kion-bar-pea-proteinIn addition to grass-fed gelatin and organic kaniwa, I also decided to add a touch of pea protein to the bar. Not only is the plant-based pea protein (unlike peas or legumes themselves) very low in gut-irritating lectins and phytic acid due to the highly effective hydrolysis process used to extract the protein from the peas, but it’s also a complete protein that is allergen-free, unlike whey and soy. Pea protein supplies a unique array of amino acids such as high amounts of lysine, arginine, branched-chain amino acids, enzymes that help your body function normally and a host of vitamins, minerals and nutrients.

When combined with the tasty and nutrient dense white chia seeds you’re about to discover, grass-fed gelatin, organic kaniwa and pea protein turn out to be a mighty flavorful and protein-packed threesome that allows you to get a perfect amount of protein into an energy bar with zero allergens, minimal preservatives, and amazing mouthfeel and flavor.


What Are The Best Fats For An Energy Bar?

OK, next up are fats. I definitely wanted to minimize the amount of carbohydrate and sugar in this bar, resulting in a low-carbohydrate, high-fat bar…

…without the excess protein that most bars have…

…and also without necessarily creating a bar that was fully “ketogenic” (which can create a fat “gut bomb” in many people, especially people who are eating the bar during exercise), but rather contained just enough glycogen sources to allow for support of an active lifestyle and restoration of muscle and liver energy stores, especially when eaten at some point in a post-workout window.

So based on this, what did I choose for healthy fat sources in an energy bar?

kion-bar-chia-seeds

The first fat source I discovered was white chia seeds. These seeds, harvested from the Salvia hispanica plant, pack such a nutritional punch that most nutritionists have for decades called chia a superfood. With a protein content of up to 25% and dietary fiber reaching 30%, chia also contains significant amounts of omega-3 fatty acids, vitamins, minerals and antioxidants. The chia seed is extremely nutrient dense and packs a ton of energy boosting power. As a matter of fact, Aztec warriors ate chia seeds to give them energy and endurance, and claimed that a single spoonful of chia could sustain them for 24 hours (chia actually means “strength” in the Mayan language, and they were known as “runners food” because runners and warriors would use them as fuel while running long distances or during battle).

Chia seeds also promote healthy skin, reduce signs of aging, support the heart and digestive system and build stronger bones and muscles. Also, when soaked in the juices of the digestive system, chia seeds can coat the lining of the stomach and serve as a gut-nourishing compound, especially during physical activity.

 

kion-bar-almondsThe next fat source turned out to be almonds. Loaded with protein, healthy monounsaturated fat, fiber and antioxidants, almonds support performance and satiety while adding a crunchy texture. Their high oleic acid content makes them perfect for nervous system and cell membrane support.

In addition to white chia seeds and almonds, my next obvious fat choice – for everything from antioxidants to cognitive performance benefits to blood flow to flavor and more – was, drumroll please…

 

kion-bar-cocoa-butter

Chocolate! And I didn’t just want one single form of chocolate: I instead wanted as many different varieties of chocolatey goodness I could squeeze into a single bar.

I began with chocolate liquor, which is a low processed chocolate that is equal parts cocoa butter and cocoa solids (commonly thought of as cooking chocolate and far lower in sugar than other commercial forms of chocolate).

 

kion-bar-cocoa-nibsNext, I added a touch of cocoa butter for healthy, energy-stabilizing saturated fats and cocoa powder for extra flavor and antioxidants. Then I moved on to one of my favorite superfoods of all time: cocoa nibs. Cocoa nibs are packed full of fiber (a single ounce of cocoa nibs has a whopping 9g of fiber to keep your digestive system running smoothly), contain tons of antioxidants, boatloads of magnesium (a single ounce of cocoa nibs has sixty-four milligrams of magnesium in it), potassium (more per ounce than bananas), are chock-full of iron and are a wonderful mood enhancer (cocoa works wonders on your neurotransmitters).

You’re no doubt familiar with all the proven benefits of dark chocolate. If you are not, just read “The Magical Thing Eating Chocolate Does To Your Brain.” When blended with chia and almond flavor and delivered in the form of chocolate liquor, cocoa butter, cocoa powder and cocoa nibs in a bar, you get gobs of chocolate with none of the additives and chemicals you’d find in a Hershey’s or Snickers bar.

kion-bar-coconut

The final form of fat is another one of my favorites: coconut flakes – extremely nutritious and rich in fiber, vitamins and minerals. Once thought of as unhealthy because of being a “high saturated fat” food, we now know that the fat in coconut flakes is different from most other fats. Not only is it an extremely stable saturated fat that will not turn rancid at high heat like vegetable oils – a much more common ingredient in most energy bars – but it is also an extremely rich source of medium-chain triglycerides (MCTs), which are burned easily as a slow-release form of fuel and do not circulate in the bloodstream like other fats (instead, they are sent straight to the liver and converted into energy and ketones). It was surprisingly difficult to find a pure, clean source of coconut flakes, but I was able to accomplish that for this bar as well!

 

And that is how you make a healthy, high-fat, low-carbohydrate bar with no greasiness or gooey chocolate coating: white chia seeds, almonds, chocolate liquor, cocoa butter, cocoa powder, cocoa nibs and coconut flakes!


Why Honey Is The Perfect Sweetener For A Bar

Now let’s talk carbs and why I chose honey as the primary carbohydrate source and sweetener in this bar. After all, several folks I have handed the bar to have raised their eyebrow at the organic honey on the ingredient label, and then asked me what I think about the claim by professor Robert Lustig and many others that “fructose is evil” (just check out “The Bitter Truth About Fructose Alarmism” to see what I mean).

In reality, organic honey is instead the perfect sweetener in a bar that is not designed to be a ketogenic bar or a high-protein bar per se, but instead a high-fat, moderate protein, low-carb energy bar. Why?

First, if you check out the fructose amounts from studies like this and this, often cited as proof that fructose makes you fat, you’ll see that the amount of fructose being fed to rodents in these studies was not only pure, unnatural, isolated fructose (not the natural fructose:glucose mix you find in organic honey), but was also mainlined into the bloodstream of these rodents in extremely, extremely high amounts (as in the equivalent of a human being sucking down oodles and oodles of Coke every day for weeks on end).

In addition, fructose is metabolized almost completely in the liver in humans, where it is directed toward replenishment of liver glycogen and triglyceride synthesis. Under 1% of ingested fructose is actually converted to plasma triglyceride in the bloodstream, while 29%-54% of fructose is converted in the liver to glucose, about a quarter of the fructose is converted to lactate and 15% – 18% is converted to storage glycogen. The glucose and lactate derived from the fructose are then used normally as a slowly-released energy to fuel cells all over the body.

Unlike glucose, fructose is not an insulin secretagogue. In addition to being metabolized in the liver, fructose is also metabolized in the intestine, testes, kidney, skeletal muscle, fat tissue and brain, but it is not transported into cells via insulin-sensitive pathways (insulin-regulated transporters GLUT1 and GLUT4). By using honey, the consumption of this bar won’t give you any type of sugar crash you might experience with other bars, especially since it also isn’t jam-packed with excess levels of protein.

It’s also interesting to note that along with blackstrap molasses and maple syrup, honey is one of the best nutrient-dense natural sweeteners you’ll ever find. The Glycemic Index (a relative ranking of carbohydrate in foods according to how they affect blood glucose levels) of honey varies from 32 to 85, depending on the botanical source, and while honey can have relatively high Glycemic Index, the Glycemic Load (how much the food will raise a person’s blood glucose level after eating it) is relatively low.

kion-bar-honey

In reality, honey is far, far different than sugar, and there is now plenty of clinical research proving these significant differences. For example, one double-blind, randomized clinical study titled, “Effect of honey versus sucrose on appetite, appetite-regulating hormones, and post-meal thermogenesis” published in 2010 in the Journal of the American College of Nutrition, compared the effects of honey or sugar on appetite hormones (ghrelin, peptide YY) and glycemic and thermic effects after a meal, in fourteen healthy, non-obese women.

The researchers found that the group given 450 calories of honey in their breakfasts experienced “a blunted glycemic response that may be beneficial for reducing glucose intolerance,” and saw positive modulation of appetite hormones (specifically, a delayed postprandial ghrelin response and enhanced total peptide YY levels).

Another study published in Journal of Medical Food in 2004 entitled “Natural honey lowers plasma glucose, C-reactive protein, homocysteine, and blood lipids in healthy, diabetic, and hyperlipidemic subjects: comparison with dextrose and sucrose” compared honey to dextrose and sucrose and found that natural honey was capable of lowering plasma glucose, C-reactive protein and homocysteine in healthy, diabetic and hyperlipidemic subjects. Animal research has also confirmed that, when compared to sucrose (such as you’d find in sugar), honey is far more effective at promoting lower weight gain, adiposity (fat accumulation), and triglycerides.

Granted, one concern that I had was regarding the effects of heating on the nutrients such as enzymes and probiotics in the organic honey that I wanted in the bar. But the good news is that we discovered a process that can get organic honey into the bar that is far different than the free-radical generating, nutrient-destroying, intense, long-term pasteurization processes most food manufacturers use! Instead, the organic honey in this bar is simply heated at 60 degrees celsius for just a few minutes, rather than undergoing hours of processing at an extremely high heat. In addition, the mild “Maillard” reaction (browning process that occurs when heating honey) actually increases total antioxidant capacity of the bar!

Another very cool thing about the organic honey in the bar is that it, along with the grass-fed gelatin, serves as an all-natural binder. That means there is no need for that nasty IMO synthesized starch I mentioned earlier and also no need for any additional artificial fillers or binders. 

Finally, when you add in the extensive amounts of fiber from the almonds, the cocoa nibs and the white chia seeds, it once again removes the need for any added IMO/inulin starch, lowers the glycemic index of the bar even more, and results in a bar that gives you an extremely efficient stable source of energy with zero sugar crashes.


The Hidden Recovery Ingredient To Look For In A Bar

In addition to protein, there’s one other important recovery component that you must look for in an energy bar: high sources of natural, full-spectrum antioxidants without high amounts of synthetic antioxidants (the latter have been shown to actually blunt the physiological response to strength training!). The inclusion of antioxidants from natural food sources can help to lower inflammation and shut down the damaging free radicals caused by everything from excessive exercise to pollution to toxins to stress to lack of sleep and much more.

The good news is that the total antioxidant capacity created by the unique blend of ingredients in this bar is very high. The organic honey, almonds, cocoa nibs, kaniwa, white chia seeds and chocolate liquor all contain very high levels of not only antioxidants but also flavonoids which, like antioxidants, are potent free radical scavengers. You can’t get these benefits from supplements – they are best delivered in their full-spectrum, natural format from whole food sources. This is something I learned when studying oxidative stress measurements in the food industry – real food is the best approach to managing free radical activity.

kion-bar-sesame-seedsNot only do the ingredients above serve to make this bar simply jam-packed with free radical scavengers, but there is one other antioxidant-rich ingredient I haven’t yet mentioned: sesame seeds. Sesame seeds add a nutty taste and a delicate, almost invisible, crunch to the texture of a bar. They also offer an excellent source of copper and a very good source of manganese and are also a source of calcium, magnesium, iron, phosphorus, vitamin B1, zinc, molybdenum, selenium, and dietary fiber.

In addition to these important nutrients, sesame seeds contain two unique substances: sesamin and sesamolin. Both of these substances belong to a group of special beneficial fibers called lignans and have been shown to have a cholesterol-lowering effect in humans as well as prevent high blood pressure and increase vitamin E supplies. Sesamin has also been found to protect the liver from oxidative damage.


How To Maximize The Flavor Of An Energy Bar

One fact that I’m extremely proud of is that every single person I have handed a “beta-sample” of this bar to has been absolutely astounded by the flavor and even more surprised when I’ve revealed that there is none of the high-fructose corn syrup, none of the agave syrup (a notoriously highly refined sweetener falsely advertised as natural), none of the arsenic-laced brown rice syrup, none of the acesulfame potassium, none of the sucralose and none of the gas and bloating-inducing sugar alcohols like erythritol, mannitol, sorbitol, xylitol, lactitol, isomalt, maltitol and none of the hydrogenated starch hydrolysates that you normally find in just about every energy bar that exists.

How do you actually make a bar taste so good without adding any of these flavorful but unnatural and nasty taste enhancers?

Allow me to introduce you to a new term:”organoleptics”. Organoleptic properties are the aspects of food, water or other substances that you experience via any of your senses, and this can include taste, sight, smell, and touch. The organoleptics of this bar are incredibly unique, and in the words of one food scientist involved with the formulation, mouthfeel, taste-testing and organoleptic design of many, many packaged foods and bars and who was involved with the taste-testing of this bar…

…”it’s just so good”.

The fact is, the combination of organic honey with the slightly bitter unprocessed cocoa nibs provides a perfect chocolate flavor, while the chocolate liquor and coconut flakes provide a rich slightly sweeter effect, but all in a very subtle, non-overwhelming way. Then the white chia seeds, kaniwa and almonds provide a natural, nutty crisp.

This means the bar is incredibly flavorful and extremely well put together from a taste, sight, smell and touch standpoint – with zero artificial flavors, no artificial sweeteners and even zero natural flavors (including none of the preservatives, soy and GMO starch they “hide” in so-called healthy energy bars!).


How To Test An Energy Bar

When I finally finished designing this bar, the labs that I work readily admitted that my testing process was one of the most rigorous and slightly annoying field tests that they’d ever had to deal with. After all, I wanted a bar that wouldn’t freeze into a tooth-chipping brick when I was competing in frigid conditions or snowboarding, skiing or hiking in the cold, and also a bar that wouldn’t melt into a giant, greasy pile of nasty hot nuts and seeds when exposed to sun, car heat, saunas or other sweltering conditions.

In the words of David Urman, the chief natural products formulator I worked with on this entire bar project…

…”Ben tested this bar differently from any other customer I’ve ever worked with. It took two years to develop it, which is unheard of! One test was that Ben had to stick the bar somewhere in his workout gear (the pouch of his riding shorts) and take the bar out for a three-hour bike ride in 90+ degree heat to test the bar’s durability not to melt. There is no IMO in this bar or cornstarch holding it together, so I thought it might fail. But it passed the test! He also stuck it in his sauna for five hours, and took it into 38 degrees below zero in a frigid race in Vermont – and every torture he put the bar through kept us refining and tweaking the ingredients until we were sure it would hold up to the most adventurous lifestyle possible.”

But in the end, it was all worth it. Why?

Because despite the long, rigorous, frustrating process of testing every ingredient blend, variation and formula on the face of the planet, I was able to develop a bar that I can not only munch on in my office that didn’t result in an ill-timed sugar crash later in the day or getting brain fog from allergens or getting gut rot from fermenting carbohydrates or getting nasty chemical reactions from a host of artificial ingredients, but also a bar that I can take anywhere in the world into the most rigorous of conditions for a dose of mouth-watering flavor when I’m suffering in the throes of competition.

In other words, this thing isn’t going to crumble on impact, fall apart, freeze, melt, or create any other frustrating scenario that results in you unwrapping a giant, annoying mess that at one point in it’s sorry life was some semblance of a “healthy” energy bar.


Summary

And that, my friends, is how Kion Bar came to be. After two-plus years of research, testing, formulating, tasting and blending together some of the most unique foods on the face of the planet, the mouth-watering, gut-nourishing, guilt-free final product is finally ready.

Let’s review the final list of ingredients…

“Organic honey, almonds, cocoa nibs, hydrolyzed gelatin, baby quinoa (kaniwa), organic white chia seeds, coconut flakes, chocolate liquor (roasted and ground cocoa beans), water, organic rice protein, pea protein isolate, sesame seeds, cocoa powder, cocoa butter, sea salt, tocopherols.”

Here’s the nutrition facts label:

And here’s what the complete bar actually looks like:

Ultimately, Kion Bar is a clean, hypoallergenic and guilt-free energy bar, jam-packed with a unique blend of ingredients that support energy, muscle gain and fat loss – without excess carbohydrates, excess proteins or unhealthy chemicals.

Through this entire fun and eye-opening adventure of formulating Kion Bar, my goal was to deliver to you a tasty appetite-satiating, nutrient-dense bar that could withstand the rigors of living a limitless, exciting life, reduce food cravings with just a few simple bites, give you a long-term, stable source of energy without causing sugar crashes, not contain a chemical cocktail or excess protein, not create allergy and autoimmune issues, and deliver a big, tasty punch of mouth-watering, chocolatey-salty-coconut flavor.

I’m extremely proud of the result: a guilt-free bar that you can give to your family and your kids, eat before or during a workout, at your desk, on an airplane, or any other time you need clean-burning, stable energy. From stable, healthy fat sources like coconut flakes and cocoa butter to grass-fed gelatin, kaniwa and pea protein, to a host of other unique ingredients that go above and beyond any other energy bar, Kion Bar is guaranteed to give you all the nutrients, minerals, deliciousness and appetite satisfaction that you desire in a bar, with none of the harmful ingredients. Enjoy!

So that’s it. You can click here to get a box of Kion Bars now, and save up to 20% when you use this link. One box contains twelve bars and these things are flying off the shelves like hotcakes, so get your boxes while the gettin’s good!

Finally, leave all your health bar, energy bar, protein bar and other bar questions and comments below, including any questions about the Kion Bar ingredients, and I’ll reply!

 

Ask Ben a Podcast Question


34 thoughts on “Dirty Little Secrets Of The “Healthy” Energy Bar Industry (& The Shocking Truth About Protein Bars, Paleo Bars & Beyond).

  1. Margaret says:

    I just purchased a box of bars to try, but what do you think of Bulletproof collagen bars? There aren’t all the junk ingredients you describe but it does have inulin in the form of chicory root.

    1. Haven't tried them! Basically, all inulin isn't created equal. Stay tuned for a follow up post about this.

  2. Fernando says:

    Excellent work again Ben! Agree with Leslie you come up with solutions and great ones! Bill can always unsubscribe.

  3. Daniel says:

    Awesome podcast Ben. Do you have a strong opinion either way on whether coconut flakes are better for you toasted or untoasted? Thanks.

    1. I prefer untoasted, but I've eaten both (as long as they're unsweetened) Thrive actually has these amazing toasted flakes I use a cereal sometimes: http://thrivemarket.com/ben

  4. Brian says:

    Some more great info Ben. I was a regular buyer of the old bar, I’ll be putting an order for the new version. On the topic of IMO’s and inulin, I’m looking for a new protein powder. I’ve been using Thorne VegaLite, but find it a little chalky tasting and I’m “concerned” with the ingredient “flavors.” Kind of a red flag… I was looking at Organifi’s Complete Protein, it has a solid deck, but it’s got agave inulin, so I’m staying away from that. What is your go-to vegan protein powder that you recommend? Thanks!

  5. Pat says:

    Hi Ben. I just placed an order for 3 boxes so that my son and I an try them as a cycling fuel. May I suggest you consider a packaged mix version that would allow me to add my own honey, etc and customize as I see fit for purpose. This may be a great compliment product to your bars…Pat

  6. Rochelle says:

    Any way you can make this with less honey? Sounds good overall but too sweet.

    1. Renée says:

      Agreed! We can handle it. And prefer (and purchase) it. All else looks great

  7. Gabriel Kaiser says:

    Are your almonds sprouted? If so, hook me up with the bioavailability!

  8. Alexa says:

    This is amazing! I remember when you offered these bars under a different brand name, I believe (before Kion was founded). They were delicious and I was so sad when they ran out of stock. Super happy to see them back, with a sleek wrapper design, no less! Question for you – when do you expect to stock these in stores? It would be super convenient to be able to buy them from local health food stores (or Amazon) :) Keep rocking on!

    1. Happy to hear you like them! Hopefully sooner than later, if you're not signed up for my newsletter, I usually make announcements like that there: BenGreenfieldFitness.com/newsletter

  9. Karen says:

    Very important info and thank you for sharing. I stopped eating bars when starting Keto and I know they were the source of many of my issues. I do miss the convenience of them so I’d love to try these. Just not up for dropping $35 without knowing I will like them and how I digest them. Any chance of getting one bar to try? Are they sold in any retail shops? Thank you!

    1. Renée says:

      Same for me- that’s what I wanted to know

    2. Not at the moment. We do offer a money back guarantee though!

    3. Kim says:

      I think they are delicious. Very interestingly balanced flavor of chocolate without being too sweet but not bitter. I was impressed how satisfying it is and not getting a craving that I have eat another one like other bars can do.

  10. Ed says:

    So here’s a guy with all these degrees and a triathlete and it took how long to realize you were eating junk? Hmmmm😂

  11. Paul says:

    Is the bar raw or baked?

  12. mia says:

    wish it wasnt so high in carbs and sugars

  13. Jean Bissonnette says:

    What is the cocoa percentage in the nibs- 70% . or 85% . ? Have the almonds been soaked before adding to the bar??

  14. Ivo SUVEE says:

    Not surprised. When it’s heavily processed, stay away. That will help anywhere, anytime.

    My favorite is the original and oldest protein bar: a chunk of cheese…
    Keto friendly to boot.

  15. Nancy says:

    Would like a vegetarian bar…

    Is that in the future?

    1. It's definitely something to consider, thanks for the suggestion!

  16. Phil George says:

    With all the antioxidants, what about blunting the hermetic response after strength training?

    1. You only need to worry about high doses of synthetic antioxidants such as vitamin C and vitamin E… listen to the podcast just came out today: https://bengreenfieldfitness.com/podcast/nutritio…

  17. James says:

    Thanks for the info on IMO’s. Just threw $35 of Ucan bars in the trash.

  18. Molly says:

    A great big thank you for your research and the new bar without junk in it. I was really happy to read the article but what if someone is allergic to nuts? Are you able to make a version without almonds? Thanks.

    1. Unfortunately at this time, we can't make custom formulations.

  19. Bill H says:

    Man, i just want scream. An interesting health topic, then a long dense analysis, wrapped up with yet another kion product promo.

    Ben, you’re obviously talented, a hard worker, and entrepreneurial. All great things. But your schtick has evolved from excellent content feeding an eager market of performance-seekers into a cult-like infomercial. When the purpose of the content shifts from being about the listener to being about Ben, you lose me (and I suspect a few others). But hey, a buck is a buck…

    1. Leslie says:

      Bill, this seems quite critical, when Ben has poured his heart and soul into this project. If he was simply interested in making money, he would have created yet another bar like all others on the market. He is coming up with solutions, rather than just pointing out problems. Something we can all learn from!

      1. Gary says:

        I agree Leslie. I mean there comes a point where people have to make a living. Just because they sell their products doesn’t mean they are trying to deceive you or rope you in. I mean with Ben you just have to pick and choose what you want to buy. If you bought every product he talks about you probably would go broke…but at least you get some different angels on options…etc.

    2. John says:

      Very good point!

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