Choosing the healthiest protein bars

This month we’ve asked ourselves: are all protein bars created equal?

There is an abundance of protein bars on the market due to the high demand of nutrient-dense convenience foods. Many of these bars present enticing health claims, making it difficult to decipher the nutritious bars vs. its sugar-laden alternatives. Unfortunately, we are seeing more and more of the latter option, with false claims driven by companies looking to increase their profitability and market share. We are here to give you the truth behind these bars and what to look for on the ingredient labels when deciding which bar to consume on the go.

When assessing the nutritional value of a bar, ignore the fancy packaging and health claims and go straight to the key source of information – the nutrition label. The first thing to take a look at is the ingredient list. Identify where the bar obtains its key nutrients from, after all, the nutrients are only as good as their sources. Be sure to choose a bar with whole foods and minimal ingredients. Some quality foods often seen in the healthier bars include nuts, nut butters, seeds, oats, and fruits. Higher value protein sources may include rice, pea, hemp or chia proteins. If the bar contains a long list of additives that you cannot pronounce, it is not going to be your best option. Major fillers commonly used in protein bars that can cause negative side effects include soy protein isolate, palm oil, carrageenan, sugar alcohols and natural flavors.

In terms of specific nutrients, one of the major culprits to look out for is sugar. Many protein bars sneak in astronomical amounts of sugar – some even contain as much as 25-30g, which is more than a Hershey’s chocolate bar! The sugar is utilized as a preservative method, as well as a way of making the bar taste better. These sugars are sometimes presented under hidden names on the food label to create confusion for the consumer. Some of these aliases for sugar are high fructose corn syrup, agave syrup, nectar, sucralose, dextrose, fructose and brown rice syrup. It is important to choose bars with a low sugar content and high protein and fiber content in order to increase satiety and avoid blood sugar spikes. Try to limit the sugar quantity to 10-15g or less and opt for bars containing 10-20g of protein. In addition, do not rely solely on protein bars as a meal replacement, as the majority contain between 200-300 calories. It is important to either consider it a snack or supplement the bar with an additional food source that is lower in calories and high in nutrients in order to create a complete meal.

It is essential to select the nutrient-dense bar option because the additives and high sugar content in the unhealthier bars can increase blood sugar levels, create digestive issues, decrease nutrient absorption and lead to weight gain. In the long-term, this may cause harmful effects to your overall health, especially if a protein bar is a part of your daily diet.

Conclusion: This myth is busted! Not all protein bars are created equal and it is important not to depend on the health claims, incentivized by profits. Instead focus on the ingredients followed by the nutrient content. Stick to our simple tips when deciding on a bar, however to further avoid confusion, feel free to create your own bars. There are numerous recipes on the internet to take full advantage of and that way you know exactly what goes into your bar, without worrying about secret fillers or added sugars. While not all protein bars are created equal, there are nutritious options out there that can leave you feeling satiated and provide a healthier alternative to many other on-the-go foods. Therefore, we support the protein bar movement, but chose wisely in order to reap the benefits!

By: Allison Lohrer, RD-To-Be and our NYNG Intern

Nick VanMeter