When you’re headed out the door in a rush, a protein bar often seems like the best option to alleviate any hunger. However, you might be surprised to find that many protein bars aren’t as healthy as you thought they were. Rather, they’re laden with sugar and other unhealthy ingredients, which makes eating them almost equivalent to consuming a candy bar.
“The average consumer may suspect protein bars to be a health food because of the way they’re marketed,” says registered dietitian Carrie Walder. “We see the word ‘protein’ and know that protein is good for us, and therefore may assume that protein bars are a healthy snack option.”
So how can you tell if your favorite protein bar is good for you? Here are three important things to look for.
Consider sugar content and artificial sweeteners
First, look at how much sugar the bar actually contains. “Many bars contain over 20 grams of sugar, which is five teaspoons or sugar cubes in one bar alone,” says Walder. If the bar appears low in sugar, check the ingredient list for artificial sweeteners or sugar alcohols. “Many bars that are low in sugar are high in artificial sweeteners, which research shows may negatively affect our gut microbiome and glucose tolerance,” she says. “If the bar is high in sugar alcohols, you may experience digestive upset like excess gas, bloating, or diarrhea.”
Check the ingredient list
Don’t get tricked by health claims on the front of the package. “The best thing someone can do is flip the package over and look closely at the nutrition facts label and ingredients list. I always encourage people to choose bars with whole food ingredients and a relatively short ingredient list,” says Walder. “Avoid bars with highly refined and inflammatory oils, protein isolates, sugar alcohols (erythritol, sorbitol, xylitol), artificial sweeteners (sucralose), or too many words you can’t pronounce.”
Ask where the protein is coming from
The amount of protein you’re getting in your bar is important, but where it’s sourced from matters as well. Avoid poor quality and over-processed proteins like soy protein isolate, advises registered dietitian Keri Glassman. Instead, look for whole-food ingredients. “Healthy sources of unprocessed protein include plant proteins and high-quality whey,” she says. In terms of quantity, you’ll want your bar to contain at least 10 grams of protein.
xx, The FabFitFun Team
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