I Had Enough Bars. photo by Ryan Tatsumoto

columnist-logo_ryantatsumoto_FINALAlthough I technically now have all the time in the world since leaving the productive workforce, it seems that sometimes I’m still pressed for time. Maybe it’s because I have stepped up my exercise regimen from one hour of cardio on my bike once a week to three times a week, as well as finally restarting some resistance training at least twice weekly. I’m also spending more time in the kitchen experimenting with recipes that I told myself I would attempt once I retired. I’m also slowly starting household tasks that were long neglected due to the job. Where am I going with this? Well, because of my perceived lack of time, I’m still consuming those pre-packed meal substitutes, also known as bars, whether protein fortified, fiber fortified or just fast meal replacements.

Part of Lunch
While I was still a part of the productive workforce, I normally kept a couple of energy bars in my office either as a back-up in case I forgot to bring my usual brown bag lunch to work or just as a fiber supplement for my lunch. I often ate them as a lunch replacement for those occasions when I needed to process deploying soldiers outside of the health clinic. Back then, my favorites were the fiber rich Fiber One bars, the economical and original bar, Nature Valley granola bars and the protein-enriched Quest protein bars. I also interspersed those Kind bars made primarily from nuts as a lunch replacement during those hectic workdays.

However, since those workdays are a thing of the past, I’ll do the label reading for you and highlight bars I feel are both healthy and nutritious, so you don’t have to do the research.

What Am I Looking For?
It all depends on the reason for consuming these portable meals. If it’s primarily to repair overused muscle tissue, then I’m looking for a bar that has around 20 grams of protein per bar. If it’s simply to consume as a between-meal snack, then I’m looking for five to 10 grams of protein per bar, plus at least two to three grams of dietary fiber. In either case, I’m also looking for a bar that has less than three grams of saturated fat — the type of fat that raises cholesterol levels. I also look for bars that don’t contain a lot of lab created fillers, such as soluble corn fiber or sugar alcohols, such as erythritol. Both fillers sweeten the product without having to use additional sugar, but because they aren’t absorbed, they don’t add extra calories to the bar.

However, both can cause gastrointestinal symptoms as they tend to pull water into your digestive tract like the way your prescription bowel prep product for colonoscopies work.

Finally, I also look at cost, as many of these bar supplements can run $2 to $3 per bar.

Recommended with Slight Caution
The following bars contain adequate amounts of protein, between 12 to 15 grams per bar, and are low in saturated fat, each with less than two grams of saturated fat per bar. They all meet my minimum fiber requirements, but with a caveat — they contain soluble corn fiber, so if you sample the Naked Bar, I might start with just one-half of a bar just to make sure the soluble corn fiber agrees with your gastrointestinal tract. And the other caveat is these bars run in the $2 to $3 per bar range (even on Amazon).

RXBAR Peanut Butter
7 grams fat, 1 grams saturated fat, 5 grams fiber, 12 grams protein, 200 calories

RXBAR Blueberry
7 grams fat, 1 grams saturated fat, 4gm fiber, 12 grams protein, 210 calories

RXBAR Mixed Berry
7 grams fat, 1 grams saturated fat, 5gm fiber, 12 grams protein, 210 calories

Naked Bar Chocolate
6 grams fat, 1 grams saturated fat, 11gm fiber, 15 grams protein, 180 calories

Naked Bar Peanut Butter
6 grams fat, 1.5 grams saturated fat, 8 grams fiber, 15 grams protein, 190 calories

What I Purchase
Since leaving the productive workforce, my number one goal is keeping food costs to a minimum, especially until Ms. S also decides to leave the workforce. Therefore, I only purchase these supplement bars if they’re less than $2 per bar. Otherwise, I’ll just have a regular snack or small meal in their place. My go-to protein bar is the Kirkland Cookies and Cream, which only has 1.5 grams of saturated fat, 22 grams of protein and 10 grams of fiber per bar, with most of the fiber from tapioca fiber. It does contain one gram of erythritol, which is a sugar alcohol, but I know that the small quantity doesn’t affect my GI tract. And it only costs $1.25 per bar, closer to $1 per bar when it’s on sale. I also occasionally purchase the General Mills Protein One bar, which has less protein and fiber than the Kirkland bar, but always costs less than $1 per bar.

Kirkland Cookies and Cream
4 grams fat, 1.5 grams saturated fat, 10 grams fiber, 22 grams protein, 170 calories

Protein One Peanut Butter Chocolate
2.5 grams fat, 1.5 grams saturated fat, 5 grams fiber, 10 grams protein, 90 calories

My old standby bar used to be the Fiber One bar also made by General Mills, since it contains nine grams of fiber from chicory root, which is used in coffee to mellow the flavor. Costco used to sell them in large boxes, bringing the cost down to about $0.50 per bar, though even at the supermarket, it usually runs less than $1 per bar.

Fiber One Oats & Chocolate
4 grams fat, 1.5 grams saturated fat, 9 grams fiber, 2 grams protein, 140 calories

Finally, my tried-and-true favorite is one of the OG granola bars, Nature Valley’s Oats ‘N Honey. It has no artificial ingredients, with a pleasing crunch and you can even save the second bar in each package for consumption later. Costco sells the 49-pack box for less than $15, which works out to $0.29 for each two-bar pack and they often have it on sale, which drops the price even lower.

Nature Valley Oats ‘N Honey
7 grams fat, 1 gram saturated fat, 2 grams fiber, 3 grams protein, 190 calories

And per chance you purchase one of these 49 pack boxes but later find that you’re not consuming it fast enough as the bars are beginning to lose their crunch, you can always use them in baked goods…

I Had Enough Bars Bake

I Had Enough Bars. photo by Ryan Tatsumoto

Three packs of Oats ‘N Honey granola bars
1/3 cup margarine, melted
2 Fiber One bars
One 14 oz can of fat free sweetened, condensed milk
Chocolate syrup (optional)

Roughly break the granola bars then pulverize them in a food processor or place them in a zip top bag and crush them with a rolling pin. Mix the pulverized granola bars with the margarine then press into a greased 6” x 7” baking pan. Blind bake at 350 degrees for 20 minutes then cool.

Remove the label from the unopened can of sweetened, condensed milk to create dulce de leche or milk caramel by either:
1. Pour the sweetened, condensed milk in an oven proof baking pan and cover with foil. Place that pan in a larger pan filled with water. Fill the pan about halfway with the milk. Bake at 425 degrees for about one hour. After you attain the proper doneness of the dulce de leche, whisk the caramel while it is still hot (don’t get hot caramel on yourself as it WILL leave a mark).

2. Place the unopened can sideways in a large pot and cover by at least two inches of water, then gently simmer for one to two hours, depending on how dark you want the finished caramel. NEVER let the water drop below the can level, as this can cause the can to fracture or even explode. Remove and don’t open the can until it has totally cooled — up to four hours.

Cut the Fiber One bar into small bits and evenly spread on the baked granola crust. Pour the cooled dulce de leche over the Fiber One bits then place in the refrigerator to allow the caramel to tighten. Once it has cooled, you can drizzle with chocolate syrup before serving.

The Gochiso Gourmet is a column on food, wine and healthy eating. Ryan Tatsumoto is a graduate of both the University of Hawai‘i and UC San Francisco. He is a recently retired clinical pharmacist and a budding chef/recipe developer/wine taster. He writes from Kane’ohe, HI and can be reached at The views expressed in the preceding column are not necessarily those of the Nichi Bei Weekly.

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