Sask. Lentil Energy Bar Hits Market -- Saskatoon StarPhoenix

Lentil Energy Bars Hit Saskatchewan Market

Jason Warick, The StarPhoenix
Published: Wednesday, July 21, 2010

An energy bar has been created using Saskatchewan lentils, bolstered by University of Saskatchewan research suggesting numerous health and performance benefits of ingesting the increasingly popular pulse crop.

The bar's creator hopes to tap into the lucrative sports nutrition market.

"I'm excited about it. It packs a small, powerful punch," said Theresa Le Sliworsky, president and founder of the Manitoba-based Genki Bar Foods Inc.

"There are things in Saskatchewan lentils that make it unique."

Genki is a Japanese term which means "feeling good" or "healthy." The Genki Bar is thought to be the first energy bar using lentils, lauded for their complete nutritional profile.

Many energy bars contain sugars and other simple carbohydrates that provide a short, intense burst of energy, followed by a crash. Foods such as lentils or barley have a lower "glycemic index."

Their carbohydrates, stored in the body as glycogen, are burned slowly by the body. In theory, this provides a more sustained, consistent energy supply to the cyclist, long distance runner or soccer player competing in a multi-game tournament.

"You're preserving your glycogen stores. Once those are depleted, you will fatigue," said U of- kinesiology Prof. Phil Chilibeck.

The idea to test lentils in sports performance came from pulse crop expert and U of- agriculture Prof. Bert Vandenberg. Vandenberg told Chilibeck he felt more energy in the latter stages of his soccer games after eating a pre-game meal of boiled lentils. Chilibeck was intrigued. He teamed with U of- nutrition division head Gord Zello, master's student Jon Little and other researchers to conduct various tests.

At first, they fed athletes plain lentils before putting them through a gruelling treadmill workout of sprints and walking to simulate a soccer game, financed by various pulse crop and agriculture agencies.

Le Sliworsky took notice of the research and together, they came up with a formula for the Genki Bar prototype. Chilibeck said they collaborated with the company on various elements, but remain independent academic researchers and are free to publish any unfavourable results.

The prototype proved too high in fat. The peanut butter and other natural ingredients needed to keep the bar from falling apart caused the fat content to rise beyond the level acceptable for athletic competition.

Various revisions yielded the current version, low in fat and rich in carbohydrates and protein. The 40-gram bar is now on sale in Saskatoon at Craven Sports Services, Brainsport and other locations.

Zello said plain lentils are a healthy choice, but it's also important to have something tasty and accessible.

"Lentils themselves are pretty bland," he said.

Researchers are continuing to study the Genki bar and the effect of lentils in other ways. There are further athletic performance studies planned, but the bars have already shown to improve cholesterol levels in seniors studied.

Researchers would like to see if the bars or other pulse-based foods improve the health of people with various conditions.

Sliworsky said her marketing budget is limited, but hopes to expand the company gradually through word of mouth -- first in Canada and then Japan and the United States. She thinks the company could eventually offer an entire line of lentil-based products.

"This will put Saskatchewan lentils on the map," she said.

© The StarPhoenix (Saskatoon) 2010

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Along with the great taste unlike many sports bars I have also noticed an improvement in my endurance and muscle recovery time between workouts!

- Keegan Sharp
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