Nutrition bars/energy bars/sports bars/protein bars – whatever you call them, watch out for these deceptively high fat, high sugar snacks!
‘Protein’ is certainly the buzz-word of 2016. When you think of the word ‘protein’ what do you envision? Is it workout-crazy tigers & tigresses hitting the gym hard on Instagram? Is it ‘clean eating’ memes with just lean steak and vegetables for your daily inspo? Or is it big muscles, built by the beautiful protein we just all can’t seem to get enough of?
Yes, thanks to several decades of poor nutrition and nourish-less snack bars & ready meals, protein has proved to be a guiding light into the health world for many.
Protein, from what you’re told, is so good for you it sounds too good to be true – we’re told that eating lots of protein fills you up more, so that you’re less likely to snack, which means you gain less weight. Hurrah! Not to mention that you’re allowed to eat remarkably tasty foods whilst still fuelling your body with essential muscle-repairing vitamins & minerals.
So where’s the catch?
Well, a lot of what you hear is fact. Protein IS good for you, but that doesn’t mean that food items brandishing HIGH PROTEIN are holistically a health food product.
It’s like how soft-scoop ice-cream used to declare how LOW IN CALORIES it was – but this was only because all the calories were stripped out from the natural high-fat cream and replaced with whiteners, thickeners, additives, colourings, preservatives & lots and lots of sugar. All put together these ingredients have a very low calorie content… and no nutritional benefits whatsoever.
The food industry has caught on to the misleading nature of ‘low fat/low calorie/lite’ messaging and thankfully consumers are starting to steer away from these low fat foods in favour of higher-fat, less-processed wholefoods. (Let’s not mention Nutella’s current marketing message, though. “Just hazelnuts, milk & cocoa makes Nutella”. Helpfully the 70%+ of sugar and palm oil doesn’t seem to be get a mention, strangely enough. But I digress).
The same basic understanding of what is healthy in the protein industry, unfortunately, is yet to be addressed. No-one seems to care that in one of their ‘healthy’ protein bars they’re consuming 50% of their saturated fat, or that they’re taking in ¾ of their daily sugar.
Swayed by the word ‘protein’ on the front packaging, so many people pluck these items from the supermarket shelves, snaffling them to their heart’s content, and wondering why they don’t feel good afterwards. Truth is – your protein is not the only ingredient you’re eating. Here’s what else you’re eating in one of those ‘healthy’ protein bars.
Worst Protein Bars in the UK Market
Highest Amount of Sugar
Chocolate Chip Clif Bar
With a list of ingredients as long as your arm, it’s easy to see that these ‘wholesome’ bars are far from being pure protein. RICE SYRUP, CANE JUICE, and MOLASSES ramp up the sugar content of these little bars to just over 24% of your recommended daily sugar allowance.
Put down the Clif bar, pick up a banana, please.
- 24% RDA sugar
- INGREDIENTS: Organic Brown Rice Syrup, ClifPro® (Soy Rice Crisps [Soy Protein Isolate, Rice Flour, Barley Malt Extract], Organic Roasted Soybeans, Organic Soy Flour), Organic Rolled Oats, Chocolate Chips (Evaporated Cane Juice, Unsweetened Chocolate, Cocoa Butter, Soy Lecithin, Natural Flavors), Organic Evaporated Cane Juice, ClifCrunch® (Apple Fiber, Organic Oat Fiber, Organic Milled Flaxseed, Inulin [Chicory Extract], Psyllium), Organic Date Paste, Organic Soy Butter, Organic Sunflower Oil, Molasses, Powder, Sea Salt, Natural Flavors, Cinnamon. VITAMINS & MINERALS: Dicalcium Phosphate, Magnesium Oxide, Ascorbic Acid (Vit. C), Tocopheryl Acetate (Vit. E), Ferric Orthophosphate (Iron), Beta Carotene (Vit. A), Zinc Citrate, Phytonadione (Vit. K1), Biotin, Niacinamide (Vit. B3), Calcium Pantothenate (Vit. B5), Potassium Iodide, Manganese Gluconate, Copper Gluconate, Sodium Selenite, Thiamin (Vit. B1), Chromium Chloride, Cyanocobalamin (Vit. B12), Sodium Molybdate, Folic Acid (Vit. B9), Riboflavin (Vit. B2), Pyridoxine Hydrochloride (Vit. B6).
Highest Amount of Salt
MET-Rx Big 100 Colossal Bar Super Cookie Crunch
Salt seems like a weird one to pull up when looking at protein bars, but a lot of the time sneaky food manufacturers throw tonnes of salt in to mask bad flavours and to add punch to bland additives. A good rule of thumb is – if a product is made with wholesome ingredients, salt isn’t needed, the wholefoods give enough natural flavour.
More salt, generally, means your food has spent more time in a lab. Ick.
- 24% salt
- INGREDIENTS: Soy Cocoa Crisps (Soy Protein Isolate, Cocoa (Processed with Alkali), Tapicoa Starch, Vanilla Cream Topping (High Fructose Corn Syrup, Corn Syrup, Milk Protein Isolate, Fractionated Palm Kernel Oil, Soy Lecithin, Natural Flavors, Corn Syrup, Chocolate Flavored Coating (Sugar, Vegetable Oil, Cocoa Powder, Whey Powder, Nonfat Milk Powder, Soy Lecithin, Natural Vanilla), Milk Chocolate Drops, Whole Milk (Powdered), Chocolate Liquor, Cocoa Butter, Milk Fat, Soy Lecithin, Natural Vanilla Flavor), Cocoa (processed with alkali), Metamyosyn V100 Protein Blend (Whey Protein Isolate, Milk Protein Isolate, Whey Protein Concentrate, Dried Egg White, L Glutamine, Crystalline Fructose, Canola Oil, Palm Oil, Glycerin, Water, Natural Flavors, Fructooligosaccharides, Vitamin & Mineral Blend (Ascorbic Acid, D-Alpha Tocopheryl, Niacinamide, Tricalcium Phosphate, Zinc Oxide, Copper Gluconate, d-Calcium Pantothenate, Vitamin A Palminate, Pyridoxine Hydrochloride, Thiamine Monohydrate (Vitamin B1), Riboflavin (Vitamin B2), Folic Acid (Folate) Vitamin B12, Biotin (Vitamin H), Potassium Iodide, Cyanocobalamin, Peanut Flour, Salt, Dipotassium Phosphate, Xanthan Gum, Natural Almond Butter, Soy Lecithin, Wheat Germ
Highest Amount of Unhealthy Fats
MultiPower Power Bar Vanilla
It’s important here to differentiate between healthy and unhealthy fats. Healthy fats are natural in protein bars, especially if nuts are involved. These are natural fats and are beneficial in keeping you fuller for longer. Unhealthy fats are trans fats that have been processed and hydrogenated so all they do is clog up your arteries and make you crave more processed food.
These MultiPower bars have 36% of your RDA saturated fats, thanks to an unhealthy mixture of syrups & palm oil. For more palm-fat protein bars check out why Mars & Snickers new protein bars are so bad for you.
- 36% of your RDA saturated fats
- INGREDIENTS: Milk Protein, Glucose Syrup, Fructose Syrup, Milk Chocolate (17 %) (Sugar, Milk Powder, Cocoa Butter, Cocoa Mass, Emulsifier Sunflower Lecithins, natural Flavour), Almond Paste, Collagen Hydrolysate, Puffed Rice, Flavour, Palm Oil, Colourant Riboflavin.
Don’t Despair – there are still some very good, healthy protein bars
Never to be the bearer of bad news, there are still some mightily healthy protein bars out there, including Boost Bars, Nookie Bars and Crobar (see their healthy protein bar review here). Not to mention my two new personal favourites: Good Full Stop Bars and Max’s Bars (see the full review of these protein bars here).