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(article, Melanie Mesaros)

Crowding supermarket aisles by the dozens are snack-sized nutrition bars, often marketed as energy-boosters or healthy meal replacements. Once reserved for the serious athlete, the bars today are being devoured by anyone on the go. But do they really deliver?

Steve Hertzler, an Ohio State University researcher, recently conducted a study on the bars. He tracked athletes' blood-glucose levels after they ate two popular brands: the Ironman PR Bar and the PowerBar. 

While the Ironman lived up to its claims, providing a steady increase in blood sugar, the PowerBar did not. In fact, the PowerBar's results were almost identical to eating a candy bar: Blood-sugar levels boosted right after consumption but then rapidly declined.

[%image feed-image float=right width=200 caption="The Power Bar."]

The bars may be a better alternative than a vending-machine snack, but they should be eaten in moderation, says Liz Applegate, a nutritionist at the University of California at Davis. As she told
bq. “There's nothing magical about these bars,” Applegate said. “Most of them are fine but some are too high in fat.” 

Fat can easily be masked by a bar's other promises. Take the Snickers line of Marathon bars, which includes a caramel-nut flavor made for “serious protein seekers.” That protein comes with 9 grams of fat — not much less than a regular Snickers candy bar, which packs 14 grams of fat. 

If you must replace a meal with a bar, consider the advice provided on Belly Bytes for reading labels. Nutritionists there say healthy bars have between 14 and 31 grams of protein and 10 to 15 percent of the recommended daily allowance of essential vitamins and minerals. More specific examples can be found at Ask Men, which lists its top 10 picks for the best bars. 

Want to make your own nutrition bars? Try homemade granola bars, endorsed by  Kids Health as a healthy snack. Anything you make at home is sure to be healthier than what you'll find in the store; apart from the lack of chemicals in the homemade version, you'll also be avoiding the chocolate coatings common to so many "health bars."

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