NUTRITION

Are Protein Bars Good for You?

By Temma Ehrenfeld @temmaehrenfeld
 | 
February 18, 2017

Nuts, beans, and legumes are healthier sources of protein. 

Protein bars are a tempting gesture toward the goal of a healthy diet, and there are plenty to choose from.

If you’re eating on the go, a protein bar is a better choice than pizza. But what’s wrong with a handful of nuts and maybe a piece of fruit instead? 

 

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Maybe you save protein bars for a booster after a workout. Again, you can carry a baggie of nuts in the same space in your exercise bag or backpack.  

Are protein bars good for you?

Perhaps the better question is: are protein bars even healthy? The decisive argument against protein bars is that they’re sweetened, and most of us are astonishingly over the limit on sweets. When you look at an ingredients label on any protein bar, you may see sugar far down, or not at all — but sweeteners go by many names. And sweeteners are associated with all sorts of health problems.

For example, Think Thin bars are advertised as “sugar-free” but contain maltitol, which is pretty close to sugar in its impact on your body — in other words, it has a fairly high glycemic index.  

Look for “sucralose,” also known as “Splenda,” in a Quest Bar. 

Check in Pure Protein bars for maltitol, dextrose (which is close to the glucose produced by your body), and sugar. 

Even “low-sugar” Detour bars contain maltitol and maltodextrin, which has an even higher glycemic impact than ordinary sugar. 

Musclepharm Combat Crunch bars, touted as low-sugar, still do have sugar and maltitol.

The same goes for Met-Rx Protein Plus bars. 

Robert Irvine’s Fit Crunch bars may contain sugar, corn syrup, sorbitol, and maltodextrin.    

Some bars sound low-tech, but are nonetheless sweet. You’ll see sugar and fructose in Power Crunch bars. Kind bars may contain dried cane syrup, honey, sugar, and brown rice syrup. Nature Valley protein bars may contain sugar and corn syrup. 

Yet another family of bars adds in lots of healthy stuff. In a Perfect bar, you can get flax seed and alfalfa and the like with your protein sources: a nut butter, milk, and eggs. Greens Plus bars give you agave syrup and cane syrup with the fancy herbals like milk thistle and astragulus. Vega, Raw Revolution, and   Health Warrior Chia bars all contain sweeteners, too. 

Epic bars contain meat. Once upon a time, we called dried meat jerky. If you want your meat in a bar shape, so be it. But claims that we all should be eating lots of meat in emulation of cave men are speculative at best, and you can be sure this bar wasn’t available on the savannah. 

 

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When to eat protein bars, or not

For simplicity and no chemical sugar substitutes, try Larabar products, which are sweetened with brown rice syrup and dates, or Rx bars, which get their protein from egg whites and nuts and their sweetness from dates. They also taste great. 

Now, a word about protein. You may not actually need protein bars at all. 

You’ll hear a lot about “complete” and “incomplete” proteins. The key: you don’t need to eat meat or meat products to get enough protein. You also don’t need to meet a protein target in any one meal. Finally, don’t rely on any one food or combination of foods to meet your protein needs. Variety is the key. You want a varied diet that includes whole grains, nuts, beans, and legumes. 

For example, quinoa, soy, and buckwheat are considered “complete” proteins. Lentils and other beans are short in an amino acid called methionine, which is plentiful in brown rice. That’s why it’s no surprise so many cuisines emphasize rice and beans. In Indian homes, people eat chickpeas and lentils together with rice. Mexicans eat black or red beans and rice. 

Wheat and corn work well with beans and nuts, too. Humus, which contains chickpeas and sesame seeds, combines well with pita bread. Nut-butter on whole-wheat bread isn’t bad — though the white bread in the classic peanut butter and jelly sandwich isn’t going to help you much, nor does the jelly. You can eat corn — traditionally as polenta or tortillas — with your beans, rather than rice.

But you can eat chickpeas in your salad at lunch, nuts alone as a snack, and a dinner with tofu and be fine.

 

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Updated:  

February 18, 2017

Reviewed By:  

Janet O’Dell, RN