In recent years, more people have begun to seek out not only organic but whole, unprocessed, foods. Whole-food energy bars are ones that are made without processed ingredients and chemical additives. Many, but not all, whole-food energy bars are also organic. The bars we discuss in this section of our report are either whole-food bars, 100 percent organic bars, or both.
One highly rated natural energy bar, which is specifically made for children, is also enjoyed by adults. The 100 percent organic Clif Kid Zbar (*Est. 80 cents) is available in seven flavors ranging from 120 to 140 calories. These energy bars, which are smaller in size than other offerings and lower in calories, are fortified with 12 vitamins and minerals like vitamin C, calcium and iron. Zbars have only 10 to 11 grams of sugars, less than 2 grams of saturated fat and 3 grams of fiber. While the Zbar is not made from whole foods, it has no artificial flavoring or coloring, and no preservatives are added.
About.com's walking guide Wendy Bumgardner selects the Zbar as one of her favorite energy bars, saying it's the "perfect size" and is "quite tasty." Redbook magazine editors also single out the Zbar as one of three low-calorie energy bars that "can give you a quick boost of energy" and is still tasty. Over 100 reviewers posting to Amazon.com give Clif Kid Zbar an average rating of 4.5 out of five stars. Most of the reviews are written by adults who enjoy the bars themselves. The Zbar's high-carb, low-protein content also make it a good pre-workout bar, according to experts.
The best-known of the whole-food energy bars, however, is the Larabar (*Est. $1.35), with flavors that contain as few as three ingredients, all unprocessed and raw. The Banana Nut Bread flavor, for example, contains only dates, almonds and unsweetened bananas. Each of the 16 Larabar flavors has about 210 calories, as well as 27 to 28 grams of carbohydrates and 3 to 6 grams of protein. They have more fat than some bars, but most of it is unsaturated. All of the flavors have 4 or 5 grams of filling fiber, and are gluten-, dairy- and soy-free for those on restricted diets. They're also kosher and vegan.
Larabar also makes six organic, whole-food bars called Jocalat (*Est. $1.65). In addition to the fruit and nuts in regular Larabar varieties, Jocalat bars contain cocoa, which gives them a richer, chocolate taste. Jocalat are made from 100 percent organic ingredients, and most contain about 190 calories. Additionally, 90 percent of their ingredients are raw -- only the cocoa beans that give the bars their chocolate taste have been roasted. They also have a small amount of caffeine (about 30 mg) from the cocoa. Otherwise their nutritional makeup is the same as that of regular Larabar varieties, and they, too, are gluten-, dairy- and soy-free, vegan and kosher.
Both consumers and experts give Larabar and Jocalat bars good reviews. Larabar's Cherry Pie flavor is named best fruity energy bar by Real Simple magazine, while the Jocalat Chocolate flavor is named best chocolaty energy bar. All of the Larabar flavors are popular, though, earning an average 4.5 out of five rating from over 160 users at Amazon.com. Climbing magazine gives Larabar bars a grade of A-, and the reviewer writes that the bars "were one of the highest ranked [by volunteer testers] for taste, texture, and ease of digestion. They sit lightly in the stomach, provide clean energy, and do well in the heat and cold." Rachel Cole of MightyFoods.com, a website for natural foods enthusiasts, picks four Larabar flavors and one Jocalat flavor among the eight bars, out of 35 she tasted, that she would buy again.
The ProBar (*Est. $2.50) lineup also offers some natural energy bars. It includes seven flavors grouped together as Art's Originals, and five more labeled Sweet & Savory. They are marketed as meal-replacement bars, since they have 350 to 400 calories each; some people say they eat half a bar at a time as an energy bar or snack. Like other bars in this category, ProBar bars are certified organic and made with whole foods, but they go a step further and incorporate more exotic ingredients thought to promote health: acai berries and a mixture of grasses including wheat, barley and oat for their antioxidants, and hemp seeds for their omega-3 fatty acids. Each bar provides from 8 to 12 grams of protein and between 36 and 39 grams of carbohydrates. They're also high in fiber due to their heftier amount of whole grains and seeds. That said, they do contain more saturated fat than most bars, ranging from 4 to 7 grams.
Of the over 60 reviews at Amazon.com, most give ProBar bars high ratings for taste. Longer reviews at BackpackGearTest.org are written by volunteer testers who describe how ProBar bars hold up in a backpack and at different temperatures. Testers say the bars can be eaten when they're frozen, but one says the Cocoa Pistachio flavor crumbled when she carried it in her pack. About.com's walking guide Wendy Bumgardner says, "The consistency of the bar is excellent -- no coatings to melt, easy to break in half, but it doesn't crumble, easy to chew." Editors at Stack, a magazine for fitness enthusiasts, pick the ProBar Superfood Slam flavor as one of the five best energy bars, and Health magazine names it one of America's healthiest food buys for 2008.
Clif Nectar bars (*Est. $1.35) are also 100 percent organic, and the four flavors contain no more than five ingredients each, mainly whole foods with some fruit juice or concentrate included. They have fewer calories than Larabar bars, ranging from 150 to 170, and their manufacturer says each bar provides two servings of fruit. Clif Nectar bars contain 4 grams of protein and 27 to 29 grams of carbohydrates. They are low in fat, and provide 4 to 7 grams of fiber. These energy bars are among the top-rated bars at Drugstore.com, where reviewers like their taste and healthy ingredients, mainly nuts, dates and fruit. A reviewer comments, for example, "These bars are deliciousE high in fiber and keep me feeling full for hours." Experts give them high marks as well. Health.com's writer Sarah Jio picks the Lemon, Vanilla, Cashew flavor as best-tasting of the "bars made with real food" in her review of the best energy bars for women. Rachel Cole of MightyFoods.com, a website devoted to natural foods, taste tests 35 energy bars made with "real food" and picks two Clif Nectar flavors among the eight bars she likes well enough to buy again.