The Truth About Protein Bars: Are You Really Eating For Your Health?

By Yuri Elkaim, BPHE, CK, RHN

If you are in a hurry and want a quick nutritious snack, think twice before you reach for a protein bar. They boast high amounts of protein, and other healthy vitamins and minerals, but they are processed foods nonetheless. Furthermore, most protein bars contain more fat and sugar than your average candy bar.

Don’t sugar coat the subject
As a health conscious person, you are probably turned off from foods that carry a high amount of fat and sugar. The last thing you want to eat after a hard workout is something that will work against your metabolism. Sadly, that’s just want most protein bars will do. Though you may think that munching down one of these gooey, cardboard like Snicker’s impostors is a great alternative to other poor food choices, you might actually be better off eating a cheeseburger after your training session.

Okay, don’t go out and stock up on cheeseburgers.  But, do take a look at the back of that protein bar you have in your gym bag. Don’t just look at the Nutritional Facts, scan down and check through the ingredients. Most likely you will find the following items listed:

  • Sucrose
  • Corn syrup
  • High fructose corn syrup
  • Brown rice syrup
  • Glycerin

Your nutrition bar reads like a treat you buy at the movie theatre, doesn’t it? Of course, your supplement company needs to sweeten it up to hide the terrible taste. What better way than to add simple sugars.

Fat chance of finding a healthy bar
Even if your protein bar has a low amount of sugar, it still carries a considerable amount of saturated fat.  If you find a bar with a relatively low amount of total fat, take a look how much of that fat is saturated. Keep your eye open for the following bad fats:

  • Hydrogenated oil
  • Palm oil
  • Palm kernel oil
  • Coconut oil
  • Vegetable oil

A note on coconut oil: though virgin coconut oil is a saturated fat, it is actually a very healthy fat in its raw form. However, hydrogen molecules are added to coconut oil when processed, turning it into a dangerous trans fat.  So, using virgin coconut oil greatly benefits your health, while consuming it in processed foods can be damaging to your system. 

Startling fiction
Less than 10 percent of all protein and meal replacement bars actually meet the labeling claims. Supplement companies find a way around nutrition labeling by adding ingredients that don’t fall under any guidelines. For instance, glycerin, a common ingredient used to sweeten protein bars, does not need to be listed as a carb, so your bar may actually carry more carbs than stated.

Healthy alternatives
Eating healthy means you consume a diet rich in whole foods. Stick to the basics in your diet, and if you’re in a crunch, make sure you have ready-to-go foods prepared. Spend one day a week preparing meals to take with you and eat while you are out. Keep plastic containers in stock and pack them up in the evening before bedtime.


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