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Are protein bars healthy?

February 16, 2024
4 minutes
Healthy Eating
Health tips

Getting enough protein in your diet is key for optimal health--but it can be tricky to figure out if protein bars are the right option for you. Some people use protein bars as a convenient snack or meal replacement. While this can be a great option when you're on the go, it's important to understand the nutritional content of your protein bar to ensure that it meets your unique nutritional needs.

Here, we'll take a look at how to read the nutrition label of your protein bar, how to gauge the quality of the ingredients in your bar, and some special considerations to think about if you're trying to lose weight.

Let's dig in.

Decoding nutritional labels

Reading nutrition labels can help you understand whether a particular protein bar is a good choice for your body. You'll want to consider several factors as you read over the nutrition label of protein bars.

A few things to keep in mind:

  • Take a look at the total sugar content in your protein bar. Sugar is sugar--and whether it's coming from a healthy-sounding source like brown rice syrup or a more nefarious-sounding option, your body sees it the same. Many protein bars have a high sugar content--equal or more than that of candy bars. While a high-sugar bar can be a treat that also provides nutritional benefits, it's usually not the best choice to fuel a workout. You'll also want to keep an eye out for artificial sweeteners. While they can keep sugar grams low, many have adverse effects on the body and can cause headaches, bloating, and gastrointestinal distress.
  • You'll also want to take a look at the total calories in your protein bar. There's no upper limit for how many calories you should have in a bar, but you'll want to make sure that your bar fits into your total caloric needs for the day. If you're considering using a high-calorie bar to replace a meal, pay attention to whether you feel satisfied afterward to guide your choices in the future. If you feel full and satisfied with what you ate, fantastic! If you're left feeling like you didn't have a meal, it might be a better idea to choose a bar that more easily fits into your nutrition plan next time.
  • Finally, be sure to take a look at the protein content of your bar. If you're trying to hit a certain number of protein grams per day, be sure that your bar is keeping you moving in the right direction--not just adding to your sugar total for the day.

When convenience meets nutrition

Protein bars are a great standby to have in a pinch, like if you're caught working late and need something to keep you from hitting the break room vending machine. While it's a good idea to get the majority of your protein from natural food sources, the occasional protein bar isn't going to throw you off track.

Quality of ingredients

When you look at the ingredients of your protein bar, it can seem like you're trying to read a foreign language. Here, we'll take a look at a few factors to consider when determining whether the ingredients in your protein bar are giving your overall health a boost.

You'll want to see high-quality protein as the first ingredient in your protein bar. It can take some time to learn what type of protein feels best for your body. Some people, for example, find that whey (dairy) protein causes digestive issues, and fare better with a plant-based option, like pea protein or brown rice protein.

No matter what type of protein your bar contains, you'll want to shoot for the least processed version possible. That means you'll want to look for ingredients like whey protein instead of whey protein isolate, which is a more processed version of the protein.

Considerations for weight management

If you're working to get to a healthy weight, it makes sense that you're looking to increase your protein intake. Protein is essential for helping your body feel satisfied, and can support a healthy exercise plan. Getting enough protein can also help to ensure that your body's hunger hormones are functioning properly.

While a plate of grilled chicken or an egg white omelet can be delicious, sometimes, it's more convenient to grab a protein bar when you need to get out the door--fast. Protein bars can be a part of your weight loss plan, but it's important that you consider a few factors when you're choosing the right bar for you.

Protein bars can also be used to gain weight, if that's a goal you're working toward to optimize your health. Many protein bars pack 400 calories, making them a fast and convenient way to get the protein you need to gain weight in a healthy way.

Potential pitfalls

Like any processed food, there are some pitfalls when it comes to adding protein bars to your diet. You may find that getting such a high amount of protein from a processed source makes you feel sluggish or nauseous. You may also find that the artificial sweeteners and/or sugar alcohols found in many protein bars cause unpleasant side effects, like headaches.

Conclusion

Protein bars can be a part of a healthy nutrition plan, but it's important to read labels carefully to ensure that you know what's going into your body. If you're trying a new protein bar, pay attention to how you feel over the next few hours, keeping an eye out for any adverse effects (like digestive issues).

If you're struggling to find a great protein bar that makes sense for your needs, making your own can be a great option that allows you to customize your bars to your goals and caloric needs.

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