Everyone has a favorite bar, and I don't mean candy bar (at least for this post!). Meal bars, protein bars and snack bars are it. Most of them have protein and added vitamins; some have fiber. Whether used as an on-the-go light breakfast, to satisfy a craving between meals, or as a pre/post-workout snack, bars are popular and here to stay.
I received a sampling of products from Extend Nutrition. I'd never heard of the company though it's been around for more than 10 years. I'm wary of health claims on the front of packaging but couldn't help being intrigued by their big claim of controlling blood sugar for up to 9 hours. Even for diabetics? Or for the average Joe who drinks coffee all day and eats one mega meal at night? Their website answered that by clearly stating the products are intended for sports fitness, weight control and diabetes management. The area of diabetes fascinates me so much that I'm working towards becoming a Certified Diabetes Educator (CDE), so I'm aware that a certain diet can absolutely improve blood sugar control. But I'm skeptical that a bar alone can do this...and for up to 9 hours.
Yet as I explored the website further, I learned that Extend Nutrition was originally invented for people with type 1 and 2 diabetes, prediabetes, gestational diabetes and low blood sugar or hypoglycemia. There is published research using Extend Bars to show their effectiveness. It even gets high customer reviews on Amazon.com.
Depending on flavor, the bars contain 130-150 calories, 3-5 grams of fat, 10-12 grams of protein and 5 grams of fiber. There's little to no sugar but they contain maltitol, a sugar alcohol that is not digestible. Its magic ingredient for keeping blood sugars steady is a low glycemic, slow-digesting corn starch. Each bar is equivalent to 1 1/2 carb choices. The crisps have similar nutrition, with slightly less protein (8 grams) and fiber (3 grams). Note that the main protein in the bars is soy protein isolate in case this ingredient concerns you. All products are gluten-free.
So how did they taste? Fine. All of the bar flavors were mildly tasty and not sweet. Chewy but not crumbly dry. Actually a good thing that they weren't so delicious that you'd be tempted to eat two at a time. The White Cheddar and Cinnamon Crisps tasted similarly to their rice cake counterparts. Again, decent flavor but not so great you'd lose control and overeat.
I replaced my usual afternoon KIND Bar snack with an Extend Bar for a few days. Generally I snack on something every few hours between meals and I can't say I noticed a big difference after eating the Extend Bar...was ready as always for my next snack two hours later.
As an additional experiment I gave these products to two patients I follow, both with type 2 diabetes requiring insulin. One is noncompliant with her diabetes medications and eats inconsistent meals (so frequently has very high blood sugar); the other is strict with his meals and insulin because he is motivated to become healthier after a recent heart attack (so usually very good numbers). Neither noted a big change in their blood sugar levels after trying the bars but I guess neither were the best test patients. I wouldn't expect a bar to solve hyperglycemia in someone eating a poor diet, nor would I have expected these bars to worsen blood sugar control or show even better numbers in the compliant patient.
The bottom line is that the nutritional profile of these products is very good and can be useful if you're looking to lose weight or need a small workout snack. They're just enough to give you that little boost or to quiet a craving. I'm not sure yet if the products truly help control blood sugar better than other low-sugar high-protein/fiber bars (e.g., Quest) or a traditional diabetic snack of peanut butter on whole grain crackers, but they are a perfectly acceptable option.
Extend products are available at Walgreens and on the Extend website and Amazon.com.
Disclosure: I received product samples from Extend Nutrition in kind, which helped facilitate my review.