Protein Bars: A Love Hate Relationship
It used to be that food in small rectangular form was called candy and relegated to a section next to the checkout line in the grocery store. Not so these days. There’s a whole aisle of bars now, but they aren’t the Snickers or Crunch bars you’re used to, we’re talking protein bars, also called energy, nutrition, cereal - well you get the point. These are the fast food items of the health and fitness industry. Touted as good on-the-go snacks or post-workout meals, protein bars are perceived by many as part of a healthy lifestyle. But are they any better than candy bars in the way of nutrition?
What We Don't Love
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), most Americans get more than the recommended amounts of protein daily. So if you don’t need the additional protein, what do you get? Protein bars are generally around 150 to 250 calories of sugar, fiber and whey or soy protein. It's not ideal that you’d be replacing a hearty snack of fresh fruits and vegetables and nuts with a processed food. Yes, there are some that are minimally processed, but for the additional price, consider if you could’ve gone for a small well-balanced meal instead. Another not so good thing about many protein bars is their use of sweeteners. Whether it’s listed as brown rice syrup, agave nectar, evaporated cane juice, high fructose corn syrup or sugar alcohols, it’s still an added sweetener.
What We Love
If you’re a newbie to eating healthy and you need an alternative to eating a candy bar, protein bars are generally a better option. We love those with a short ingredient list of dried fruit, nuts, and oats as they are a good source of fiber and can stave off hunger between meals when compared to their candy cousins. A study found that replacing a high fat, high carbohydrate candy bar, with a high fiber, high protein bar could reduce food intake in subsequent meals. Just remember the resulting difference in lower glucose peaks and more stable insulin levels holds for any meal that replaces refined sugars with more fiber and protein. Be sure not to replace meals with a protein bar because of the lack of vegetables in many of them, and remember if you’re sedentary or don’t workout hard everyday, protein bars may end up as extra calories.
The Convenience Issue
For those of you who opt for protein bars out of convenience, use an extra 30 minutes a week to cut up fresh fruit and vegetables and separate nuts and seeds into single serving baggies for snacks. Many protein bars that have good nutritional value run upwards of $3-4 dollars. If you just can’t see a way around eating them, consider making your own or creating your own trail mix. That way you know exactly what’s in it, and you save the extra dollars that’s spent on pictures of muscular men doing pushups and really nice packaging. An added bonus: you’re not stuck in that darn energy bar aisle, where you feel obligated to read the ingredients of each one to make the healthiest choice. If ever you feel trapped, make a beeline for the produce section - no nutrition label reading required.
If you eat protein bars, when do you eat them and how many calories do they account for in your day?