If you’re looking for a quick snack and would rather have something with some substance, a protein bar seems like the logical choice.
However, with so many protein bars out there to choose from, it’s important to know that they’re not all as good for you as they claim to be.
Are protein bars healthy? Although there are some protein bar brands committed to making healthier bars, not all protein bars are good for you.
The biggest issue is that they’re usually loaded with sugar, but they can also contain lots of empty calories, saturated fats, and animal byproducts.
The convenience of a protein bar sure is attractive, but before you start chowing down on them regularly, you need to know what’s what.
This guide will cover some of the basics about these protein-rich snacks so that you’re educated enough to choose the best one when it comes time to shop.
What Is a Protein Bar?
Those old enough to remember the 80s might recall when Power Bars were released, as one of America’s first commercially available protein bars.
These bars were marketed to athletes and designed to give you a big protein hit that would help with working out and building muscle.
Although the protein bars of today look and taste a lot different, at their core, they’re about providing people with a fast, convenient source of protein.
This could be for working out, hiking, snacking, or eating as a way to boost your daily protein intake, so they’re no longer just marketed to athletes.
Protein bars contain a number of different ingredients, have individual purposes, and can be healthy or unhealthy.
The best way to find a protein bar that matches your needs is to think about why you’re eating them, and develop an understanding of what the various ingredients mean and whether they’re good for you or not.
What Is Their Protein Content?
A standard protein bar will contain between 10 to 20 grams of protein, and sometimes p to 30 grams for the more serious contenders.
However, this depends on the ingredients and whether any additional sources of protein have been added, and what kind.
There are two main types of protein bars, those that are classed as vegan and those that aren’t.
The dairy-based bars will be made with whey and the plant protein bars made with sources like hemp and peas, but both of these should provide you with around the same amount of protein in a single serving.
Are They Healthy?
Not all protein bars were created equally so it’s difficult to say whether they’re all healthy or unhealthy.
Each bar has a unique nutrient composition because of its ingredients, and even two different bars released from one brand can vary dramatically in their health profile.
The most common ingredients in modern protein bars are whole grains, dried fruit, nuts, and seeds, so there are lots of healthy contents. However, they can also contain harmful ingredients like high fructose corn syrup, which should be avoided.
On average, a protein bar will have around 5-10 grams of fiber, 5-10 grams of fat, and between 25 and 35 grams of carbohydrates.
They’re usually also loaded with other nutrients like vitamins, iron, calcium, potassium, and zinc, depending on what the bar is formulated for.
Within an average protein bar, you’ll find between 150 and 400 calories of energy, which can be a good or a bad thing.
People trying to put on weight will appreciate how little they have to eat just to get this huge dose of protein, but those on calorie-restricted diets might find that they blow out their daily budget far too easily.
Who Should Eat Protein Bars?
There was once a time when protein bars were only made for gym junkies and serious athletes. Today, just about anyone can find a good reason to snack on a protein bar, and here are a few of the groups that love to eat them:
Vegans and vegetarians: Some people find that following a vegan or vegetarian diet can make it hard to get as much protein as they need each day. Adding a couple of protein bars to your diet every week gives an easy boost of this vital nutrient.
Campers and hikers: Traveling light is key when you’re hiking or camping, so any small meals you can take along with ease are going to be ideal. Whether it’s a day-long hike or a week-long camping trip, you’ll appreciate the convenience of a satisfying snack like a protein bar in your pocket.
Exercise lovers: No matter the type of exercise you like to do, you’ll probably benefit from the occasional protein boost. Because you can grab one out of your bag or pocket easily, you can get straight back to the task at hand without losing any of your momentum.
People trying to lose weight: Protein is one of the best things you can eat more if you’re trying to lose weight. A simple snack of a protein bar can make you less likely to eat something you shouldn’t without feeling as if you’re depriving yourself.
Time-poor people: If you’re always on the go and you need something to snack that’s nutrient-dense and will keep you full until mealtime, protein bars are probably part of your regular diet. Although they should never become a total meal replacement, they can help when you’re especially strapped for time.
The Downsides to Eating Protein Bars
The modern protein bar has come a long way, and manufacturers understand that consumers need to have something that’s a lot more nutritionally sound.
However, there are still some downsides to eating protein bars that you need to be aware of before you make them part of your daily routine.
They can be high in sugar: Sugar is something we want to avoid where possible, especially when it’s refined, but unfortunately, many protein bars are loaded with them. There are low sugar alternatives that feature less than 10 grams per serve which are a lot better for you, but without the added sweetness they can taste a little bland.
They’re a sometimes food: Protein bars can be enjoyed sometimes but should not make up part of your daily diet. If you’re having to reach for a protein bar every day just to get what you need, you may need to re-evaluate your diet to see what’s missing.
They contain additives: A quick scan of a protein bar will probably show you a bunch of additives that you had no idea were inside. These could be artificial sweeteners, coloring agents, and preservatives, all of which you want to keep to a minimum. For some people, making your own protein balls or bars at home can ensure they’re made with only whole foods and no secret additives.
They’re high in calories: An average protein bar contains a few hundred calories and if you’re on a calorie-restricted diet, this can cause problems. On the upside though, people trying to gain weight might find that protein bars have exactly what they need.
The Power of Protein Made Easy
Nothing beats the convenience of a protein bar if you’re in need of a quick, satisfying snack, but they’re not all created equally.
Learn how to read an ingredients list and determine whether the protein bar you plan on eating is worth the calories.
Ensuring you get enough protein in your diet is essential for everyone, vegan or not. To learn the basics about protein sources and other things you can do to increase your intake, we’ve answered a few FAQs that can help.
What Are the Signs of Protein Deficiency?
It’s not common for someone living in the western world to have a true protein deficiency, but if you experience symptoms that indicate a diet too low in protein, it’s worth speaking to a health professional.
These include fatty liver, wasting muscle, issues with skin, hair, and nails, and increased appetite.
Does Vegan Protein Powder Work?
Yes, plant-based sources of protein can be just as effective as cow’s milk protein in improving muscle mass.
The best sources of plant protein are pea, hemp, soy, and brown rice, and these are available in the usual forms of protein supplements, including bars and powders.
Is Protein Good for Weight Loss?
Adding more protein to your diet can help with weight loss, according to studies, as it reduces your appetite and improves metabolism.
If you’re not able to get enough protein from food sources, using supplements like powders and bars might be a viable option.
Lorraine Pinnix is a passionate nutritionist and loves seeing people living healthy, and fulfilled lives. She believes that food is an essential piece of staying fit and strongly believes in going vegan. PureGrowthOrganic is a passionate work that details her research in helping you go on complete organic diets. She is available for questions, comments, and follow-ups.