Breakfast in a Bar

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May 02, 2010

4 essentials that make these portable meals healthy: Two-thirds of Americans eat breakfast bars. Sales of these on-the-go meals are expected to increase up to 45% by 2011. And that's great news: Studies show that eating breakfast can improve your focus, help maintain your weight, and give your metabolism a boost.

However, just because a food is convenient doesn't mean it's healthy. Some breakfast bars are packed with protein to fuel you until lunchtime; others are so sugar laden that they sap your energy and leave you tired by 10 am. At their best, breakfast bars are a prep-free opportunity for the overscheduled to get a nutritious head start on the day.

Here are the four qualities to look for in breakfast bars:

1. No more than 15 g of sugar: Breakfast bars low in sweeteners will help keep your blood sugar and energy levels steady. But these varieties aren't always easy to spot. One package boasts "all the nutrition of a bowl of instant oatmeal," but contains up to 21 g of sugar in each bar-far more than you'd find in most bowls of hot cereal.

2. 5 g or more of fiber: Breakfast is a prime opportunity to get some fiber in your diet. People who ate high-fiber whole grain cereal for breakfast every day had nearly a 30% lower risk of heart failure than those who chose other foods, found the ongoing Physicians' Health Study. Look for breakfast bars with at least 5 g of fiber, and pair them with a piece of fruit, like an apple or a pear, for an additional boost.

3. At least 5 g of protein: Protein is essential at breakfast because it's digested more slowly than carbohydrates, which means you won't be ravenous in an hour or two. You should eat around 75 to 100 g of protein a day. The healthiest breakfast bars I found contain more than 5 g; add a golf ballsize portion of nuts (about 1 ounce) or a glass of low-fat or fat-free milk (dairy or soy) to pack in the protein even more.

4. 25% of the DV for calcium: A breakfast of cereal and fat-free milk can satisfy roughly 25% of your daily calcium need. Choose breakfast bars with at least that-or drink a glass of low-fat or fat-free milk or calcium-fortified juice if your bar has less.

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