Energy bars are full of healthy sounding ingredients (grains, nuts, seeds, fruit), and they are heavily marketed as products which are good for you. So why do dentists regard them with suspicion? The answer actually lies in the name—‘energy’ in food terms tends to mean sugar, the quickest (and most short-lived) way to boost energy levels. Most commercially available energy bars contain a lot of the stuff. And dentists hate it!
The Sugar Trap
So what is the problem with sugar? Let’s start with your teeth. The outer layer of a tooth is enamel; it is the hardest material in the human body, and just about the only thing that can damage it (apart from shattering it with a hard object) is acid. Acid is produced in the mouth by the action of bacteria all the time, but normally it is washed harmlessly away by saliva.
But when we eat sugar it does two things: it sticks to the enamel on your teeth, and it sends the bacteria into overdrive, producing much more acid right there against the surface of the enamel. This is called acid plaque and in time it will eat through the enamel, the bacteria will get into the fleshy part of the tooth, and you will have a cavity.
Given enough cavities you will have trouble with your teeth and may need remedial work. You will certainly need fillings, and you might need orthodontic treatment to get your teeth back into the best state. The good news is that there is very good treatment available, such as that from YesBraces.com.
Are all energy bars bad for you? Of course not. What matters is what they contain, and how you consume them. There are plenty of sites where you can find recipes to make your own bars, and you can put in as little sugar as you like. You can experiment with all sorts of ingredients, concentrating on the healthy ones, and focusing on dried fruit for the sweetness. Or you can look out for those bars that contain the least sugar.
One of the problems with energy bars is the way they are used. As the name implies, we usually eat them when we want an energy boost. This tends to be either when we are out taking exercise, or when we are flagging a bit in the workplace and want a bit of help to get through the next part of the day. Either way, we are eating while our mind is on something else, and when we finish eating we get on with what we are doing, and don’t stop to think about the state of our teeth. The result is that the sugar stays stuck to our enamel, and the bacteria and acid get to work.
The Best of Both Worlds
Is there a healthy way to eat sugary energy bars? They are very tempting, after all. Probably there is no absolutely good way, but there are ways to minimize the damage. At the very least it is a good idea to rinse your mouth with water after eating a bar—it will get rid of much, but not all, of the sugar. You could try chewing on sugar-free gum after finishing—it will help to remove sugar from the surface of your teeth.
Or you could brush your teeth after each bar. It’s not a very practical suggestion for those situations where we usually eat the bars, but there may be ways we can arrange it. A word of warning though, if you tend to have your bar with a naturally acidic drink like orange juice. Dentists warn against brushing your teeth immediately after drinking anything acidic, as the enamel will already have been softened.
The trouble with energy bars is that they do give you a burst of energy, and they are just so delicious! It’s hard to think of an alternative that would do the same. You could try making your own sugar-free versions. However, in the long run, it may be a matter of changing your dietary habits and tastes so that you maintain a more even level of energy through the day, and put the brakes on that addiction to sugar. Perhaps stocking up on the ‘good’ ingredients of the bar (the seeds, nuts and fruit) and snacking on those throughout the day will help. You can supplement these with cheese, yogurt, tasty fresh fruit and salad items.
Enjoy your happy and healthy eating!
Samuel Randall is a nutritionist who actually went to dental school with plans to become a dentist – But fate had other things in store for his career path! Sam enjoys writing on health and fitness topics when the mood strikes, look out for his name online!