Are protein bars a helpful part of a weight-loss regimen – or are these concoctions that were originally developed for athletes and body builders detrimental to your diet?
The answer – they could possibly be both!
If you’re eating a whole meal’s worth of calories in a single protein bar, then they’re surely harmful. But when chosen wisely – and used judiciously – these bars can help busy people stay fueled and combat cravings for a sweet treat.
It’s all about choosing the right bars. Not the ones that are calorie- and sugar-packed.
And as we always say here at eDiets, you’ve got choices to make – so make them informed choices. A video story in the NY Times perfectly illustrates the dilemma that protein bars present. Although advertised as “energy bars” and promoted with photos of lean and muscular men and women, most bars contain as much sugar as a candy bar. Some are also high in fat – and sometimes they include hydrogenated fat.
If not sweetened with regular old sugar or another calorie-containing sweetener like high fructose corn syrup, honey or molasses, they are sweetened with artificial sweeteners and most have a laundry list of artificial colors and preservatives.
The protein source for most bars comes from whey, a substance produced from the milk used to make cheese, or soy, which is processed from concentrate and other soybean derivatives. In processed form, both whey and soy protein powder tastes totally awful!
I laughed out loud at this description – “a chalky, gag-inducing, please cover me up!” flavor. This explains why manufacturers load up these bars with sugar or artificial sweeteners.
So, how much protein do you need?
Protein is necessary for building and maintaining muscles, helps you feel full longer, and – after a taxing workout – it’s helpful to include protein in your post-workout snack to speed recovery.
However, consuming more protein than you need isn’t a good diet strategy. In fact, excessive calories from any nutrient makes for a one-sided diet.
Health experts advise that you get anywhere from 15% to 30% of your calories from protein, which by the way, is found in generous amounts in all animal products ranging from fish and meat to eggs, and in dairy, nuts and seeds, and in legumes and grains. There’s even a small amount in vegetables, too.
A rule of thumb
If you’re not active, you need about 0.8% gram per kilogram of body weight from protein. If you are active, only a bit more, about 1.0% gram per kilogram of body weight. If you weigh 150 pounds, divide that by 2.2 to find your weight in kilograms: 64 kilograms. For an active person, that would mean about 64 grams of protein; for a less active person, it equates to about 54 grams daily.
More protein isn’t necessarily better. When a single bar may have a third or more of the protein necessary for the average diet, you could be overdoing it – unless you’re cutting back on protein for your other meals.
The bottom line: read the label before you buy.
I typed “protein bars for weight loss” into my Google search, and got almost 9 million hits! You can buy protein bars just about everywhere – in health food stores, in drug stores, in convenience marts, and at the grocery store.
Look for these numbers:
Serving size: all the numbers listed for calories, protein, etc. pertain to the serving size listed. If the serving size is a half-bar, then you need to double all of the numbers.
Calories per serving: depending on your needs, this number is variable. If you’re on a 1,200-calorie diet, estimate about 10% of your day’s calories for one snack (about 120 calories). Or, if you prefer a larger snack, make it 20% or 240 calories, and “borrow” the balance from your lunch and dinner meals.
Grams of fat: total fat is not as important as grams of saturated fat – aim for less than 5% of the daily intake.
Trans fat: this number should always be zero; read the ingredient label to avoid all partially hydrogenated fat.
Protein: aim for about 8-11 grams per serving.
Fiber: at least 4 grams per serving.
Sugar: no more than 10 grams per serving – less is best.
Read the ingredient label. The best bars contain whole grains, real dried fruit and nuts – which, by the way, are fantastic, portable and nutritious snacks.
Susan Burke March is a registered dietitian and certified diabetes educator who, as chief nutritionist for eDiets, promotes the dietary health and wellbeing of consumers worldwide.