The Truth About Meal Replacement Bars

When you're hungry and pressed for time, you might be tempted to reach for a meal replacement bar. But is that really the best option for your health?

First, it's important to distinguish between meal replacement bars and other kinds of snack bars. Grocery stores are full of options like protein bars, granola bars, and energy bars, but those are not the same as meal replacement bars, according to U.S. News and World Report.

Laura Hershey, RDN, and dietitian at Fast Bar, spoke to Health Digest about what to look for when you need a good substitute for a solid meal. She advises to look for "a nutritionally balanced bar that acts as a meal rather than just a snack. It's higher in calories than a protein or an energy bar and should be a balance of complex carbohydrates (think oats), a moderate amount of protein, a small amount of fat, and vitamins and minerals."

Not all options are created equal, Hershey cautions. "There are some bars that contain a healthy balance of nutrients, but there are some that are loaded with unhealthy ingredients. It's important to read the label to make sure whole foods, such as nuts and seeds, are being used and there isn't a laundry list of ingredients," she said.

It's important to find dietary balance

Because of their rich nutrient content and high calories, it's important to remember that meal replacement bars are a substitute for a meal — and not a snack. "If used as a snack, then you may end up consuming too many calories over the course of the day," Hershey said. Nor can meal replacement bars keep you in a fasting state if you are intermittent fasting. "However, there are intermittent fasting bars on the market, so make sure you find one that's designed to keep you in a fasting state while providing nourishment if you're going to eat one as a snack," she added.

Overall, though meal replacement bars can be a helpful supplement to a balanced diet, it's still best to regularly get nutrition from whole foods. "They are a good option when you don't have access to healthy meals or are on back-to-back zoom calls, but they should not be consumed every day," Hershey advised. And when you are reaching for one, be sure to check the ingredients for nutrient-dense content, including nuts, seeds, fruit, and oats.