I don't eat protein bars regularly, but I have tried quite a few over the years. I've never really been able to use them as a meal replacement, but I do use them as a snack, especially pre-workout. Protein bars are the candy bars of the health food industry. Food is the cornerstone of healthy living and real food is the only food we should be eating.
You may often be left wondering why you have a 3pm energy crash or are left feeling hungry when you ate a protein bar for your breakfast or as a snack? What about increased digestive issues (gas or bloating)? The answers can be found in the ingredients. Whether it's Clif Bars, Luna Bars, Kind Bars, or Kashi bars they all have their issues.
Many bars use either whey or soy protein isolate as their main protein source. Most people do not digest these sources of protein well because the body doesn’t recognize them as a whole food. Instead it processes these isolate versions of protein as a foreign substance leaving you with a pain in your gut. So, check your ingredient list and if you see soy or whey protein isolate, set the bar down and walk away...or if it's already in your pantry, use it for a fire starter instead.
In most protein bars the sugar content is either the too high or artificial sugars are used in place of regular sugar (as is the case with Quest Bars). Ideally protein or snack bars should not contain any additional sugar unless it's from honey, maple syrup, or coconut sugar. If you are eating a bar as a snack option you wouldn’t want to experience a blood sugar high, followed by a blood sugar crash, would you?
The other issue is with the sugar alcohols and artificial sweeteners that are used. Many companies have gotten sneaky and are marketing their products as having no sugar which we think is great, until we realize there’s sugar alcohols instead. No matter what their source, sugar alcohols are difficult to digest. They can lead to physical discomforts such as bloating, gas, and fatigue. Artificial sweeteners can also cause cravings, headaches, weight gain, and have even been linked to cancer.
Aside from their protein sources and sugar content, most bars contain other questionable ingredients. A good rule of thumb is if you can’t pronounce an ingredient or you don’t know what it is, then don’t eat it!
Here are a few of the questionable ingredients found in many protein bars:
Soluble corn fiber Calcium caseinate (protein made from milk) Canola Oil Milk fat Soy lecithin Powdered yogurt Natural flavors Partially hydrogenated vegetable oil BHT Corn syrup Brown rice syrup (Sugar) Dried cane syrup (Sugar) Malitol (Sugar alcohol) Sorbitol (Sugar alcohol)
I have not found a protein bar that has an entirely clean, whole foods list of ingredients. I know they exist, but I live on the moon (Alaska) and I've never seen them. I love Larabars as a snack in a pinch since they are mostly made of dates and a few other ingredients (but that varies by flavor, so read the ingredient list).
An even better option is to make your own. There are tons of recipes out there and most of them don't involve actually cooking anything. I'm working on a recipe as well, and I'll be sure to update this post when it's done!