I’m a sucker when it comes to dropping by a 7-eleven to grab a protein bar for chocolate cravings.
I do it because I prefer to feed my body protein instead of pure sugar. However, I have noticed that depending on the brand and bar available, good quality protein bars are far and few between. Shockingly, some bars even have enough sugar and fat to rival a Snickers bar!
So how do we look past the clever high protein, low carb marketing?
After meticulously reading over several ingredient lists and analyzing the nutritional panel, the below list is a collection of the most common ingredients you’d find in a typical protein bar along with the stock-standard whey isolate protein:
¥ WHEY PROTEIN
Did you know that whey is actually a by-product of cheese production? There are different types of whey out there but they all have the same result- to provide the body with the basic building blocks for muscle tissue growth. This is why protein bars are generally aimed at body builders and sport nuts as a supplement. Points to remember: Whey ISOLATE is the best quality stuff out there, as it’ll have less fat and lactose with about 90% protein concentration. Anything labelled Whey Protein CONCENTRATE has an average 7% fat and lactose and 75% of protein.
¥ SOY PROTEIN ISOLATE
The isolate part stands for the method of extracting the soy protein for higher protein concentration.
This plant protein has gotten so many conflicting reviews: Camp Pro-Soy claim that the protein is a powerhouse of complete branch chain amino acids, contains higher levels of Glutamine (an essential amino acid to assist muscle recovery post workouts) and improves thyroid function. Camp Anti-Soy argue that it promotes higher level of estrogen in the body, lowers testosterone production and contains residue elements of aluminum added during the refining process.
My opinion is that it isn’t a natural product and, although there is extensive evidence that traditional fermented soy is beneficial in a balanced diet in Asian culture, there isn’t enough evidence that this chemically-altered and highly refined product will deliver the same benefits. Thread with caution and consume in moderation!
¥ SUCRALOSE (955)
Synthetic sweetener made by men in white lab coats. Also known as “Splenda”, the use of sucralose is extremely popular in low carb, low calorie products and lurks in more than a handful of “health” foods. Our bodies can’t break down sucralose, hence why the low calories because we can’t absorb it. It can sit in our digestion and ferment, causing uncomfortable bloating, gas and laxative effects. Because it’s an artificial product, there’s been a great deal written about it (again, conflicting information) on whether it is a harmless or detrimental ingredient to our diet. I suppose if this was a genetically modified lamb called Betty, you wouldn’t eat it would you? So would you eat Franken-sugars just to save a few calories? There’s some food for thought.
¥ SWEETENER (950, 951)
The terrible twins- sometimes they’re separated but often they’ll come in a paragraphed pairing. 951 Aspartame is the one to probably best avoid, seeing the amount of noise surrounding this artificial sweetener. Associated with the development of autoimmune and thyroid disorders, obesity and cancer, there’s fierce debate on the safety of this chemical, so consume at your own risk. 950 is Acesulphame Potassium (or Acesulfame K) and there may be some evidence that the additive may affect prenatal development.
¥ SOY LECITHIN (E322)
Basically, the oily substance that binds everything together so your lovely protein bar isn’t a gooey mess. Derived from soyabeans because it’s cheap, there may be a possibility that the by-product is genetically modified (GMO).
The best known “natural” low-carb sugar substitute used within the food industry to date is stevia. A native plant in South America, stevia is made from processing the stevia plant itself and has been used for thousands of years by Guaraní peoples of Paraguay for medicinal and herbal remedies. Definitely a friend of the dieting world.
The reality is that most protein bars are a mass-manufactured product, made with maximum profitability in mind. Sure, it’ll give you a protein hit, but it’ll contain extra fillers and artificial ingredients you don’t need.
If you do need a quick fix though and there’s no corner chook shop to raid for some real protein, then here’s my tips on how to select the best needle in the hay stack:
ð Go for a bar that lists whey protein isolate as the first ingredient
ð Aim for a protein bar that has minimum 20g of protein per serving
ð Try to avoid any bar that contains Sweetener 951
ð Avoid anything that shows added coloring or preservatives
ð Look for products that are naturally sweetened with Stevia
I haven’t listed the other performance or weight-loss enhancers (ie. green tea extracts, hydroxy cuts, etc.), but this basic list has gotten me to think twice before I reach for protein bars once I finish competition prep. My advice? Protein bars eaten in moderation or as a last resort is fine, however choosing a protein bar over real food is not. Real food trumps bars in terms of satisfaction and anabolic effect (where you are using more calories to burn the calories you consume).
Protein bars in any form should be seen as a supplement to a proper exercise plan, if needed at all.
Happy nom nom nomin’ y’all,
Soy vs. Whey (http://www.timinvermont.com/fitness/soyvswhy.htm)
Aspartame and Other Artificial Sweeteners (http://www.lookingforalternatives.com.au/aspartame-and-other-artificial-sweeteners/)
Food Standards Consumer Information (http://www.foodstandards.gov.au/consumerinformation/nuttab2010/)
Acesulfame Potassium (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Acesulfame_potassium)
Soy Lecithin for Weight Loss (http://www.livestrong.com/article/519741-soy-lecithin-for-weight-loss/)
What is an Anabolic State? (http://www.fitday.com/fitness-articles/fitness/body-building/what-is-an-anabolic-state.html#b)
- Calm Before the Storm (skinnyfatsky.wordpress.com)
- Protein bar *yuck (skinnygirlwin.wordpress.com)
- Banana Walnut Protein Bars (skinnychimp.wordpress.com)