I just spent a morning with a good friend of mine at her company's information session about their meal replacement products. The testimonials were inspiring and everyone selling the product seemed to be very passionate about the transformative effect the products had on their lives – people had lost weight, improved their energy, were able to come off their pharmaceutical medications... and made a bunch of money through the multi-level marketing structure. However, as I read through the ingredients label on the bar that was 'served for lunch', I couldn't help but question how healthy it actually was... especially compared to real food. According to the company, millions of people have had amazing results, but the soy isolates, 8+ different kinds of sugar, and long words I couldn't pronounce made me wonder if this type of product really fits in as a healthy-food.
The way I see it, we should always strive to fuel our bodies with the best foods available (with the least amount of toxins, fillers, preservatives, and chemicals). Throughout the day, the decisions we make about which foods to eat are a matter of balancing out what works best for you given what is available. This is why it is important to not only make a plan before you hit the road, but also to have some knowledge as to what is practical and healthy. I like to rate foods and meals based on their quality and the nutritional benefits I'll receive from them – I refer to these categories as “My 4 Bs”.
Best – these are nutrient-dense foods that will support optimal health and are the highest quality available (ex. local, organic, unprocessed, unrefined, pastured, grass-fed, wild)
Better – this is the middle quality for me (ex. “natural” - free of antibiotics and hormones, non-local organic produce, minimally processed)
Baseline – nothing I consume will be a lesser quality that what I have established for myself (ex. conventionally grown produce, non-GMO)
Below – I will not eat these foods (ex. heavily processed, artificial sweeteners, dyes, flavoring, fillers)
Just a side note here... I don't have any fancy spread sheet or print out of foods that fit neatly into these categories. I don't obsess about “My 4 Bs” - I simply use it as a reference when I am making decisions about what I am going to put in my body.
So back to the whole idea of finding an on-the-go food for the busy rider. Taking into consideration “Your 4 Bs”, if you have a busy day of riding, maybe you can't fit in a balanced whole-foods meal and you are fine going with the “Better” option of a meal replacement bar made from whole, unprocessed ingredients. Or maybe you are stuck at a horse show in the middle of nowhere and you are hungry. Perhaps this is a time that the “Baseline” bar would be acceptable (like one of those nuts and fruit bars you can find just about anywhere). The “Below” option would be the fried food at the concession stands.
The same goes for shakes. The best would be a whole foods green smoothie, but if that isn't practical, I recommend you try to find a powder that has minimally processed, acceptable proteins such as hemp, rice, or pea (soy and whey are undesirable).
In conclusion, choosing a healthy meal replacement is relative to your personal diet. If you are trading up from a hotdog and onion rings to a meal replacement bar, that is an improvement and will likely put you on the path to better health. However, if your diet is dialed in and you hear about the next best weight-loss, energy improving, super-power bar, take a moment to read the label and see if it fits in to your idea of healthy eating – where is it in “Your 4 Bs”?
Please comment below and reach out to me with your feedback or for additional guidance on selecting On-the-Go foods!