Calories and Nutrient Density – the Problem with Grains and Energy Bars

Many folks on the run grab for a nutrition bar; sometimes called a meal replacement bar or energy bar. Others eat such bars as a snack. The calorie content for such bars typically ranges from 200-300 calories, and they can often be devoured in just a few bites, creating the gastric illusion that “little” food was consumed. Indeed, it is not difficult to eat 1000 calories worth of nutrition bars in a sitting.

The tragedy of this type of eating is many fold, and becomes readily obvious if we examine the fiber and potassium levels in a nutrition bar and several other foods (See Table 1). In a single Zone Perfect Bar we get 210 calories, 3 grams of fiber, and just 90 mg of potassium. People mistakenly believe this is a health food choice. Not really.

Consider that we should be eating over 50 grams of fiber per day if we look at historical eating patterns, which is significantly less than the 10-13 grams of fiber per 1000 calories that is recommended by the American Dietetic Association (ADA).1

A look at Table 1 reveals that a mere 264 calories worth of broccoli gives us 27.6 grams of fiber, while 280 calories worth of romaine lettuce provides 35 grams of fiber. In contrast, if you were to consume 10 grams of fiber per 1000 calories and ate 3,000 calories per day, you would take in only 30 grams of fiber. One can only wonder how these estimates of fiber intake were developed by the ADA. Based on the numbers, we can envision that we are essentially being asked to avoid fiber-rich foods by the ADA in order to achieve the meager 10 grams of fiber per 1000 calories.

Consider, for example, if you decided to eat five Zone Perfect Bars, you would get 1050 calories, 15 grams of fiber, and 450 mg of potassium. This is obviously not a healthy diet; however, it does reflect the quality of food that one could consume to reach the unimpressive 20-35 grams of fiber recommended by the ADA.1 Shockingly, the average American consumes about only 15 grams of fiber per day,1 so the low levels suggested by the ADA would actually be an improvement.

The outcome of eating a fiber-free diet? Constipation is the biggest issue in the short term. Colon cancer is the long-term concern of going without fiber. And, in recent years, research has demonstrated that a state of chronic systemic inflammation develops due to low fiber intake.2,3

As illustrated in Table 1, on a calorie-to-calorie basis, vegetables are the best source of fiber and fruit is the next best choice. Grains do not compare!

What about potassium? Back in 1990, I came across a magnificent text entitled The Regulation of Potassium Balance.4
We are told that, until recently, humans consumed some 7,500-11,000 mgs of potassium everyday. Now we consume about 2500 mg per day, which is about 75 percent less than we need.4 A look at Table 1 demonstrates that such values can be achieved only if we eat about 750 calories worth of vegetables and fruit each day.

The seriousness of our current low potassium intake should not be taken lightly. Insufficient potassium intake is known to create a pro-inflammatory state that is thought to be a driver of numerous diseases, such as diabetes, hypertension, stroke, kidney stones, osteoporosis, cancer, and heart disease.5 Correcting our deficiency in potassium involves the consuming of greater amounts of vegetables and fruit. We should never take potassium supplements.

As might be assumed, the diseases caused by low fiber and potassium intake can only be properly addressed by eating an appropriate diet. Supplements can be taken to support a diet that is rich in vegetables and fruit, and the best basic supplements to take would be a multivitamin, magnesium, fish oil, and vitamin D.

Dr. Seaman is the Clinical Chiropractic Consultant for Anabolic Laboratories, one of the first supplement manufacturers to service the chiropractic profession. He is on the postgraduate faculties of several chiropractic colleges, providing nutrition seminars that focus on the needs of the chiropractic patient. He is also a faculty member at Palmer College of Chiropractic Florida, where he teaches nutrition and subluxation theories. He can be reached by e-mail at [email protected].


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