The first thing you'll notice is that we're not calling these "energy bars" or "nutrition bars" or anything that makes you think what you're about to digest is as good for you as a banana or a handful of raw almonds. That being said, some meal-replacement bars are better than others. Our choices focused on those that have a good blend of simple carbohydrates, fiber and protein and limited amounts of sugar (in whatever form it comes). Bonus points were given to bars that included whole-food ingredients without tasting like a cookie made from sawdust.
But to set the record straight, no matter what meal-replacement bar you choose, you're not about to eat something that's going to turn you into Popeye after downing a can of spinach. What you're getting is calories, and your body uses calories—any calories—to operate, says Nancy Clark, sports nutritionist for the Boston Red Sox. Companies might market their products for things like muscle building or lasting energy, but the reality is, they all pretty much achieve the same goal: temporary satiation. And hopefully you're just consuming something to tide you over until you can eat a more healthy meal.
If you can overlook the hollow promises on the packaging, the best of these types of bars can contain salt, chocolate, sugar, etc. Don't think the mere inclusion of these ingredients is a reason to avoid a bar. Eating something that's tasty should matter. But so should the other ingredients. That's why our choices all tried to minimize food additives, artificial sweeteners and processing.