Don't Google the InBar. If you do, you'll find the Indiana State Bar Association, International Network for Bamboo and Rattan, an Israeli kibbutz in Galilee, or a night club in Croatia. You won't find the D-friendly InBar snack. Not yet, at least.

But Dr. Don VerHulst, chief science officer of the year-old Michigan startup company InBalance Health, is out to change that.

As one of the co-founders of the small biz based in Wayland, MI (western part of  the state south of Grand Rapids), VerHulst is the designer and driving force behind a whole new approach to diabetes-friendly snacks.

You might say he's a man on a mission to bring us yummy, healthy D-snacks.

Although generally appearing in a white lab coat in publicity stills, VerHulst (who calls himself "Doctor Don") has never practiced medicine and actually views himself as a medical outsider. He says he went straight from medical school into "natural alternatives, helping people learn how to detox their bodies with foods, diet, and lifestyle."

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His now-deceased father had type 2 diabetes, and VerHulst objects to the standard medical D-care that he says is "growing like no other health problem out there."

Instead, VerHulst believes in using natural solutions as much as possible.

"In modern medicine we poison ourselves to health," he says, pointing out that most pharmaceutical agents are "poisons with a desirable side-effect." His philosophy is simple changes and judicious use of pharmaceuticals. Before taking any drug, VerHulst says, ask "is your body deficient in that?" In the case of type 1 diabetes, yes, insulin is needed. But he objects to the quick use of insulin in type 2s, saying "my passion is to let people know there are solutions other than insulin" for type 2 diabetes.

To that end, he decided to dedicate himself to creating a healthy snack that tasted good, wouldn't spike blood sugar, and would help people lose weight. Which sounds like a familiar dream, we know...

Building a D-Friendly Snack

InBalance boasts that their product is "doctor-formulated to be diabetic-friendly"; VerHulst was the formulator. He knew in advance that he wanted a product that was high in protein, high in fiber, low in net carbs, gluten-free, and allergen-free. VerHulst says it's actually easy to formulate a healthy bar, but "the challenge is in not having it taste like sawdust."

InBars come in four flavors: Strawberry Banana, Chocolate Fudge, Chocolate Mint, and Chocolate Cherry. Why so much chocolate?

"People love chocolate," VerHulst says. "People want what they want, and we want to give it to them in a healthy way." He says his personal favorite is Chocolate Cherry, and he generally eats one every day.

VerHulst freely admits that the InBar isn't unique in the market place. The brand that most notably comes to mind is Extend Bars from Dr. Fran Kaufman. "But looking at the ingredient list, I wouldn't eat them," VerHulst says, adding that what sets the InBar apart from the competition isn't what's in the InBar, but what isn't in the InBar. And what isn't included is chemicals. The InBar contains only 100% natural organic ingredients.

Now, let's look at the label to find out what is inside these snack bars...

What's in an InBar?

The bulk of the bar is made up of organic sunflower seed butter, gluten-free cellulose, organic rice bran fiber, organic rice protein, pea fiber, and organic crispy brown rice. The bars are indeed allergen-free, gluten-free, and vegan.

Each bar has 140 calories, 17 grams of carbs, and a whopping 10 grams of fiber—giving it a "net blood sugar impact" (by subtracting the fiber) of only 7 grams of carbs.

By comparison, the Extend Bars are largely soy protein, uncooked cornstarch, and glycerine based. They contain the sugar alcohol maltitol, nut products, artificial flavors, caramel color, and Splenda. Depending on the flavor they also contain such ingredients as rice starch, oligofructose, milk protein isolate, maltodextrin, sodium caseinate, soy lecithin, and arabinogalacten. And no, I have no idea what half of those things are.

That said, Extend Bars are also gluten-free (and kosher, according to the label) but not allergen-free. Extend's Delight Bars run close to the InBar in calories and total carbs, with the Extend clocking in at 150 calories and 20 grams of carbs, but they boast a much lower 1-2 "official" net carbs per bar depending on the flavor. I say "official" because Extend has subtracted 100% of the sugar alcohols from their carb count, as the FDA allows, while in the trenches most people find subtracting 50% is more realistic.

The science behind seeking low blood sugar impact couldn't be more different between the two products. The InBar uses very high fiber content to reduce the impact of the carbs it contains; the Extend Bar uses some fiber, but counts largely on the reduced digestibility of sugar alcohol, uncooked cornstarch, and glycerine to lower its carb impact.

I found it noteworthy that InBars don't contain any sugar alcohols, the go-to alternative sweetener that many companies use when making D-friendly snacks. The problem is, sugar alcohols are not digestive-system friendly; they tend to upset most folks' stomachs.

Instead, all InBars include the "InBalance Proprietary Sweet Blend" in lieu of sugar or corn syrup. This is like the Colonel's seven herbs and spices. But thanks to food labeling laws, we know that InBalance's secret recipe is organic blue amber agave, organic brown rice syrup, and Lau Han Guo.

WTF is Lau Han Guo and is there a vaccine for it?

Actually, it's a very sweet fruit from China, a.k.a. Monk Fruit. According to VerHulst, it's "probably one of our key success ingredients. It has two hundred times the sweetness of sugar but no glycemic imprint." He also feels it's more "palatable" than stevia, with no metallic aftertaste.

Made in the USA

InBalance designed the InBar. They market it and sell it. But they don't manufacture it themselves. While VerHulst declined to say who makes the bars, he did confirm that they are made right here in the USA. The first batch was 250,000 bars. And in November, they announced their first distributor in northwest Indiana. (Extend Bars are made in the USA, too, in Louisiana and at other sites, so this isn't necessarily a differentiator.)

VerHulst says the InBar was very well- received when it debuted at a recent East Coast health food expo, has been picked up nationwide by a number of locally-owned health food stores, and that InBalance is on the verge of penning agreements with Vitamin Cottage, GNC, and Wild Oats natural foods stores. He hopes you'll see InBars there within the next 60 days.

Testing Out the InBar

As mentioned, VerHulst and his team set out to create a snack bar that is high in protein, high in fiber, low in net carbs, gluten-free, and allergen-free and tasted good. In terms of taste, he says the best research done so far is on his kids, and that his oldest son now eats an InBar every day -- which is odd, since "I can't get that kid to eat anything healthy."

Then there's the issue of blood sugar impact. InBalance is in the process of developing a clinical trial of the InBar in conjunction with Michigan State University, which will study the glycemic response of the bar. VerHulst also hopes to determine the Phytochemical Index of the InBar, which he says is a measure of the nutritional value of a food, beyond just its glycemic index. That includes postprandial blood sugars and hemoglobin A1C.

"It is impossible to say specifically how much an InBar will raise a given individual's blood sugar, as many factors play into this physiologically," VerHulst said. "But we can say that all of the ingredients in the InBar are low glycemic." He also pointed out the omega 3s and fiber in the bars lowers the glycemic index even more.

After talking to VerHulst I soooooooo wanted to like his blood-sugar friendly snack bars and see if they lived up to their taste and low-BG-impact claims. Did they succeed?

Well, I've never tasted sawdust... But I didn't care for these bars myself.

I tried two bars that had been sent to me by InBalance's PR firm: chocolate fudge and strawberry banana flavors.

I'm generally quite the chocoholic, so I started with a nibble of the first one. It wasn't bad, but I was underwhelmed. It's a heavy, dense, and slightly dry bar. And I couldn't taste the chocolate. I don't care for banana flavors for the most part, but VerHulst had told me that customers feedback indicated these tasted like strawberry Twizzlers licorice. Actually, it does, sort of -- like Twizzlers with the consistency of glue-bonded sawdust. I liked it better than the chocolate one, but I don't think I'd pay $3.49 a pop to eat any of them.

Actually, our whole team obtained some sample bars from InBalance. Amy and Mike both reported not seeing any noticeable difference in their BG readings compared to eating any other "healthy" protein bar; their numbers went up and down just as you'd expect when eating and bolusing accordingly. Mike didn't care for the taste of any of the four flavors (though choc fudge was the best), and he saw no indication that these were any more "diabetic-friendly" than other protein bars in his house. Amy says she liked the "crun-chewy" consistency of the bars but thought the flavor was awfully bland -- not a hint of chocolate taste in any of the bars with that label.

From my side, I nibbled on the Cherry Chocolate InBar that I'd grabbed for lunch on my way out the door one morning. Before this "lunch" I was at 117 mg/dL flat and level, so I ate the bar with a glass of water and bolused for the 7 net carbs. Here's what happened:

Over the next two hours I steadily rose, hitting 150 at the one-hour mark and then sticking in the mid-170s for the next hour.  Three hours after eating, I took a correction bolus of 3/4 of a unit... ironic, as the original calculation was less than a half-unit. The taste was better than the others, and I didn't get hungry all afternoon. This treated my blood sugar better than most "diabetic-friendly" bars (which really aren't), but I gotta say the others treat my taste buds better.

One Final Taste Test

To make sure none of our team's taste buds weren't off because of our diabetes (what — another complication?!), I held an informal focus group amongst the various humans who live under my roof in New Mexico. Ten-year-old Rio declared the strawberry banana to be "not very good," and the chocolate fudge to be "just horrible."

On the other hand, my mother-in-law liked both and found them delicious. My type 2 spouse, the target demographic for the product, said she found them "middle of the road, not bad, not great," but was also insulted that the chocolate didn't taste chocolatey. "I can't taste the chocolate at all," she observed.

My own mother thought that as health foods go, they weren't bad. She preferred the chocolate.

"If you were desperately hungry and had to eat, it would be fine," she told me.

Me: "Doesn't sound like it will be your go-to snack, Mom."

"No," she said, "but you can't carry an ice cream sundae in your purse, either."

 

{See also: Amy's "Clash of the Gluten-Free Protein Bars" post from last Spring, in which she compares 5 different brands.}

 
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This content is created for Diabetes Mine, a consumer health blog focused on the diabetes community. The content is not medically reviewed and doesn't adhere to Healthline's editorial guidelines. For more information about Healthline's partnership with Diabetes Mine, please click here.