A journey in words...

Welcome to my journey in words! A story about health, exercise, weight loss, food addiction, humor, size discrimination, sarcasm, social commentary and all the rest that’s rattling around inside my head...

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Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Product Review: Which Food Cube is Right For You?

Running into an unforeseen problem with my early morning exercise regimen caused me to look into the world of commercially sold nutrition bars (or food cubes, as I prefer to call them).

For me, getting out of bed in the morning is immediately followed by a 45 minute intense workout followed by a shower, getting dressed, and finally my hour long commute to work.  Between all of this I was waking up at 5AM and not getting into work where I actually eat breakfast until around 8AM with a tough workout in between, and by then I was turning into a bit of a mess.  I was exhausted and weak, feeling a lot like a wrung out sponge.  Even after eating I wasn’t feeling really recovered and energetic again until after I’d had lunch at around 1PM in the afternoon.

So three hours was definitely too big a stretch of time between waking, working and finally eating.  Despite having ample resources of fat energy to dip into my metabolism obviously wasn’t doing it fast enough to keep me properly fueled.  I needed to add some food in there somewhere.

I’m in a rush in the mornings and I don’t want to stop and cook up oatmeal or make toast when I’m still at home.  I needed a food I could grab and go – and my boss suggested I try adding a Clif bar to my morning.  He even had an extra one I could take home to eat the next day after I finished working out.

The one he gave me was chocolate peanut crunch flavor, and it was delicious.  I found that eating it right after my workout kept me feeling peppy and energized after taking my shower, all the way to work and through the morning.  Some calories post exercise was definitely looking like the solution to my energy problems.

The Clif bar was tasty like a chewy, peanutty, chocolate covered bar of stuff.  Looking at the ingredients list and searching for customer reviews I soon realized why: it’s because Clif bars are peanutty chocolate bars with some vitamins and soy protein added.  This is why it clocked in at 250 calories with 6 grams of fat and 20 grams of sugar.  It also offers an impressive 11 grams of protein, so it does keep you full for a long time – but I wasn’t finding that benefit worth the long, sugar and soy-laden ingredients list I found myself reading.  Also, I admit that my experience at the weight loss clinic with almost getting my liver suffocated to death by artificial vitamin overload has left me with a phobia of compounds in my food whose names I don’t immediately recognize.

Here it is, if you’re curious…
Clif Bar Chocolate Peanut Crunch Ingredients:
Organic Brown Rice Syrup, Clifpro® (Soy Rice Cripps [Soy Protien Isolate, Rice Flour, Barley Malt Extract], Organic Soy Flour, Organic Roasted Soybeans), Organic Rolled Oats, Organic Cane Syrup, Organic Peanut Butter (Organic Peanuts, Salt) Chocolate Chips (Dried Cane Syrup, Unsweetened Chocolate, Cocoa Butter, Soy Lecithin, Vanilla Extract), Peanut Flour, Peanuts, ClifCrunch® (Organic Oat Fiber, Apple Fiber, Inulin [Chicory Extract], Organic Psyllium, Organic Milled Flaxseed), Organic Date Paste, Natural Flavors, Sea Salt.

What followed next was an internet quest to discover just what the health nuts out there were eating when they decided to reach for a quick, food-based energy boost.  The name that kept coming up, over and over again, was Larabars.

Larabars were (unsurprisingly) invented by a woman named Lara in her kitchen around 14 years ago.  I had heard of them, I knew I’d seen them somewhere at some point, but they are not as popular or easy to locate as their larger, heftier Clif bar cousins.

Larabars are unique in part for what they don’t have.  They are gluten free, dairy free, soy free, vegan, kosher and do not contain any genetically modified ingredients.  Some of these traits are important to me in a food, and some are not.  But what I do really really like – are short ingredients lists that contain all familiar names.  Over the years I’ve developed two quick and easy rules for healthful eating – one is that your meals should contain a lot of different colors (and as little beige as possible), and the other is that short ingredient lists with few to no chemical compounds are usually a safe bet.

There isn’t a single Larabar that contains more than nine ingredients.  Unable to lay hands on a box of them when I wanted one, Ted ordered me a variety pack online that had three flavors: Blueberry Muffin, Cashew Cookie, and Peanut Butter Cookie.

Here are the ingredients…
Blueberry Muffin: Blueberries, Blueberry Juice Concentrate, Cashews, Dates, Lemon Juice Concentrate, Vanilla Extract.
Cashew Cookie: Cashews, Dates.
Peanut Butter Cookie: Dates, Peanuts, Sea Salt.

So to put it simply, Larabars aren’t made out of anything but… well, food.  Specifically food that can be found growing off of a plant somewhere.  You can get the exact same effect by eating a handful of fruit and nuts together – so what you’re buying here is somebody to pre-measure for you, combine flavor and texture enjoyment in the creativity of how the different types were assembled, and convenience.  Fruits and nuts being somewhat expensive as foods go, I think the bars are a pretty good deal at around $1.50 each (depending on where and how many you buy).

Larabars average between 190 and 230 calories and contain 8-13 grams of fat, 17-20 grams of sugar and around 4-8 grams of protein.  The three kinds that I bought are all very low in sodium.  Numerically they aren’t radically different from the Clif bar, and with their small size they are what I refer to as a low volume, high calorie food (but all nutrition/energy bars are going to fall into that category).

The reason I chose them is because of where those fats and sugars are coming from.  I believe it makes a difference in the way our bodies break down and process such things.  The sugar in a Larabar is mostly derived from dates.  Dates are nature’s way of growing fudge on a tree.  I’m serious, if you’ve ever eaten one plain that’s what the consistency and sweetness level is like.  It’s a lot of sugar, but it’s all natural fructose – the kind that our bodies can process and use effectively.  The fat is coming from nuts, another great super-food.  Fat is truly not the enemy of the human body.  Although all fat needs to be consumed in moderation, the type of it that you’re taking in is critical.

So… how do they taste?

They’re very moist, dense, chewy and sweet.  They contain big chunks of nuts and pieces of fruit all squashed into a very solid little bar.  The lack of any kind of flour keeps them from being truly cake or cookie-like, but their toothsome nature keeps them from vanishing too quickly.  I nibble through a bar slowly, taking little bites and letting them melt on my tongue.  I’m certainly not stuffed after eating one, but nor am I hungry.  I’m satisfied for enough time to get ready for work, drive in, see to morning meetings, check emails and organize my day.  A few hours after eating one, I’m ready for the late morning snack of fruit that keeps me going until lunch time.

Since they’re conveniently packaged and shelf-stable for a year, I’m planning to keep one in my purse from now on for times when I’m stuck outside the house and tempted toward unhealthy snacking.

In short, they’re a nice little treat and a convenient tool for the health conscious.  More importantly, they fill my tank in just the right way to keep me from crashing post-workout and see me through a busy morning.

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