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Are Protein Bars Healthy, Or Are they Glorified Candy Bars?

Protein bars have become synonymous with dieting, diet culture, and health food. They are used by bariatric surgery patients, athletes, people with no time to prepare meals, and those who just want a healthy snack option. As a dietitian, I am always wary of any food product that is marketed as healthy. Sometimes these foods are actually healthy, and sometimes they are snack foods masquerading as health food. Where do protein bars stand? Are protein bars even healthy?


protein bar

Protein in Protein Bars: Are they Healthy?


A protein bar is understood as a convenience food that is high in protein. There is no standard amount of protein for these bars to contain, so you will see protein bars with varying amounts of protein. Some have as little as 2 grams protein, and others have 20 grams of protein.


For different categories of consumers, the need for protein is different. For the average consumer, protein is important to contribute to satiety after eating. If a meal has protein, the eater is more likely to feel full and satisfied afterwards. The average consumer does not have high protein needs that would necessitate eating products that contain protein in addition to a normal diet that has average amounts of protein. That normal intake of protein would be enough to satisfy the body's needs for repairing tissue and growing.


Certain athletes, especially those who are trying to increase muscle mass, may have higher protein needs. Protein alone does not grow muscle. Increasing muscle mass requires both adequate protein intake and activities that use those muscles. These athletes can also get enough protein from regular food, but they may find protein bars to be a convenient and reliable way to get adequate protein.


For patients with certain medical needs, such as those post bariatric surgery, protein fills a unique role. These individuals have limited space in their stomach to eat any food, and without special attention to food intake, other foods can crowd out protein foods. Protein bars are a concentrated protein source that can provide protein in an easy to eat and easy to digest form.


There is nothing special about protein bars that make them uniquely superior to other foods for any of these groups of people. They are just another food that contains protein. Chicken contains protein, beans contain protein, cheese contains protein, nuts contain protein, and protein bars contain protein. Because protein bars are aiming to be a protein food, a discriminating consumer will check the protein content of the protein bar they are considering to purchase.


Calories in Protein Bars: Are They Healthy?


Sometimes when people are eating protein bars under the assumption that they are healthy, they are surprised to find out how many calories are in these bars. Although calories are crucially important in our food intake, some people who are intending to eat healthy see calories, and especially high calorie foods, as bad.


Other people merely prefer to understand what they are eating, and they don't want to be mislead to think that a food is healthier than it is. Calorie content can reflect added sugars or other ingredients that people may be trying to avoid, so understanding calorie content is helpful.


Still other people may have specific nutrient needs they are trying to meet. Some individuals require a higher calorie diet, such as those with certain medical conditions. These people may be specifically looking for a higher calorie protein bar. Other people may prefer to meet their calorie needs with typical foods, and they eat protein bars just for their protein content, so they prefer ones with a lower calorie to protein ratio.

Comparing Protein Bars to See if they are Healthy


In this chart, I am listing bars that are specifically marketed as protein bars and others bars that consumers perceive to be protein bars. As you read through the list, you will see a wide range of protein content, amounts of added sugar, and calories. This can help guide your decision of which bar you might want to choose.


Protein (gm)

Added Sugar (gm)

Calories

Nature Valley Protein

10

5-6

190-200

Clif Builders Protein

20

16-17

280-300

Clif Bar

9-11

15-18

250-260

Clif Nut Butter Bar

7

6-8

230

Clif Thins

2

5

100

Clif Kids Z Bar

2

8-10

140-150

Clif Kids Z Bar Protein

5

8

130

Luna Bar

7-9

6-9

190-210

Pure Protein

19-21

0-3

180-200

Quest

18-21

0-1

180-200

Think High Protein

20

0

230-240

Think Crisp Bar

15

2

140-150

Think Sweet Treat

15

1

220

Think Delight

10

1-2

170-180

Think Snack Bar

10

5

150

Kind Breakfast Protein

8

6-9

210-220

Kind Protein

12

6

240-250

Kind Breakfast

3-5

6-7

210-220

Kind Energy

10

10

230-250

Kind Nut Bar

3-7

4-9

170-200

Special K Protein Bar

12

6-9

180-190

Go Macro

10-12

9-13

270-290

Rx Bar

12

0

180-210

AM Rx Bar

10

10-12

230

Lara Bar

3-6

0-6

190-230

Snickers Hi Protein

20

3

240




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