Dispelling nutrition myths, ranting, and occasionally, raving


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Are Clif Bars a healthy snack?

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I wanted to write a little about Clif Bars because I think there’s a lot of confusion about them. Before I start though, I should get this out of the way, this is not a sponsored post. I have no affiliation with Clif Bar whatsoever. Okay, now that that’s out of the way, let’s get to it.

For those who don’t know what Clif Bars are, I’ve linked to their website above. Basically, they are energy dense snack bars designed to fuel athletes before, and depending on the activity and the athlete, during exercise. If you go to their website the first thing you see are a collection of images of people engaged in physical activity from climbing to cycling. Much of their energy density comes from sugar. One bar contains 20+ grams of sugar (that’s about 5 teaspoons) and about 250 calories. This nutritional composition is often a good thing for athletes who are looking for easy to digest snacks that will quickly provide them with fuel. However, for non-athletes, or people who are not looking for a calorically-dense snack, possibly not the best choice.

The reason why I wanted to write about this today is because I think most people who are consuming Clif Bars as a snack are not aware that they’re intended for active people and are operation under the false impression that they’re a “health food”. Anybody else watch the new version of Queer Eye? It was great and I totally want to be the first woman on the show (hook me up!) but I digress. There was an episode in which the man they were making over was talking about how he tries to eat healthy, and then listed off fruit and Clif Bars, as examples of the healthy foods he consumes regularly. And I thought to myself how misguided this belief is that Clif Bars are a “healthy” snack for the average Joe who has a relatively sedentary job. He’s just getting a whole lot of sugar with a few vitamins and minerals thrown in. For comparison’s sake, a Mars bar contains 260 calories and 30 grams of sugar, a Snickers bar has 250 calories and 27 grams of sugar, an Oh Henry! bar has 260 calories and 26 grams of sugar. All quite similar to a Clif bar.

Despite the fact that Clif Bars are clearly intended for athletes and active individuals, I doubt that many people purchasing them are visiting their website and are likely unaware of this intended consumer. They’re sold in grocery stores with all the other snack bars, sometimes at the cash, and sometimes in free-standing displays. Aside from the picture of the man climbing the mountain on the front, there is little reason to believe that they’re not intended for the average individual.

Just for fun, I did a twitter poll to see what people thought (pictured above). Of course, my tweeps are an above average bunch and the results likely reflect that. I got a few comments from people that “it depends”, “with a caveat”, and that the question was a false dichotomy.

Now that I’ve totally ruined Clif Bars for you, I will mention that they have newer products that are actually pretty decent snacks. I always have a stash of snacks in my desk at work and one of my favourites to have on-hand is the nut butter-filled energy bar which has considerably less sugar than the original energy bar, (although the same number of calories – I should add that while I do have a predominantly sedentary job, I also run every day and regularly engage in other physical activity) only about two teaspoons. My favourite is the peanut butter flavour (yum!). Even newer on the market is the whey protein bar which has only about one teaspoon of sugar, 14 grams of protein, and 260 calories (these are good when I have a long day and a long run, otherwise they’re a little higher in calories than I’d normally want in a snack).

I should also mention that ideally a healthy snack contains two food groups, preferably with one of those being vegetables and fruit. Some examples: an apple and a handful of nuts, hummus and veggie sticks, a banana and peanut butter, bell pepper and cheese.

Long story short, are Clif Bars a “healthy” snack? Probably not for the average person but… if you’re an athlete or have a very active job and aren’t consuming many other sources of added sugar then maybe.


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Why you shouldn’t eat like an athlete

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Aside from a sort of general curiosity I don’t see the point of articles about the diets of elite athletes. Honestly, I think sharing them as if they’re nutrition tips for the masses is potentially harmful. Unless you’re a professional athlete yourself, which the vast majority of us are not, most of their nutrition advice is not going to translate to your life. You’re probably not burning 10, 000 calories a day and I’m sorry but an hour at the gym is not comparable to the rigorous training that professional athletes undertake.

It also seems to me that many athletes undertake questionable dietary regimens (ahem, Tom Brady) in the hopes of being the best of the best. The article I linked to above has some fairly benign advice but there are loads of athletes that are following bizarre advice in an effort to hack their genes and optimize performance. When your career depends on it, it’s kind of understandable that you’d be willing to try something a little extreme. The danger lies in attributing your success to drinking alkaline water or avoiding mushrooms and encouraging us common folk to jump on your nutrition bandwagon.

The dietary needs of athletes also vary significantly depending on their sport, as well as their sex and size. The perfect diet for a marathoner is going to be quite different from the perfect diet for a shot putter. You can’t just assume that what works for one athlete nutritionally will work for another. Even more so, you can’t assume that what works for a pro athlete (or for anyone else for that matter) is going to work for you. In fact, if you tried to eat like most professional athletes you’d probably be consuming significantly more food than you need.

Go ahead and be amazed by the number of calories consumed by athletes in the Tour de France. Indulge your natural curiosity by reading about Michael Phelp’s massive training diet and other wild diets of athletes. Just don’t try these at home.


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Would you like fries with that gold medal?

Props to the Academy of Royal Medical Colleges for calling out the London Olympics for their inappropriate sponsors. Much like, hmm… oh, a dietetic association accepting sponsorship from PepsiCo, the London Olympics is being sponsored by McDonald’s, Coca-Cola, and Heinekin. Pairing such nutritionally void types of food with highly skilled and fit athletes sends a terrible message to the average person, in particular, the average child. It implies that these world-class athletes regularly dine on such foods which, in most cases, is highly unlikely. Even if olympic athletes are consuming poor diets they are burning far more calories than most of us could ever imagine burning due to their intense training regimes. There is also the implication that poor diet can be compensated for by exercise. This is blatantly untrue, even if you are burning off the excess calories from a big mac combo (and let’s be realistic, you’re probably not) you’re still not going to be as healthy as you would be if you were fuelling your body with nutrient-dense foods. The association being drawn between nutritionally inferior foods and athleticism is disturbing. If the Olympics can’t find sponsors who don’t sell crap food then perhaps it’s time for the Olympics to rethink their entire operation.