True Cellular Formulas Team - Jan 18, 2023
Is Your Protein Bar Harming Your Health?
Healthy snacks on the go are great, but reaching for a protein bar may do more harm than good when achieving your health goals. Today we unpack why, highlight specific popular protein-bar brands on the naughty list, and offer some alternative bars that aren’t full of nasties.
Not All Protein is Created Equal
To start, we must explore the all-star ingredient in protein bars: the protein itself. Protein is a great macronutrient many don’t get enough of during the day. Whether your goal is building muscle, losing body fat, or simply living a long, vibrant life-- protein is vital. Experts suggest we take at least 0.7 grams of protein per pound of body weight, much more than most are consuming.1 However, if you’re working out regularly, that number can go up to about 1 gram of protein per pound of body weight.2
Not all protein, however, is created equal. When we say “protein,” we mean the amino acids that make up a protein.3 The difference between a high-quality and low-quality protein is mostly about the amino acid profile.
A high-quality protein contains the full spectrum of nine essential aminos, namely:
Some of the best sources of this full range of essential amino acids that are highly bio-available and highest in protein compared to other macros is meat.4 When it comes to getting enough protein, there is no denying that real, grass-finished beef contains the highest amount of this unprocessed protein. As a result, one might argue that the best protein bars on the market are meat-based sticks, bars, or plain ol’ beef jerky.
When it comes to bars marketed as protein or health bars with flavors ranging from cookie dough to cheesecake, odds are you’re consuming a glorified chocolate bar. The protein in many of these bars is a highly-processed plant protein. These proteins made from peas or rice aren’t highly bioavailable to humans.5 In addition, some bars don’t contain any protein supplementation and rely on foods like nuts to call themselves a “protein” bar, which is absurd considering the dominant macronutrient of a nut is actually fat.
Whey-based bars are a better option; however, the quality of the whey used is generally low and rarely grass-finished.
Collagen is a great ingredient, but it does not contain the full spectrum of all nine essential amino acids, so technically, it is an incomplete protein.
Other Ingredients in Protein Bars
The protein quality is just the starting problem when it comes to food bars. Other issues to look out for with protein bars include many additives that can promote gut dysbiosis and other health issues ranging from estrogen dominance to cancer.6-8
- Artificial ingredients: artificial sweeteners, colors, and flavors are commonplace in many protein bars.
- Binders and thickeners: guar gum and acacia gum are known to upset the digestive tract, while carrageenan is linked to cancer.
- Sugar: protein bars are often full of sugar and sugar alcohols, making them more of a candy bar. Believe it or not, some bars even contain high fructose corn syrup.
- Soy: You’d think that by 2023 we’d be done adding estrogen-mimicking highly refined soy products in “health” foods, but many bars still contain soy additives.
- Non-organic or GMO: many protein bars aren’t organic and may contain genetically modified ingredients.
The Naughty List
Look no further than their ingredients label to understand why these popular protein bar brands are on the naughty list.
- Quest Bars
- Quaker Protein Baked Bars
- Kellogg's FiberPlus Antioxidants Protein Chewy Bars
- Zone Perfect Classic Nutrition Bar
- MET-Rx ProteinPlus Protein Bars
- Gatorade Whey Protein Bar
- Oh Yeah! High Protein Bar
- Detour Simple Whey Protein Bar
- KIND Protein Bar
- Naked Bar
The Good List
- Julian Bakery’s Paleo Protein Bars
- Chomps Meat Sticks
- Epic Provisions Meat Bars, Sticks, and Jerky
- Epic Performance Bars
- Tanka Bars
Although many people reach for protein bars as a healthy snack, the reality is most bars are far from healthy. Most protein bars, including highly processed plant, soy, or incomplete collagen protein, use poor-quality protein. On top of the protein quality, many bars include problematic ingredients like artificial colors, flavors, fillers, thickeners, fake sugar, tons of real sugar, high-fructose corn syrup, and GMO ingredients. The solution? Read the ingredients list, and when in doubt: reach for a grass-finished wholefoods meat bar instead.
- Schoenfeld, Brad Jon, and Alan Albert Aragon. “How much protein can the body use in a single meal for muscle-building? Implications for daily protein distribution.” Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition vol. 15 10. 27 Feb. 2018, doi:10.1186/s12970-018-0215-1
- Phillips, Stuart M, and Luc J C Van Loon. “Dietary protein for athletes: from requirements to optimum adaptation.” Journal of sports sciences vol. 29 Suppl 1 (2011): S29-38. doi:10.1080/02640414.2011.619204
- “Protein and Amino Acids.” Recommended Dietary Allowances: 10th Edition, U.S. National Library of Medicine, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books.
- “Amino Acid: Benefits & Food Sources.” Cleveland Clinic, my.clevelandclinic.org/health/articles/22243-amino-acids.
- Reid-McCann, R.J., Brennan, S.F., McKinley, M.C. et al. The effect of animal versus plant protein on muscle mass, muscle strength, physical performance and sarcopenia in adults: protocol for a systematic review. Syst Rev 11, 64 (2022). https://doi.org/10.1186/s13643-022-01951-2
- Nair, Divek VT et al. “Food Additive Guar Gum Aggravates Colonic Inflammation in Experimental Models of Inflammatory Bowel Disease.” Current Developments in Nutrition vol. 5,Suppl 2 1142. 7 Jun. 2021, doi:10.1093/cdn/nzab061_026
- Tobacman, J K. “Review of harmful gastrointestinal effects of carrageenan in animal experiments.” Environmental health perspectives vol. 109,10 (2001): 983-94. doi:10.1289/ehp.01109983
- Ruiz-Ojeda, Francisco Javier et al. “Effects of Sweeteners on the Gut Microbiota: A Review of Experimental Studies and Clinical Trials.” Advances in nutrition (Bethesda, Md.) vol. 10,suppl_1 (2019): S31-S48. doi:10.1093/advances/nmy037