What's in Your Protein Bar?

There are so many protein/energy bars available on the market today. Companies use great marketing techniques to draw the people in to buy them. “All Natural”, “Pure”, “Thin”,” Perfect”,” Pro”, “Balance” are just some of the words that are commonly found on the packaging and most people associate these words with health and good nutrition.

Unfortunately, those words do not mean anything at all. In fact, any time you see any of these words you should look at the label carefully and read all the ingredients.
 The fact that its says “all natural” doesn’t automatically mean it is good for you. The Food and Drug Administration considers foods to be “natural” as long as they don’t contain added colors, or any synthetic substances. So this means that those foods can still be highly processed and genetically modified and in case of meats, injected with hormones. 

 
Today, most of the protein/energy bars contain ton of ingredients that are not good for our bodies: high fructose corn syrup, soy (or soy isolate), sucralose, palm kernel oil, sugar alcohols (Maltitol Syrup, Xylitol, Sorbitol, Lactitol, Mannitol, and Erythritol) and many others. 

 
Here is the rundown on some of the commonly found RED FLAG ingredients that you need to look for (this applies for many other packages foods as well - cereal, granolas, crackers , bread etc)

 
High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS) –This sugar is commonly used in many foods. HFCS is compromised of glucose and fructose and depending in which product it is used, the percentages of the 2 vary (typically it is 45% glucose and 55% fructose). Although some argue that HFCS is same as the table sugar, most doctors and researchers agree that it is not processed the same way in our body, hence it is not the same. Simple sugars (glucose) goes directly into our blood stream and it is used as energy. On the other hand, when we eat something with HFCS the sugar is divided into two parts – glucose goes to your blood stream where fructose actually goes to liver and whatever is not processed coverts to fat. Over the long run this can cause many metabolic issues.

 
Sucralose –this is a non-nutritive sweetener that is used in most protein bars. In fact, it is really challenging to find one without it! Sucralose is manufactured by chlorinating sucrose (sugar). Basically, sucralose is sugar wrapped in chlorine so our body won’t process it as sugar. This is how the sweetness of sugar is intensified but it is non-caloric. Think of the sucralose as a disguise, if you will. Even though only small portion of the sucralose is absorbed and the rest is eliminated, why would you even want to ingest something that our body cannot process? FDA did not ban sucralose in food yet because it is within "safe limits". But just think about what chlorine is used for!


Soy (soy protein isolate) – over 85% of all soy produced in US is genetically modified (GMO). And guess what? Food companies do not even need to disclose it! It is not required by FDA. So, yes, most probably when you eat something with soy, it is GMO. Many protein/energy bars contain soy protein isolate for higher protein content. Many studies that have been published say that part of the soy that’s protein was considered waste and it wasn’t until recently that companies discovered that they could actually make money off it so they started adding it to foods. In addition, over the past few years soy has been under a lot of scrutiny and has been linked to cancer although none of the studies were conclusive.


Palm Kernel Oil – It is very high in saturated fat and should not be confused with the palm oil or coconut oil (these two are extracted from the pulp of the palm fruit and kernel of the coconut where palm kernel oil is extracted from the kernel of the oil palm). Palm Kernel Oil is very high in Lauric fatty acids which are proven to raise blood cholesterol levels. It is commonly used in commercial cooking because it is the cheapest oil and it has a long shelf life, even longer then vegetable oil or canola. This oil is used to make soaps, washing powders and personal care products because of its high fatty acids. Palm kernel oil is also commonly used in creamers, ice creams, chocolate and definitely found in many protein/energy bars.


Stevia – Stevia that is widely used today in households and among food companies is highly processed and it has nothing to do with the actual green leaf stevia. The healthiest form of Stevia comes from the green leaf plant where, basically, the plant is dried and grounded. But Stevia that is added to foods and the one that we buy at the store actually goes thru the process of leaf extraction first followed by multiple step process where different additives and chemical solvents are added.


Sugar Alcohol – this is a reduced-calories sweetener that is not necessarily bad for you but many researchers believe that our intestines are not able to digest this sweetener well and can cause digestive issues (bloating and gas to name a few) if you consume high quantities. I do eat few products that contain sugar alcohol but I don't eat them daily. It doesn't seem to bother me soI kept it in my nutrition ( Moderation is the key though!)


I know you are probably thinking, oh gosh, is there anything that’s OKAY?  Sure there is. Read on!


Health Warrior Superfood Protein Bar –Dark chocolate coconut sea salt – 200 calories, 10 grams of plant protein, 8 grams of fat and 25 grams of carb (fiber 5 g and sugar 11g)


 Protein content is not that high but this bar contains some great nutritional ingredients that support lean muscle such as chia seeds, quinoa, oats, almonds, cocoa and coconut. Definitely a great option when you are on the go and need a quick fuel.


Some other flavors are Honey Almond, Peanut Butter Cacao and Lemon Goldenberry. Also very good!
 
My newest addition of the Health Warrior chia bars which are perfect for a snack. Small enough to fit into any purse or a pocket which is important these days right? Just like Health Warrior protein bars, chia bars are made with REAL food ingredients that you can actually pronounce  - 110 calories, 3 grams of protein , 4 grams of fiber, 5 grams of fat and sugar. Bonus: packed with Omega 3 fatty acids. Tiny but so nutritious!


Next great option are the RxBars. At 6 ingredients or less, these bars a true winner! One of my favorite ones is the chocolate sea salt but all the flavors are really good – 210 calories, 12 grams of protein, 6 grams of fiber, 9 grams of fat and 15 grams of sugar. Its important to note that fat and sugar in these bars comes from nuts and natural sugar sources such as dates.

 
Square Organics protein bars are plant based (sprouted and whole grain). These perfectly chewy bars will satisfy your hunger and your sweet tooth without compromising your health. These bars are 210 calories, 10 grams of protein, 2 grams of fiber, 10 grams of fat and 11 grams of sugar. Chocolate coated coconut is my very favorite! cv


Rise Protein Bar Almond Honey – 280 calories, 20 grams of protein, 16 grams of fat and 20 grams of carbohydrate (Fiber 4g and Sugar 13g)


This is one of the rarely found bars that only have few ingredients, to be exact only 3! Almonds, Honey and whey protein. It is high in calories but they are calories that come from protein, good fat of almonds and sweetness of honey.


There are many flavors to pick from, another one of my favorite is the Cacao banana protein bar. Also simple, same ingredients as above plus cacao and banana.


This protein bar is a definite green light!


Coconut Cashew Quest Bar – 190 calories, 20 grams of protein, 8 grams of fat and 4 grams of Net Carbs (Fiber 14g, Sugar 1g, Erythritol 4)
 
Although this protein bar contains sugar alcohols it is a good option if you do not have any digestive issues and you consume it in moderation. It has very few ingredients and is a great source of protein and fiber. It has a chewy texture and it is very flavorful.


Important to note that not all Quest bars are created equal. Only few flavors do not contain sucralose, so be careful when picking. Some other safe flavors are: Chocolate peanut butter, Cinnamon roll, Strawberry cheesecake and Lemon cream pie.


In conclusion, eating real food is always better then having a protein, energy or any kind of health bar. But if you would like to have one, take a peak at the label first. Don’t let the wrapper fool you.


 

Until Next Time,
SP

 

References: www.wikipedia.com, American Institute for Cancer Research, Authority Nutrition, LiveStrong, GMO-Compass.com; nutritional information obtained from the various product websites

 

 

 

 

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