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Protein Bar Review

Have you been to the protein bar section of your local supermarket or health food store lately? Low carb, extra protein, even bars just for women. But do you really need protein bars to enhance your physical performance?

No. The only people who have to eat protein bars are professional bodybuilders and endurance athletes. For optimum health you should eat whole foods, several times throughout the day. Unfortunately most of us don't have the time (or personal chef) to do that.

In the real world you work hard, often without much time for a break. You have to eat quickly and that usually means junk food. Protein bars are for those times you need to eat on the run and still want it to be healthy. To help you, I have analyzed 38 different brands of protein bars to find the healthiest choices.

I started with bars that all had similar flavors. The most common was chocolate and peanuts, so that's the variety I chose from each brand. The smallest I tested was only 28 grams while the largest was 118 grams. To compare the bars fairly, I used a formula to increase or decrease the ingredients as if they were all 60 grams apiece. I call these "averaged" bars.

Each of the "averaged" bars has about 220 calories. To see how well these bars stack up nutritionally over time, I multiplied all the bars by 10. Assuming each bar was the only thing you could eat for a day, eating 10 would bring you up to the recommended daily allowance of between 2,000 and 2,4000 calories a day. Now I knew the calories were correct, but how did everything else compare?

Fat was the first target. According to the American Heart Association a healthy diet should consist of foods that are no higher than 30% fat. Bars that had more were eliminated.

Then I rated the bars on their sodium content. According to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) the maximum amount of sodium the average American should consume is 2,400 mg or less. Any bars that had sodium levels in excess of 3,000 mg were cut.

Fiber was next. The USDA recommends a minimum of 25 grams daily to help lower blood cholesterol and prevent some cancers. I was more generous in this round, allowing bars with a minimum of 20 grams.

There is no minimum recommended amount of sugar to take in each day, so once again I relied on the USDA. The USDA states that a healthful diet contains 40 grams (that's about 10 teaspoons) of sugar per day. I was slightly more generous and allowed bars with up to 50 grams.

As a special note, several bars now have "sugar alcohols" instead of sugar. Sugar alcohols provide fewer calories (about a half to one-third less) than regular sugar. Also, sugar alcohols are converted to glucose more slowly and require little or no insulin to be metabolized so it doesn't cause sudden increases in blood sugar. For bars that contain "sugar alcohols" I quadrupled the allowable amount to 200 grams in a day.

Protein was the last ingredient I analyzed. I doubled the amount of protein recommended by the USDA, but cut in half the amount recommended by weight training magazines and averaged the two together. It came to .72 grams of protein per pound of body weight per day. That means if you weigh 170 pounds you would need to eat 123 grams of protein per day. Any bars with 11 or less grams of protein per bar were eliminated.

I started out with 38 bars. Through the various rounds of elimination, 35 were knocked out. That left 3 that met all the requirements for lower fat, higher fiber, lower sodium, lower sugars and higher protein.

VITAMIN WARNING

Some protein or energy bars add extra vitamins and minerals to help distinguish them from candy bars. While this is not necessarily a bad thing, some overdo it. People who constantly take in more than 100% of the USDA recommended amount of vitamins and minerals may be prone to health risks. Check the labels and try to stay within the USDA recommended limits - unless otherwise prescribed by a doctor, health care professional or licensed nutritionist.

HERBAL WARNING

Some bars also include herbs or extras like caffeine, ginseng or guarana. These can cause reactions or problems with people on some exercise, diet programs or with certain medications. In the past some bars contained such extras as ephedra (now banned) that has been linked to more than 150 deaths. DO NOT take bars with extra herbs - unless otherwise prescribed by a doctor, health care professional or licensed nutritionist.

The Winners

Tri-O-Plex Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip - Picture
Tri-o-plex Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip
Ocyssey Caramel Nut - Picture
Odyssey Caramel Nut
Protein Eight Chocolate Peanut - Picture
Protein Eight Chocolate Peanut

Click Here for a detailed analysis (in PDF format) of all the bars we tested and see how yours compared!

Click Here to see the detailed analysis of all the protein bars in PDF format.

Click Here for a quick overview of how each protein bar fared.

Click Here for a quick overview of how each protein bar fared.

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CAUTION: Check with your doctor before
beginning any diet or exercise program.

2/19/2004