What’s in your protein bar? Do you just look at the calories and how much protein is in the product?
Some of the protein bars out on the market have as much sugar (20+ grams) and as much low quality ingredients as a candy bar. While I suggest doing the best you can with the options you have on hand, I don’t want you to be “green washed” into thinking that just because a bar contains protein it’s automatically healthy. The sourcing matters. Flip it around and look at the ingredients, THEN look at the macronutrient ratios (carbs, fat, protein). You’d be surprised at how many bars are made with cheap, low-quality ingredients and are hiding tons of sugar and additives that can cause digestive distress and prevent absorption of important nutrients.
Here’s some advice I give my clients to help them make better choices when selecting protein bars:
• look for 10g+ of protein, anything less than that may be considered an energy bar where the bulk of the calories are coming from carbohydrate sources (~40g) like dried fruit, grains like oats or quinoa and cane sugar. Energy bars can come in handy when you need a pre workout snack!
• avoid xylitol, sorbitol, mannitol and other sugar alcohols that are often used to sweeten sugar-free foods. Consuming too many sugar alcohols can lead to digestive issues including gas, bloating, and diarrhea for some people. We all have a different tolerance levels so be mindful of your intake.
• avoid hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated oils, industrialized grain and seed oils like canola oil, corn oil, palm kernel oil and vegetable oil as they are higher in omega 6, an inflammatory fat if eaten in excess.
• avoid sweeteners like corn syrup and sucralose
• avoid fake dyes like yellow 6 lake, red 40, etc
• the source of the protein: normally ingredients like Peanuts/peanut flour, soy protein and whey protein concentrate come from low quality sources which can be pro inflammatory for some people and harder to digest. I look for vegan sources like brown rice, pea and quinoa or non vegan source like 100% grass-fed whey protein isolate.
The point of this article is not to scare you into avoiding these ingredients entirely, I’m posting this to inform those of you who are hitting the gym and eating protein bars often to instead try and get your protein from whole food sources first and if you’re falling short to reach for a protein bar with more whole food, higher quality sources, or batch and freeze your own protein bars using basic ingredients like oats, protein powder, nut/seed butter, dried fruit and/or sweetener of choice. Or try these protein balls!
To give you an idea what ingredients to look out for instead, I went through the protein bar section at my local health food store in Toronto and selected some examples of better protein bar options below (not sponsored). Let me know if this info helps!