Everything You Should Know When Looking for the Best Protein Bars
Without a doubt, protein bars are not only a convenient snack, but also provide muscle building protein to your body. People who sometimes do not have enough time to prepare a healthy meal or snack need to eat protein bars. But while many people treat them as meal replacements, not all protein bars are created equal. Finding the best protein bars for you can be tricky. Some of them contain more sugar than a chocolate bar, as well as large amounts of additives, cheap fats, and chemicals.
When to eat protein bars
You should also understand that protein bars are not really replacement for foods. To keep you healthy, you should regularly eat real fruits and vegetables. However, eating the protein bar with 250 to 300 calories between meals or after a workout is helpful. A high-protein bar that you eat around an hour before you exercise can help you have more energy. On the other hand, a protein bar after exercise can help your body burn more fat. Therefore, choosing the protein bars to eat depends on your fitness goal.
Are protein bars really healthy to eat?
Generally speaking, all legitimate protein bars are healthy to eat. When we say legitimate, it means they have the right amount of protein you need in a snack that can be a convenient substitute for food. However, the FDA (Food and Drug Administration) does not have any formal guidelines for protein bars and does not regulate them. So now, the question is – how can you be sure that you are buying a healthy protein bar? The best answer? Check their check their nutrition facts labels and know which content ratio is best for you.
Ingredients of Healthy Protein Bars
Although you can make your own protein bars at home, you can also buy prepackaged protein bars online and in your local health food stores or grocery stores. Homemade protein bars are good, but buying them adds convenience. Besides, there are a lot of affordable brands in the market. However, you have to be very careful before you buy one. Below are some important things you need to know about protein bars:
First of all, the American Heart Association strongly recommends that sugar intake should be not more than half of the daily discretionary calorie allowance. For American men, it is 150 calories a day, which is around 9 teaspoons of sugar. On the other hand, American women are being advised to take not more than 100 calories per day, which is equivalent to 6 teaspoons of sugar. Experts suggest that the sugar content of a protein bar should be lower than its protein content. But more importantly, avoid buying protein bars that contain refined sugars, as it is like buying candy bars.
Plain protein has a nasty taste, which is why a lot of protein bar manufacturers add artificial sweeteners and sugar alcohols. The latter have lower calorie content, but you may experience bloating and intestinal discomfort after consuming some certain amount of sugar alcohols. If you are overweight, eat protein bars that contain no more than 6g net carbohydrates per serving. On the other hand, you can consume bars with a bit higher carbs per serving immediately after your workout, because they will be burned quickly.
The carbohydrate content you need in a protein bar mainly depends on your daily activities. If you are on a diet, bars with low carbohydrates are ideal for you. But if you are a type of athlete who burns hundreds of calories an hour, like runners and bikers, then you will need moderate-to-high carbohydrate protein bars. Snacks with 15 grams of carbohydrates are fine, as well as meals with 30-60 grams of carbs per serving. And because you want to buy a protein bar, its protein content should be higher than its carbs content. Otherwise, you are likely to eat an ordinary cereal bar, and not really a protein bar. But in some cases, a 1:1 protein to carb ratio is also fine, especially if you are trying to lose fat.
Sources of protein
As mentioned earlier, not all protein bars are the same. The healthier ones are those that have high-quality sources of protein. This includes hydrolyzed whey, whey isolates, and micellar casein. On the other hand, some low-quality sources of protein are defatted peanuts and gelatin. Some protein bar manufacturers add gelatin (or collagen) to improve their texture, making them attractive to eat. It is made from ground up cow hooves and connective tissues. Meanwhile, some manufacturers include whey or soy concentrates as additives. Make sure that both gelatin and whey concentrates are not listed on top of the list of ingredients on the label.
All protein bars contain fats, which will help slow digestion and release of carbohydrates. However, some bars have saturated fats such as fractionated palm kernel oil, which may cause a laxative effect if consumed excessively. Therefore, buy protein bars that have no or contain low levels of saturated fats. But of course, not all fats are considered dangerous. Some of them are not really associated with a higher risk of heart problems. Canola oil is one of those “good” fats you can find on the list of ingredients in healthy protein bars.
Total calorie count per serving
It is very important that you know the total calorie count in protein bars, before you buy them. Calories in bars can be seen on the label, and depends on per serving or overall size of the bar. You daily calorie intake will have an impact to your weight and will depend on your everyday activities. And because no two people are likely to have the same calorie needs, you can use a calorie calculator to know the amount of calories you need a day. Most protein bars have around 300 calories, and a 400 calorie protein bar everyday is good you are into building lean muscle mass.
Protein bars warning
From the above explanation, you now know that the best protein bars is more than just looking for something healthy to eat. Besides checking the label, you should know what your body needs. Also note that the FDA sometimes issue recall to some protein bar brands due to possible contamination with salmonella. It is better if you check first before you buy them.
In addition, some people might tell that it is still fine to eat expired protein bars. Others might insist that there will be no health risk to eat those that are 3 to 6 months past their expiration date. While it can be true that the taste of expired bars can still be the same, they may have no more positive effect on your body. It is better if you call the company first or simply throw them away. Better safe than sorry.
Below are three of the most popular protein bars in the market. Each of them has different calorie content and set of ingredients.
Clif Bar Builder’s Bar
Clif Bar Builder’s Bar Chocolate Mint contains 20 grams of complete protein and carbohydrates. This protein bar is packed with 23 essential vitamins and minerals, including calcium, iron, Vitamin A, and Vitamin C. Each 2.4 ounces pack tastes good and just enough to be a decent meal replacement. However, it uses soy protein instead of whey protein. Although both of them are pasteurized, whey protein is considered as the complete protein and is easier to digest. Each serving has 270 calories, but contains 20 grams of sugar.
Quest Nutrition Protein Bars
Quest Nutrition Protein Bars (Chocolate Brownie) offers 170 calories only, but other flavors Quest Bars generally contain 170-220 calories. Each bar (serving size) weighs 60 grams and contains 20 grams of protein and only 1 gram of sugar. But while its saturated fat is also 1 gram only, its sodium content is 340 mg. This low-calorie protein bar contains 5g of fat, and its main ingredients are milk protein isolate and whey protein isolate. It tastes like a real brownie, only a healthier version.
MET-Rx-Colossal Meal Replacement
MET-Rx-Colossal Meal Replacement (Cookie Crunch) contains 410 calories which is just enough to replace a meal. Famous for its exclusive Metamyosyn V100 protein blend, this giant bar contains milk, whey and egg protein isolates. This 100-gram protein bar offers 32 grams of protein, 26 grams of sugar, and 7 grams of saturated fat, and packed with Vitamin A, Vitamin C Vitamin E, Calcium, Iron, among others. It has natural flavor of protein bars and tastes good in hot or cold. The texture is soft and chewy, and has a solid protein to fat ratio.
Deciding which of the above protein bars is good for you depend on your personal preference. If you prefer soy over whey, you would want to choose Clif Bar Builder’s Bar. They also have high sugar content, which may be good if you want to lose fat. On the other hand, Quest Protein Bars are rich in fibers. However, they have high sodium level and no fat-burning ingredients. In addition, they appear to be pricey for a protein bar.
Meanwhile, the 410-calorie MET-Rx-Colossal Meal Replacement feels heavy, but can be eaten by both athletes and ordinary individuals. If you are not into training and muscle building, you can cut it into three pieces and eat them separately. Although it contains high sugar levels, the protein content is higher and is therefore better than the Clif Bar. This is why we picked this protein bar over the two other brands.