I often get asked, if protein bars are a good nutritional choice when it comes to following a healthy diet. In fact, just the other day, while I was selecting a protein bar in the middle of a pharmacy, I happen to come across two ladies in need of some assistance on this very topic. Protein bars can be a convenient way to get a quick source of nutrition. Having a protein bar on hand can help you feel guilt-free by providing a good amount of protein, carbs and calories, but there are good and bad protein bar choices! Protein bars can provide a lot of good quality ingredients, but they can also provide a lot of bad ingredients if you are not careful. In fact, some protein bars are no better than chocolate bars with a few added benefits when it comes to their nutritional value. If you’re someone who is constantly on the go, and wants to stick to your diet plan, doesn’t have time to always prepare meals, or stuck somewhere and in need of a healthy snack pronto a protein bar can help! Consider the following when choosing a good protein bar:
Good Choice: The calories of the protein bar you choose should not exceed 250 to 300 calories to replace meals, or 150 to 200 calories if choosing the bar as a convenient snack option.
Bad Choice: Protein bars that offer 300 calories or more per serving, usually indicates there are additional calories coming from saturated fat or sugar sources. These types of protein bars are usually targeted for muscle building or aimed at the hard gainer who can easily eat more calories in one serving than someone who is following a diet aimed at weight loss or weight maintenance.
Good Choice: Look for a protein bar that is high in protein from high quality protein sources such as whey isolate and concentrate. Choose a bar that offers at least 15 g for a snack option, and at least 20 g for a meal replacement option.
Bad Choice: Protein bars that are very low in protein or very high in protein from low quality sources such as soy protein, or hydrolyzed proteins from collagen also known as gelatine. Low protein bars fall more in the fortified granola bar category, usually offering around 10 g of protein per serving.
Good Choice: Protein bars that are low in sugar, provides whole grains and contain a high amount of fibre from soluble and insoluble sources such as oatmeal or plant sources such as inulin from chicory root. Also look for protein bars that use natural sweeteners to replace the sugar such as Lo Han Guo from the gourd plant family, Agave Nectar, Honey or Stevia.
Bad Choice: Any protein bar that is high in sugar from sources such as high fructose corn syrup, corn syrup, fructose, brown rice syrup, or contain a lot of hard to digest carbohydrates from sugar alcohols such as maltitol, glycerol or sorbitol. These sugar alcohols can ferment in the intestines and cause unpleasant digestive effects including cramps, gas and bloating. Many Low-Carb protein bars use sugar alcohols because they are not completely absorbed by the body and therefore do not impact blood sugar levels the way normal carbohydrates do. However, new research into chemical based no-calorie carbohydrates and sweeteners is proving to have almost the same effect in the body, raising insulin levels!
Good Choice: Good protein bars offer heart healthy fats including monounsaturated or polyunsaturated sources, but may also provide fat sources such as natural nuts, nut butters or seeds. Look for natural peanut butter, almond butter, pumpkin seed, sunflower seed, or flax seed. Be sure to choose a bar that provides less than 5 g of fat per serving.
Bad Choice: Avoid any protein bar that is high in saturated fat sources such as hydrogenated oils including fractionated palm kernel oil or palm oils. Although some saturated fat is good for balancing hormones, natural sources of saturated fat should be the only way you get these in your diet.
Vitamins, Minerals and Antioxidants
Good Choice: Most protein bars provide a source of vitamins, minerals and a few age-fighting antioxidants for good measures. Look for food grade sources that provide a boost to your daily requirements.
Bad Choice: Any protein bar that provides a high % of your daily value of vitamins and minerals can impact taste and overload vitamin and mineral daily needs, especially if you are already supplementing your diet with a daily vitamin or are consuming more than one protein bar per day.