We all know there is no substitute for good whole food nutrition. But regardless of how consistent and how prepared we are, there will always be those times when life just happens! Whether its because we are traveling, get caught up with work or just run out of time to prepare every meal in advance, sometimes we just need a quick, satisfying and convenient option. This is when a protein bar can help you out. Although at first introduction, protein bars were not the most healthy option when it came to your nutritional needs, innovation and new food technology has improved flavor, texture and ingredients in these fast food options! In a pinch and need something quick? Use these five steps to make your next protein bar selection!
STEP 1: Examine The Calorie Count
When it comes to calories, choose protein bars that do not exceed 250 to 300 calories to replace meals or 150 to 200 calories for a snack. A good rule of thumb…don’t choose a bar that contains more than a ¼ of your daily calories or ones that contain more calories than you would normally consume in a meal! High calories may indicate high calorie ingredients such as saturated fats. These types of protein bars are usually targeted for muscle building or aimed at the hard gainer who can easily eat more calories in one serving than someone who is following a diet aimed at weight loss or weight maintenance.
STEP 2: Assess The Protein Content
Select a protein bar with a high protein content. Remember, if you were going to eat a meal, you would probably get in at least 20 g of protein. Make sure that the protein bar you choose offers at least 20 g from a high quality protein source such as whey protein isolate, whey protein concentrate or caseinate. Stay clear from protein bars that are very low in protein or very high in protein from low quality sources. Low protein bars are usually not much better than a fortified granola bar, usually offering around 10 g of protein per serving and a whole lot of carbs!
STEP 3: Identify The Carb Sources
You wouldn’t eat anything that is high in sugar normally, so don’t make your protein bar the exception! Choose a protein bar that is low in sugar, provides whole grains and contains a high amount of fiber from soluble and/or insoluble sources. Some protein bars come packed with good ingredients such as oatmeal or plant sources such as inulin from chicory root. Some even use natural sweeteners to replace the sugar such as Lo Han Guo from the gourd plant family, Agave Nectar, Honey or Stevia. Avoid choices that are high in sugar from ingredients such as high fructose corn syrup, fructose, brown rice syrup or contain a lot of hard-to-digest carbohydrates from sugar alcohols such as maltitol, glycerol or sorbitol. Sugar alcohols can ferment in the intestines and cause unpleasant digestive effects including cramps, gas and bloating.
STEP 4: Get Some Healthy Fats
Seek protein bars that deliver heart healthy fats including monounsaturated or polyunsaturated sources from ingredients such as natural peanut butter, almond butter, pumpkin seed, sunflower seed or flax seed. Aim for a bar that provides less than 10 g of fat per serving. Avoid any protein bar that is high in saturated fat sources such as hydrogenated oils, including fractionated palm kernel oil or palm oils. Although some saturated fat is good for balancing hormones, natural sources of saturated fat should be the only way you get these in your diet.
STEP 5: Investigate The Other Ingredients
If you can’t easily identify the ingredients in a protein bar as being from natural sources, then they probably are not! Ingredients are listed by volume, so protein should be the number one ingredient in the bar, followed by carbs and then fats. Additionally, you may find ingredients such as vitamins, minerals and a few age-fighting antioxidants for good measure. Look for food grade sources that provide a boost to your daily requirements. Protein bars that offer a high % of your daily value of vitamins and minerals can impact taste and overload your daily needs!