Protein bars have become increasingly popular in recent years as a portable and convenient way to have a meal on-the-go and, in our overly busy world, we turn to the quick-and-easy option more often than not. But the real question is: are they healthy?
The answer? It depends. Health food companies saw the need to provide convenient and portable food to a population that wants to eat healthy, but are pressed for time and can’t make their own meals. There are now a large number of companies on the market that offer a wide range of protein bars, but not all are created equal. On paper, protein bars seem like the ideal choice. Aside from being portable, they are a great source of protein, which is an essential nutrient that plays a crucial role in building and repairing muscle tissues, regulating hormones, helping to balance fluids in the body, as well as helping to support a healthy immune system. As such, protein bars may be useful in building muscle, can also help curb your appetite between meals, and they may assist you in losing weight.
However, there are some protein bars that are high in sugars, artificial flavours, additives, and preservatives, which will negate the health benefits of eating them. In fact, these bars are so highly processed that they can instead promote inflammation in the body, which can lead to detrimental health issues, like diabetes, heart disease, and high blood pressure. Additionally, they are much higher in calories and, instead of helping you lose weight, you may gain weight instead, especially if you are consuming one or more every day and are hoping to lose excess fat.
Choosing the right protein bar for your health goals is where one should really start. Are you trying to lose weight or build muscle? Are you in need of a healthy snack or do you need more energy? Once you have the answers to those questions, then it becomes increasingly more important to read the nutritional information of the protein bars carefully. Some bars are made with whole food ingredients like nuts, nut butters, seeds, and dried fruit, all of which are helpful in providing a host of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. These bars can help you in a pinch when you need a healthy snack and are looking for ways to make better food choices. Choose options that have the least amount of difficult-to-pronounce ingredients, since those tend to be the additives and preservatives that you would like to avoid. Look at the fat content and verify that it comes from healthy sources, like nuts and seeds, or if the fat comes from palm kernel oil or sugar alcohols. Some of these ingredients could cause gastrointestinal issues, such as abdominal pain or bloating and should be avoided.
As convenient as the protein bar may be, it is necessary to eat proper meals and not skip a meal in favour of it. There’s room for these snacks in your nutrition plan, as there is for all the foods you enjoy eating, but protein bars should only be a “once in a while” nibble, not replace whole, nutrient-dense foods. Meat, poultry, fish, and vegetable sources of protein are better options and will keep you fuller longer than any bar could do. Additionally, they will provide you with a greater variety of healthy nutrients that will be beneficial to your body and help you reach your goals in a much healthier way. If time permits, make your own and refrigerate or freeze them, so they are still quick and portable… just healthier!