Whether you’re out on a hike, finishing up a workout, or dealing with an afternoon hunger pang, energy bars provides a quick boost. Just browsing the nearest grocery store, drug store, or even hardware store reveals a rapidly growing population of energy bars. PowerBar, Clif, Balance, Odwalla, and countless others give buyers plenty of options. But which one is the best? Over the years, I’ve sampled my share of bars as a busy student, and I’d like to think that I have developed a discerning palate. My business usually goes to Balance and Clif. Both bars are good choices, but I give my edge to Clif.
First of all, kudos to Clif on its simple packaging. The muted, khaki-colored wrappers with the dangling climber logo lend an earthy, health-conscious air to the bar’s image. Since the actual food product is not the typical, Snickers-like shape associated with most candy or energy bars, the Clif “pouch” emerges from its peers on store shelfs.
Clif bars have a softer texture because they are baked. The idea of something that is baked calls to mind an image of Mom, clad in her apron and mitt, removing a tray of homemade goodness from the oven. Maybe Clif bars aren’t quite on par with brownies made from scratch, but the flavor and texture are surprisingly good. The organic ingredients, which include rolled oats and flaxseed, give more substance to each bite. Clif bars do not dissolve into sugary goo upon impact with your teeth, as is often the case with overly sweetened bars. Banana Nut Bread and Oatmeal Raisin Walnut are particularly good choices.
Of course, after taste, the matter of true importance is the nutritional value. Clif bars run around 240 calories and 5 grams of fat. The small print on the Chocolate Brownie bar, for example, shows that one bar will provide about 20% of daily fiber needs, 20% of daily protein needs, and fractional amounts of other daily vitamins. Be cautioned that these bars also pack 20 grams of sugar – not much less than a Twix bar.
Kids – and even adults – should also check out the Clif Z bars. These are energy bars specifically catered toward the younger set. When contemplating my energy bar choices a few weeks ago, I immediately noticed the bright yellow label and budget-friendly price. These bars are a mere $0.50 a piece – less than half of what competitors charge. At around 120 calories per bar, these are also a lighter option than their adult bar counterparts.
Presenting a much different alternative is the Balance Bar. Unlike, the softer baked texture of the Clif bar, the chocolate-coated, layered composition of the Balance bar bares similarity to standard candy bars such as Snickers or Milky War. Sadly, the taste is not quite as reminiscent, but when it all comes down to it, Balance bars are pretty reasonable. The bars are crunchy and chewy and adequately sweet. Any of the flavors involving “peanut” or “peanut butter” are a safe bet. Avoid the Chocolate Mint Cookie.
Balance bars run around 200 calories and 5 grams of fat each. They pack around 13 grams of protein per bar, giving them the slight edge over Clif. Balance bars are significantly lower in overall carbohydrates than Clif bars at around 22 grams; yet, Balance bars contain about the same amount of sugar. Those other “good” carbohydrates aren’t present. Also available are special 100 calorie Balance bars and new Balance Bare bars – essentially, Balance bars sans the chocolate coating.
Moving to the presentation score, Balance comes up short. The uninspired slick wrappers of Balance feature the company name in big, blocky letters, and in the case of Balance Gold, a cross section of the bar itself. Yes, you can see that the golden ooze of Caramel Nut Blast is markedly different from the dense chocolately core of Triple Chocolate Chaos. While the labeling is clear, the overall appearance of the packaging gets lots in a sea of Pria, PowerBar, and GoLean on any standard shelf display.
Prices of Clif and Balance are close, but Clif wins the battle. Clif Bars run around $1.10 per bar, while Balance bars are around $1.25. While the money-saving solution is to buy bars in bulk, do heed this advice: try the bars before you buy them. There’s nothing worse than 50 bars of compacted sawdust. Either Clif or Balance will satisfy in a hurry, but I give my preference to Clif. It’s comforting to know that something that comes in a wrapper is at least baked with organic ingredients.