I have a problem. It has come to my attention that I am addicted to protein bars. Wrappers lie strewn in my car, there's always one in my bag or purse, like lip balm. Somedays, I have one for breakfast AND lunch. One problem lies in that I am allergic to nuts, so my number one and almost only flavour is peanut butter and as much as I love peanut butter, having different protein bars with it is....well, boring. It's probably been a constant six months where every Monday and Tuesday, two of my meals consist of protein bars and here's a secret: THEY ALL TASTE THE SAME!
Don't get me wrong, protein bars are sometimes the best possible answer to a rumbling stomach. They provide energy to finish The Chief and great protein after a tough workout. With many bars offering an average of 17 grams of protein and 300 calories per bar, it sounds like an okay meal replacement, but are we eating them as a chocolate bar replacement and are they as good as they promise to be?
Whether you are vegan, keto, or body builder there is a protein bar out there for you. Plant-sourced bars have a multitude of sources like pea, brown rice, hemp, egg white and soy to choose from. Whey rounds out the protein punch for the other bars, offering up to 30 grams of protein per bar.
Here's the problem:
Soy isolate protein is the most processed of protein sources. Not only is most of the soy on the market GMO, it goes through a vicious process of soaking in alcohol or water to remove all the fibre. Soy is estrogenic, meaning is a high source of estrogen, which these days many have to watch this hormone dominance.
It is easier to find a "clean" plant-based bar, but the taste factor will be low. Many bars will have a gritty or rubbery texture.
Some of these bars can have more sugar than a snickers bar! But the source of the sugar can vary dramatically between bars. From sugars that can affect your insulin levels, (sugar, agave, maltodextrin, dextrose, fructose, glucose) to sugar alcohols that do not, (xylitol, erythritol, Maltitol, sorbitol, sucrose, isolmalt), there can be a mixture of sugary flavours that are added to make your bar taste more real.
Sugar alcohols can wreak havoc on the digestive system causing gas, bloating and diarrhea due to it not being digested well, so limiting your intake on these sugar alcohols is best. Though these sugars don't affect blood insulin levels, they do taste sweeter than actual glucose, so the taste of these bars is sometimes off and can leave an aftertaste.
Look for a bar that is under 8 grams of sugar per serving, this way you are getting the most out of the bar and not getting a sugar rush.
Fibre is something that seems to be a missing piece to the puzzle. Canadian daily requirements of fibre are 25 grams for women and 38 grams for men, most Canadians are getting half of that. If you are eating a protein bar as a meal replacement you will want to make sure that it has at least 10 grams of fibre in it.
I get it, fibre isn't sexy. But constipation isn't either. Getting the right amount of fibre for YOU, (it may be more than the RDA) is important for your body to properly detoxify itself and get things moving...literally!
Sure you can get all of your macros within a single bar, but it's not a replacement for REAL FOOD. If you're wondering what nutrient density is all about, it's really the bang for your buck when it comes to food. It's the amount of nutrients in relation to the caloric intake of the food.
Vega One Bar:
Protein: 20 g
Fat: 10 g
What you could be eating instead of the 300 calorie bar:
Lemon Pepper Shrimp with Stir Fry Vegetables x2
Protein: 33.6 g
Fat: .6 g
Carbohydrates: 14.8 g
Fibre: 4.9 g
Sugars: 8.4 g
I could have 2 servings of this delicious shrimp stir fry instead of that 1 bar!!!
Hmmmm.....deep thoughts....maybe I should start listening to myself!
So I'm calling it quits! No more protein bars! But before I do...I want to go over why you shouldn't rely on protein bars as a meal source and how they can be beneficial as well.
Quick nutrients on the run
Lack of whole foods, full of preservatives
Easy for pre-/post-workout
Shakes are still more nutrient dense and a healthier and cleaner option
Good ingredients like raw, sprouted, organic and low-sugar
Many bars are loaded with sugars, sugar alcohols and other hidden features. You have to research properly to ensure you are getting a great bar.
Made with good sources of protein, like whey and plant-based
Many bars include soy isolates, the worst kind of protein due to its over-processing. Whey may not be from good sources and the plant-based ones may contain phylates.
You need to plan to have your bars on hand so that you don't end up going to the store and purchasing one loaded with sugar!
Protein bars aren't evil. But like with everything - eat in moderation! Don't have one every day, but having them every now and again, on a long hike or when you are booked from 9 am to 9 pm, but make sure you are choosing a good one!
Thanks for reading.
Until the next time,
Eat well. Work hard. Seize wellness.