Are Protein Bars Bad for You?

No one aims to live an unhealthy lifestyle. With busy lives, we often find ourselves turning toward fast snacks instead of meals. And, when we do that, most of us try to reach for something healthy that will keep us fueled and moving. We know that protein is an excellent fuel that helps our bodies use every and doesn’t get stored as fat like carbs do. So many of us aim for high-protein, low-carb options. If you reach for protein bars, as a snack or as a meal replacement, you may actually be reaching for something far less healthy than you think.

Dr. Shmerling of Harvard Health compared Snickers to Luna Bars and found that they had roughly the same calories — the Snickers was only slightly higher. While the Luna Bar had half the fat, it also had more salt. The Snickers bar did have significantly more sugar — 27 grams compared to 10 — but it’s still evident that a Luna Bar isn’t that far off from being candy.

Some protein bars have more than 30 grams of sugar and more calories than a candy bar,” said board-certified sports dietitian Georgie Fear, R.D., C.S.S.D. Additionally, looking at a list of their ingredients can leave you feeling confused by the long names of components made in labs.

While you may be lacking in protein, the presence of it shouldn’t be your deciding factor. “Don’t even consider protein or fat content until you’ve ensured that the bar is made with good-for-you ingredients that you actually recognize,” said Kylene Bogden, M.S., R.D.N., C.S.S.D., a registered dietitian nutritionist with the Cleveland Clinic Center for Functional Medicine. The protein may not outweigh the other things you’re eating. Some brands are healthy, and could be a part of a good diet, but reading the label is a must. And, even within a brand, flavors can have very different levels of fat, fiber, calories and carbs. Moreover, an independent study found that the labels can be wildly inaccurate, 18 out of 30 bars they tested were inaccurate and underestimated the amount of carbohydrates. That’s deeply frustrating for those of us who have blood sugar concerns.

Another report about saturated fat content, one Quest Protein Cookie has the same amount of fat as 12 Chips Ahoy cookies. A Nutramino Coconut Protein Bar has the same fat as a Big Mac. A Nature Valley Coconut Almond Protein Bar has the same amount of fat as a slice of pepperoni pizza from Pizza Hut. The list goes on.

They’re a convenient alternative for someone who would otherwise be reaching for a doughnut or using the vending machines for snacks at the office,” said Dr. Liz Applegate, lecturer in nutrition at the Univ. of California at Davis. “But there’s nothing magical about these bars. Most of them are fine, but some are too high in fat.”

While any of these bars may be okay for your specific diet and health plan, the labels claiming to be health food are misleading. And, for many of us, we would rather enjoy a treat occasionally than eat something slated as healthy that we don’t enjoy as much. If you are looking for ways to get more protein into your day, nuts, hard-boiled eggs or string cheese might be a great boost when you are on the go. Speak to your doctor about how much protein you need and your regular diet. With all the hype around protein, you may find you already eat enough. For some people, excessive amounts of protein can be harmful. Your doctor can advise you on the best snacks/on-the-go-meals for you!

Image: Top: STRONG & KIND Hickory smoked almond protein bar made by Kind. Left: Clif Chocolate Mint Builder's Bar made by Clif Bar & Company. Right: LUNA Protein Mint Chocolate Chip bar made by Clif Bar & Company. Source: Mx. Granger, Wikimedia
March 18, 2020
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