The nutrition industry has definitely evolved. You can find protein bars in all different flavors – cinnamon bun, chocolate chip cookie dough, red velvet cake, chocolate brownie. There are even protein COOKIES and protein BROWNIES and there is even high protein ice cream you can buy. Go to any GNC and you will even see protein chips, popcorn, and the entire assortment of any flavor of protein bar. Plus, you can have protein powders in cool flavors like vanilla ice cream and strawberry cheesecake. What is not to love? A LOT.
Here are a few reasons why protein bars and protein powders can be “saboteurs”:
THEY ARE HIGH IN CALORIES
Although promoted as “healthy foods” because of their high protein content, many of these bars also have high calorie content, either from added sugar, fats, or both. Making them no better than a Snickers or Milky Way Bar. Think of it like fake fur, but not in a good way.
I CAN’T BELIEVE IT’S NOT…SUGAR?
Remember “I can’t believe it’s not butter?” Did you ever wonder, if it’s not butter, then what is it? Well the answer isn’t good. Lots of weird oils and binders just to shave off 30 calories and a few grams of fat.
That’s basically what the protein bar industry has done. Many brands have figured out a way to taste “sweet” and then claim to have zero or de minimis. But if they don’t have sugar, how do they taste sweet? Let me count the ways: maltitol, erythritol, sucralose, and sugar alcohols. All of these are chemicals that make stuff taste sweet. The problem with these man made chemicals that your body doesn’t recognize is that they wreak havoc on your digestive tract, interfere with the absorption of some medicines and supplements, and reduce the amount of “good bacteria” in your gut.
EVEN WITHOUT THE SUGAR, YOU STILL CAN GAIN WEIGHT
If the above was easy to shrug off, because the calorie-saving is worth that price, you will want to read this. Besides all that, these artificial sweeteners play Jedi mind tricks on your body that spike your insulin and make you store more fat. You see, because your body THINKS it is getting something sweet, it starts reacting as if it is getting sugar by releasing insulin anyway. We talked about in my article on Intermittent Fasting how these sudden spikes in insulin is what you want to avoid, because that is what triggers fat storage. Then, when your body figures out it didn’t get the sugar, it goes, WTF, I expected sugar so GIMME SUGAR!!!! Then you get hungrier and crave more sugar. Which makes you eat more and gain more weight.
I mean think about it. Since when did we start wanting to eat birthday cake all the time? Are you 5?
YOU MAY NOT BE ABLE TO GO OUT IN PUBLIC ONCE WE STOP SOCIAL DISTANCING
As if this was not enough of a merry-go-round, let’s talk about fiber. Good for you, right? As with most things, excess is not a good thing anywhere. You see the way these protein bar manufacturers get their low carb counts is that they rely on “net” carbs. As you know from probably being an accountant or something net usually means something is subtracted from something. In this case, FIBER is subtracted from TOTAL CARBS to get net carbs. There are usually about 20ish grams of carbs and up to 10-20 grams of fiber. The daily fiber recommendation is 25 grams a day. So you can see how eating even one bar a day can take that over the edge when you take other foods into consideration. And eating 2 a day can cause you to go over twice that amount. What do you get? GAS AND STOMACH CRAMPS. As you know, being bloated can look and feel horrible, so we don’t want to purposely inflict that on ourseleves and loved ones, right?
EVEN “NATURAL” BARS MAY NOT EXACTLY BE SO NATURAL
There are some bars out there that are “all natural,” like Kind bars, and RX bars. Recently, RX bars faced a class action lawsuit over labeling its list of “no BS” ingredients on the front of the bar wrapper as inclusive of “egg whites” when it was in fact “eggwhite powder” and blueberries when in fact it was fruit concentrate. The company maintained that the lawsuit was baseless, and the lawsuit was “voluntarily dismissal.” Kind bars, which also have a wholesome reputation, do have some natural ingredients like nuts, dark chocolate, and fruit, but also have added sugar and ingredients like, chicory root fiber, soy protein isolate, honey, glucose syrup, palm kernel oil, , nonfat milk powder, and soy lecithin (see their website for a full list). Not exactly natural, right?
Emergency MEAL, not snack or dessert
If you are in a bind and seriously don’t have time to eat, and NOTHING but protein bars are at the gas station or whatever, this should be a MEAL replacement, and not a snack replacement. If you are eating protein bars as snacks, you are inhaling at a minimum 200-250 calories more often as a snack or something you are eating out of boredom. Before you reach for that protein bar, go back to my stress eating post and take the apple test.
Also, most of the natural bars are made of nuts and dried fruit, like dates. Why wouldn’t you just have some nuts and a piece of fruit or a few pieces of unsweetened dried fruit on hand to have when you feel that urge to munch?
Protein powders – the cunning cousin of protein bars
As for protein powders, the fitness industry tends to perpetuate another myth that you must have a pre AND/OR post workout shake and have protein within 30 minutes after you work out. OR YOU WILL LOSE MUSCLE!!! That fear-inducing false idea is what is driving you straight to the health food store to stock up on these additional unnecessary calories AND toxins. Read this finding from Harvard Health:
HOLY SH&*!!! Aren’t we all obsessed with BPA free product and desperate to detox all the time from all the other toxic stuff in our bodies?
And even if you are a man, you don’t need protein powders to have an impressive body of work. In fact, you are probably getting too much of it. You should only be eating about 80 percent of your bodyweight in protein. So as a 125-pound woman, you would only need 100 grams. That you can easily get from three meals and a snack a day.
So what is my solution?
For more natural alternatives, a good suggestion for when you are on the go and want an emergency snack that is high in protein is a bag of almonds making sure they are whole and not salted or roasted. To jazz it up a bit, try mixing it with pumpkin seeds (great source of protein and Omega-3), and some dried fruit that has some natural sugar, like figs or dates. Voila! Great travel companion food that is TSA-friendly. But beware of dried food with ADDED sugar, and avoid that. This is where reading labels is key, and I will cover that in an upcoming article.
Key takeaway: If you want cake, just have the cake and move on
If you want cheesecake, or birthday cake, or brownies, or peanut butter cup or cookie dough, you are better off making this your “20” and then enjoying it. Your body is too smart and you will end up bloated, hungrier, and eating almost if not more calories than you would have consumed from any of these treats.