The truth about protein bars that no one tells you
Protein bars as a post workout snack or as a meal replacement food are quite popular. For of course, what better way to consume more protein than munching on protein bars. No wonder, they come in various flavours, from white and dark chocolate to caramel and coffee, and fruit flavours. Their low calorie count is definitely attractive. And they come in no fuss, attractive package and taste so good too. Right?
Protein bars may have this ‘sinfully healthy snack halo’, but they are not as guilt-free as they are touted to be. Let’s understand what protein bars are and what goes into making them.
Most protein bars contain a variety of ingredients to make up for the macro nutrients.
Protein – The most common ingredients in protein bars are whey and soy protein isolates. Soy protein isolates are high in protein but are processed at such high temperatures that removes the nutrients and leaves toxic by-products. On the other hand, whey protein isolates have less fat, lactose and carbohydrates, but they can still cause digestive upset and bloating.
Carbohydrates – Whole grains like oats, rice flakes and quinoa go into making of bars. Other carbs come from sweeteners.
Most popular sweeteners that go into protein bars are sugar alcohols like xylitol, sorbitol, lactitol, manitol, erythritol; they are low carb sugars as they do not get absorbed by the digestive system but they can on the other hand cause gas, bloating or in some cases diarrhea.
Processed sugars like high fructose corn syrup, barley malt, fructose, caramel, dextrose, maltodextrin are also added as sweeteners as they are cheaper to produce, but they get absorbed in the body quickly and get stored as fat if not readily used.
With storehouse of sugars, no wonder, protein bars taste like heaven in every bite. But can protein bars be healthy or effective post workout snacks if they are loaded with processed sugars or artificial sweeteners?
Fats – Nuts and seeds are added to bars as they are considered healthy fats. Even edible oils are added. We suggest you check out the ingredients at the back of your favourite bar. Ingredients are always listed in the decreasing order of their percentage. If you find nuts and seeds at the end of the list, you would know their use in the bar is negligible, and that most of the fats is coming from oils.
Fiber – Dietary fiber like fructooligosaccharide and chicory root fiber are added. What are fructooligosaccharides? They are oligosaccharides that occur naturally in plants like banana, artichoke, onion, chicory, garlic, asparagus, etc. But its overuse can cause side effects like digestive upset and abdominal stress. It’s always recommended to eat whole foods than their derivatives.
Protein bars or meal replacement bars look quite appealing when they come with only 200 calories. Also, a protein bar is quicker, less messier when you need a meal-on-the-go. And they have all the macro nutrients that a complete meal should have.
But does that make it an ideal substitute to a wholesome meal?
A complete meal for example, a breakfast meal contains fruits, fibre rich carbs and eggs or milk and nuts for protein and good fats. While a bar gives you the protein in terms of grams it misses out on key micro nutrients like the vitamins and minerals present in your fruits and veggies.
Furthermore, you need to decide whether calories coming from corn syrup or sugar alcohols are acceptable to you. And also whether you want to have fructoogliosaccharide in your diet or you would rather munch on an apple or a pear, along with a handful of almonds and pistachios to get your fiber.
So, are all protein bars unhealthy?
Well, we never said that. You just need to know your protein bar and learn to differentiate wholesome bars from unhealthy ones.
Look for bars with whole ingredients
Good protein bars are made of dried fruits, nuts, coconut, whey and oats, and egg whites for eggetarian crowd.
- Look for bars that contain dried fruits like unsweetened cherries, berries and dates as they provide the required sweetness without piling on the calories, while nuts like almonds, pistachios, peanuts provide protein and healthy fats.
- Bars containing seeds is highly nutritious.
- Look for egg white or whey for non-vegan options and cacao instead of cocoa or chocolate for vegan protein sources.
Here are a few protein bars that are far better than the ones available in the market.
- Protein bars from Whole Truth are rich in nuts and seeds, and while they don’t contain any sugar alcohols or artificial sweeteners, they contain whey which taken in large quantities can cause gastrointestinal discomfort.
- Energy bars from Gouri’s Goodies are loaded with nuts and seeds and are sweetened with palm jaggery, honey or dates.
Pick ones that are high in protein
Most bars range from 3 to 20 gm of protein. Remember, an average individual leading a sedentary lifestyle should consume 0.8 gms of protein per kilogram of their body weight.
If you work out regularly in the gym or indulge in fair amount of activity every day, then you need a protein bar with a higher protein content, whereas if your activity levels are low, you need a protein bar with less protein content. Thus, an average man needs 56 gms of protein while an average women needs 46 gms of protein per day. So, if you choose a protein bar with 5-6 gms of protein content, that takes care of 10% of your daily protein requirement.
Also, keep in mind that real, wholesome foods are always better than bars. There are times when you are genuinely busy and can’t sit down for a proper meal. So, yes, munching on a protein bar seems easier, less messy way of getting some nutrition. But, at other times, remember that a protein bar can’t really replace real food.
There are protein rich foods like cottage cheese, Greek yogurt, eggs, turkey and options like edamame, quinoa, hummus, lentils, black beans and other types of beans that are rich in plant based protein.
A bowl of Greek yogurt with a handful of almonds, dates and banana would be a tasty alternative to a protein bar. Think about it!
If you are looking for a quick healthy bite with a decent mix of protein, healthy carbs and fats, try some of our vegan Sesame Peanut Ladoo (Sesame seeds, Peanuts and Jaggery) or gluten-free Besan Ladoo (Chick Pea flour, Musk Melon seeds, Ghee and Jaggery). Each ladoo is loaded with the goodness of 2.4 gms of protein, 10 gms of carbs and 6 gms of fat with just 100 calories.