clean energy bar
Articles, Nutrition

The Dark Side Of Energy Bars (& How To Create The Perfect Clean Energy Bar)

Walk into any grocery store, and you'll see that “healthy” energy bars are everywhere. There are so many of them that they have their own aisles. They're even encroaching on candy bar territory and stare you down almost saying “buy me, buy me” as you load your groceries onto the supermarket conveyor belt. You look away, but eventually, you give in and buy one thinking to yourself, “At least it's not a Snicker's bar.”

Unfortunately, that energy bar you just bought and probably felt good about eating probably isn't all that different from your everyday candy bar.

It's very likely that it's full of sugar and starch, which may be good for a sudden burst of energy, but not so great if you're trying to avoid sugar crashes. And if it doesn't have excess sugar, it probably has some sort of artificial sweetener.

Or it might be packed with excess protein that you get ammonia build-up, acidity, or gut issues like bloating, gas and constipation.

Then there are peanuts, soy and whey, the ingredients of many bars can cause food intolerance reactions a host of other health issues.

Finally, if the bar you've chosen actually is healthy, it either tastes like cardboard, falls apart in the heat, or is like biting into tree bark in the cold and simply hasn't been tested “in-the-trenches” by people living hard-charging lives or athletes competing under real conditions that exist outside of some whitewashed food laboratory.

This is only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the issues and the shocking truth about so-called “healthy” energy bars, protein bars, Paleo bars and beyond.

But in this article, all the dirty little secrets of the energy bar industry will be revealed, and you'll find out the disturbing truth about everything from IMO to processing, preservatives and more. You'll also learn about Kion founder Ben Greenfield's quest to create the perfect superfood energy bar and more about each and every hand-selected, real-food ingredient that was used to create the Kion Bar.


Straight From Outer Space

The first energy bars were actually made for astronauts. Pillsbury (yep, the Pillsbury doughboy folks) created Space Food Sticks in the 1960s, modeling them after the small “space food cubes” eaten by astronaut Scott Carpenter on board Aurora 7 in 1962. (fellow astronaut John Glenn had consumed the fruit-flavored drink Tang in space three months earlier).

Pillsbury's food engineers had already been hard at work on similar engineered sources of nutrients and calories, such as non-crumbly cake, relish that could be served in slices and meat that needed no refrigeration to be able to take into space and to have a long shelf life. In 1970, Pillsbury filed a trademark for Space Food Sticks, then repackaged and advertised them to consumers as a “nutritionally balanced between-meal snack.”

Space Food Sticks faded from the market as the space program faded from government focus and after that, the energy bar as we know it today didn’t appear back on the scene until 1986 when Canadian marathoner Brian Maxwell founded a company you may already be familiar with: PowerBar. Maxwell claimed to be “creating the perfect energy bar, to help athletes survive long-distance events without running out of glycogen”. He and his wife progressed from handing out the fledgling bar to marathoners after races to eventually selling to Nestlé in 2000 for $375 million…

…and we all know what happened then: a host of flashy energy bar and processed health food marketing companies from Clif Bar to Muscle Milk emerged to form the nearly $9 billion food bar market that now exists today, unfortunately primarily comprised of a host of chemical cocktails neatly packaged in plastic and full of a host of nasty compounds.


Secrets Of The Energy Bar Industry

Let's start with excess preservatives.

Preservatives such as BHA, BHT, sodium nitrate, sulfites, sodium benzoate and more are often being dumped into these bars to ensure a shelf life of years and years – which saves an energy bar producing company plenty of money, but results in plenty of chemicals getting shoved into your gaping maw every time you bite down on that “organic” packaged munchable.

Next up is excess protein.

Most bars are using proteins from cheap sources such as soy and whey protein isolate, both of which can cause allergies, autoimmune reactions, constipation, bloating, and other unpleasant reactions. But hey – at least they're inexpensive!

Soy protein is a big culprit in this department. Many folks give soy protein props for being a high-quality protein with an amino acid profile similar to meat, but in reality, soy protein isolate is more Twix bar than tofu. Soy protein isolate, for example, is basically processed soy leftovers. The process of “isolating” the soy protein leaves behind traces of neurotoxins such as hexane and aluminum, not to mention the digestive woes caused by high concentrations of trypsin inhibitors that can block the digestion of plant protein. And then, of course, there's the fact that almost 90% of all soy is genetically modified.

And then there's Isomalto-oligosaccharide, or “IMO”.

You may already be familiar with IMO, a relatively sweet “prebiotic fiber” if you read the Kion article, “The Most Dangerous Hidden Ingredient In Your Energy Bar.

IMO is a key ingredient in many so-called “high protein, low carb” energy bars misleadingly advertised as a “prebiotic fiber” allowing manufacturers to deceivingly claim that their bar contains a high amount of dietary fiber. It also is sweet enough to make an energy bar palatable and also has fewer calories than natural sugar. On the surface, IMO appears to be a one-two punch of fiber and low-calorie sweetness.

The problem is that IMO syrup isn't really “natural”, as many bar labels claim. While IMO occurs naturally in some foods, it is not economically feasible to extract it from foods on a large scale. Because of this, commercially-available IMO syrups are enzymatically synthesized from starch, making it completely incorrect to say that the IMO syrup added to foods is natural.

Next, IMO syrup is not a completely undigestible dietary fiber, as claimed. Studies using a digestive modeling system and human salivary or hog pancreatic alpha-amylase showed a lack of hydrolysis of IMO, suggesting that it may be a dietary fiber that would largely resist hydrolysis in the small intestine and reach the colon intact. So in a nutshell, the majority of the carbohydrate in the IMO syrup used in these bars is, in fact, digested, absorbed, and metabolized.

The list goes on, and you can read more about IMO in this Kion article.


Minimizing Preservatives

It turns out that the only preservatives really necessary to make a bar shelf stable can indeed be a few simple ingredients such as sea salt, chia seeds, Vitamin E contributors like almonds and tocopherols (a family of vitamin E compounds naturally found in foods like nuts, fish and leafy green vegetables).

Sea salt is, of course, a classic preservative that humans have used for thousands of years to preserve food, almonds are dense with tocopherols and vitamin E (a natural preservative due to its antioxidant effects), chia seeds' overwhelming antioxidant stores allow them to hold up extremely well (two to three years at least) and skin, joint and gut nourishing gelatin is stable over a two year period.

And voila! That's how you give a bar healthy shelf stability, with minimal preservatives.


Packing In Protein and Amino Acids Without Producing Allergies

Grass-fed Gelatin – Believe it or not, a bar can contain roughly the equivalent of a half-cup of an entire bone broth's worth of gut nourishing gelatin by simply adding ample amounts of gelatin from grass-fed cows. Gelatin is a well-researched ingredient that has been actively studied for its benefits for the gut, joints and skin. Gelatin is highly bioavailable, provides a full spectrum of long-chain amino acids for muscle support and serves as the building block of connective tissues such as bones, cartilage, skin, and tendons.

Kaniwa – Another fantastic and hypoallergenic protein source is something called “kaniwa”, a close cousin of quinoa that is often referred to as baby quinoa. Kaniwa is a high-density, plant-based protein with a higher amount of protein than quinoa but, like quinoa, is a “perfect” protein in that it contains all nine essential amino acids that your body cannot produce on its own. It is also a good source of flavonoids, which means it doesn't need extra preservatives added to keep it stable.

Both quinoa and kaniwa have a delicious nutty flavor, although kaniwa is slightly sweeter than quinoa. Additionally, kaniwa has a slightly crunchy texture, making it a perfect ingredient for an energy bar to give it added mouthfeel and “crunch”.

Kaniwa is particularly high in lysine, an amino acid that is typically found only in small amounts in grain products. It also contains an enormous variety of vitamins and minerals, including iron, B vitamins, vitamin E, magnesium, phosphorus, zinc, copper, and manganese.

Pea Protein – Next, a touch of pea protein supplies a unique array of amino acids such as high amounts of lysine, arginine, branched-chain amino acids, enzymes that help your body function normally and a host of vitamins, minerals and nutrients. Not only is the plant-based pea protein (unlike peas or legumes themselves) very low in gut-irritating lectins and phytic acid due to the highly effective hydrolysis process used to extract the protein from the peas, but it's also a complete protein that is allergen-free, unlike whey and soy.

When combined with the tasty and nutrient dense white chia seeds you're about to discover, grass-fed gelatin, organic kaniwa and pea protein turn out to be a mighty flavorful and protein-packed threesome that allows you to get a perfect amount of protein into an energy bar with zero allergens, minimal preservatives, and amazing mouthfeel and flavor.


The Best Fats For An Energy Bar

White Chia Seeds – Harvested from the Salvia hispanica plant, white chia seeds pack such a nutritional punch that most nutritionists have for decades called chia a superfood. With a protein content of up to 25% and dietary fiber reaching 30%, chia also contains significant amounts of omega-3 fatty acids, vitamins, minerals and antioxidants. The chia seed is extremely nutrient dense and packs a ton of energy boosting power. As a matter of fact, Aztec warriors ate chia seeds to give them energy and endurance, and claimed that a single spoonful of chia could sustain them for 24 hours (chia actually means “strength” in the Mayan language, and they were known as “runners food” because runners and warriors would use them as fuel while running long distances or during battle).

Chia seeds also promote healthy skin, reduce signs of aging, support the heart and digestive system and build stronger bones and muscles. Also, when soaked in the juices of the digestive system, chia seeds can coat the lining of the stomach and serve as a gut-nourishing compound, especially during physical activity.

Almonds – Loaded with protein, healthy monounsaturated fat, fiber and antioxidants, almonds support performance and satiety while adding a crunchy texture. Their high oleic acid content makes them perfect for nervous system and cell membrane support.

Chocolate – And not just one single form of chocolate, but FOUR different varieties of chocolatey goodness. Chocolate liquor, cocoa butter, cocoa powder and cocoa nibs to be exact. Chocolate liquor is a low processed chocolate that is equal parts cocoa butter and cocoa solids.

Cocoa butter provides healthy, energy-stabilizing saturated fats and cocoa powder, extra flavor and antioxidants. And last, but not least, fiber-packed cocoa nibs (a single ounce of cocoa nibs has a whopping 9g of fiber to keep your digestive system running smoothly). Cocoa nibs also contain tons of antioxidants, boatloads of magnesium (a single ounce of cocoa nibs has sixty-four milligrams of magnesium in it), potassium (more per ounce than bananas), are chock-full of iron and are a wonderful mood enhancer (cocoa works wonders on your neurotransmitters)

Coconut Flakes – The final form of fat, coconut flakes are extremely nutritious and rich in fiber, vitamins and minerals. Once thought of as unhealthy because of being a “high saturated fat” food, we now know that the fat in coconut flakes is different from most other fats. Not only is it an extremely stable saturated fat that will not turn rancid at high heat like vegetable oils – a much more common ingredient in most energy bars – but it is also an extremely rich source of medium-chain triglycerides (MCTs), which are burned easily as a slow-release form of fuel and do not circulate in the bloodstream like other fats (instead, they are sent straight to the liver and converted into energy and ketones)

And that is how you make a healthy, high-fat, low-carbohydrate bar with no greasiness or gooey chocolate coating: white chia seeds, almonds, chocolate liquor, cocoa butter, cocoa powder, cocoa nibs and coconut flakes!


The Case For Honey

Organic honey is the perfect sweetener in a bar that is not designed to be a ketogenic bar or a high-protein bar per se, but instead a high-fat, moderate protein, low-carb energy bar. Why?

First, if you check out the fructose amounts from studies like this and this, often cited as proof that fructose makes you fat, you'll see that the amount of fructose being fed to rodents in these studies was not only pure, unnatural, isolated fructose (not the natural fructose:glucose mix you find in organic honey), but was also mainlined into the bloodstream of these rodents in extremely, extremely high amounts (as in the equivalent of a human being sucking down oodles and oodles of Coke every day for weeks on end).

In addition, fructose is metabolized almost completely in the liver in humans, where it is directed toward replenishment of liver glycogen and triglyceride synthesis. Under 1% of ingested fructose is actually converted to plasma triglyceride in the bloodstream, while 29%-54% of fructose is converted in the liver to glucose, about a quarter of the fructose is converted to lactate and 15% – 18% is converted to storage glycogen. The glucose and lactate derived from the fructose are then used normally as a slowly-released energy to fuel cells all over the body.

Unlike glucose, fructose is not an insulin secretagogue. In addition to being metabolized in the liver, fructose is also metabolized in the intestine, testes, kidney, skeletal muscle, fat tissue and brain, but it is not transported into cells via insulin-sensitive pathways (insulin-regulated transporters GLUT1 and GLUT4). By using honey, you don't get any type of sugar crash you might experience with most bars.

It's also interesting to note that along with blackstrap molasses and maple syrup, honey is one of the best nutrient-dense natural sweeteners you'll ever find. The Glycemic Index (a relative ranking of carbohydrate in foods according to how they affect blood glucose levels) of honey varies from 32 to 85, depending on the botanical source, and while honey can have relatively high Glycemic Index, the Glycemic Load (how much the food will raise a person's blood glucose level after eating it) is relatively low.

In reality, honey is far, far different than sugar, and there is now plenty of clinical research proving these significant differences. For example, one double-blind, randomized clinical study titled, “Effect of honey versus sucrose on appetite, appetite-regulating hormones, and post-meal thermogenesis” published in 2010 in the Journal of the American College of Nutrition, compared the effects of honey or sugar on appetite hormones (ghrelin, peptide YY) and glycemic and thermic effects after a meal, in fourteen healthy, non-obese women.

The researchers found that the group given 450 calories of honey in their breakfasts experienced “a blunted glycemic response that may be beneficial for reducing glucose intolerance,” and saw positive modulation of appetite hormones (specifically, a delayed postprandial ghrelin response and enhanced total peptide YY levels).

Another study published in Journal of Medical Food in 2004 entitled “Natural honey lowers plasma glucose, C-reactive protein, homocysteine, and blood lipids in healthy, diabetic, and hyperlipidemic subjects: comparison with dextrose and sucrose” compared honey to dextrose and sucrose and found that natural honey was capable of lowering plasma glucose, C-reactive protein and homocysteine in healthy, diabetic and hyperlipidemic subjects. Animal research has also confirmed that, when compared to sucrose (such as you'd find in sugar), honey is far more effective at promoting lower weight gain, adiposity (fat accumulation), and triglycerides.

Another very cool thing about honey is that it, along with grass-fed gelatin, serves as an all-natural binder. That means there is no need for that nasty IMO synthesized starch mentioned earlier and also no need for any additional artificial fillers or binders. 

Finally, when you add in the extensive amounts of fiber from the almonds, the cocoa nibs and the white chia seeds, it once again removes the need for any added IMO/inulin starch, lowers the glycemic index of the bar even more and results in a bar that gives you an extremely efficient stable source of energy with zero sugar crashes.


The Hidden Recovery Ingredient To Look For In A Bar

In addition to protein, there's one other important recovery component to look for in an energy bar: high sources of natural, full-spectrum antioxidants without high amounts of synthetic antioxidants (the latter have been shown to actually blunt the physiological response to strength training!). The inclusion of antioxidants from natural food sources can help to lower inflammation and shut down the damaging free radicals caused by everything from excessive exercise to pollution to toxins to stress to lack of sleep and much more.

The good news is that the total antioxidant capacity created by the unique blend of ingredients listed above is very high. The organic honey, almonds, cocoa nibs, kaniwa, white chia seeds and chocolate liquor all contain very high levels of not only antioxidants but also flavonoids which, like antioxidants, are potent free radical scavengers. These benefits are best delivered in their full-spectrum, natural format from whole food sources and not from supplements. 

Not only do the ingredients above serve to make this bar simply jam-packed with free radical scavengers, but there is one other antioxidant-rich ingredient that hasn't been mentioned yet: sesame seeds. Sesame seeds add a nutty taste and a delicate, almost invisible, crunch to the texture of a bar. They also offer an excellent source of copper and a very good source of manganese and are also a source of calcium, magnesium, iron, phosphorus, vitamin B1, zinc, molybdenum, selenium, and dietary fiber.

In addition to these important nutrients, sesame seeds contain two unique substances: sesamin and sesamolin. Both of these substances belong to a group of special beneficial fibers called lignans and have been shown to have a cholesterol-lowering effect in humans as well as prevent high blood pressure and increase vitamin E supplies. Sesamin has also been found to protect the liver from oxidative damage.


Maximizing Flavor

How do you actually make a bar taste good without adding any flavorful but unnatural and nasty taste enhancers like high-fructose corn syrup, brown rice syrup, sucralose or gas and bloating-inducing sugar alcohols like erythritol, sorbitol and xylitol?

Simple, “Organoleptics”. Organoleptic properties are the aspects of food, water or other substances that you experience via any of your senses, and this can include taste, sight, smell, and touch.

When organic honey is combined with slightly bitter cocoa nibs, the result is a perfect chocolate flavor. The chocolate liquor and coconut flakes provide a rich slightly sweeter effect, but all in a very subtle, non-overwhelming way. Then the white chia seeds, kaniwa and almonds provide a natural, nutty crisp.

This results in a bar that is incredibly flavorful and extremely well put together from a taste, sight, smell and touch standpoint – with zero artificial flavors, no artificial sweeteners and even zero natural flavors (including none of the preservatives, soy and GMO starch they “hide” in so-called healthy energy bars!).


The Final Test

Active, hard-chargers need a bar that won't freeze into a tooth-chipping brick in frigid conditions while snowboarding, skiing or hiking in the cold, but also a bar that won't melt into a giant, greasy pile of nasty hot nuts and seeds when exposed to sun, car heat, saunas or other sweltering conditions.

That's why we tested Kion Bar “in the trenches” by putting it in workout gear and taking it out for three-hour long bike rides in 90+ degree heat, sticking it in a sauna for hours and seeing how it easy it is to eat after being subjected to a 38 degrees below zero Vermont winter morning.

Despite the long, rigorous, frustrating process of testing every ingredient blend, variation and formula on the face of the planet, the result is a bar that you can take anywhere in the world into the most rigorous of conditions for a dose of mouth-watering flavor when you need it most.

In other words, this thing isn't going to crumble on impact, fall apart, freeze, melt, or create any other frustrating scenario that results in you unwrapping a giant, annoying mess that at one point in its sorry life was some semblance of a “healthy” energy bar.


Summary

And that, folks, is how Kion Bar came to be. After two-plus years of research, testing, formulating, tasting and blending together some of the most unique foods on the face of the planet, a mouth-watering, gut-nourishing, guilt-free clean energy bar is finally here.

Ultimately, Kion Bar is a clean, hypoallergenic and guilt-free energy bar, jam-packed with a unique blend of ingredients that support energy, muscle gain and fat loss – without excess carbohydrates, excess proteins or unhealthy chemicals.

A tasty appetite-satiating, nutrient-dense bar that could withstand the rigors of living a limitless, exciting life, Kion Bar gives you a long-term, stable source of energy without causing sugar crashes and delivers a big, tasty punch of mouth-watering, chocolatey-salty-coconut flavor.

From stable, healthy fat sources like coconut flakes and cocoa butter to grass-fed gelatin, kaniwa and pea protein, to a host of other unique ingredients that go above and beyond any other energy bar, Kion Bar is guaranteed to give you all the nutrients, minerals, deliciousness and appetite satisfaction that you desire in a bar, with none of the harmful ingredients.

Finally, leave all your health bar, energy bar, protein bar and other bar questions and comments below, including any questions about the Kion Bar ingredients!

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