Fit 5 on Friday: Choosing the right Protein Bar

July 12, 2013By 2 Comments

shutterstock_71360134I know for me, a good ‘ol bar, whether it is intended for breakfast or for after a work-out, is an easy and tasty snack that I usually can find in my purse when I’m stuck in traffic and on the road for work.  There are so many breakfast bars and protein bars on the market, that it would take a book to explain why some are better than others.  What I want to do in this post is give you a general guide as to what to look for when reading the nutrition label on bar.

If your goal is to replace a meal with just a bar alone, then that is your first mistake.  Your metabolism will never be satisfied with just a 200 calorie bar for lunch.  It’s important to keep in mind that any ‘diet’ bars or meal replacement bars are meant to be eaten alongside something healthy such as a piece of fruit or a yogurt or a small salad.  Eating a low-calorie snack to replace a meal each day will only leave you feeling hungry and grumpy for the next meal causing you to potentially over-eat at that next meal.   Anytime you starve your body, all it will do is hold on tighter to the fat that it has.  Go ahead and enjoy a high-fiber, healthy bar along with another healthy snack to satisfy hunger and keep your blood sugars stable (this goes for people without diabetes as well).   If you are in a rush, as I often am, and all you can eat is a bar on-the-go, then try to make it one that has a little bit of everything; protein, fiber, healthy fats and vitamins/minerals, and throw a low-fat cheese stick, bag of almonds and a fruit in your purse with it.

If you are aiming to lose weight and build muscle mass and want a high-protein bar, there are many to choose from.  However, if you are not exercising, and you think that just eating a high-protein bar is going to help you lose weight, you will be disappointed to know that it will actually have the opposite effect.  Many of the high-protein bars on the market are loaded with saturated fat and hydrogenated oils (this is due to the need to infuse flavor back into a bar that has had much of the sugar taken out of it).  Protein turns to fat in the body when  it is not utilized.  The average person, who is not lifting weights and doing cardio at least 5 days a week, only needs roughly 50-70 grams of protein per day, women need less than men, which does not need to come from a bar that has 20 grams of protein and 10 grams of saturated fat.  Protein for moderately active adults should come from lean sources of meat (ground turkey, lean beef, chicken…I prefer the hormone free/grass-fed versions).  Also, eggs, low-fat yogurt and other low-fat dairy, nuts, beans and tofu are all great sources of lean protein.  Remember, the more protein you consume, the more water you should drink to flush out your kidney’s that have to work over-time to process the protein.  So, if you are working out quite often, and at a high intensity, remember to down that protein bar with a big jug of water.  If you are consuming normal amounts of protein, keep up with the recommended 8 glasses of water per day.

For people with diabetes, we have to consider the same recommendations noted in the above paragraph.  If we are not training for a weight-lifting competition, we need to be careful.  While a bar that is low in carbs and high in protein is fantastic for our blood sugars, it’s not so great for the waistline as again, all that protein will just turn to fat if not burned off.  Also, if people with diabetes attempt to go on a high-protein/low-carb diet, our already decreased functioning kidney’s will take a blow, so please be cautious and speak to a dietitian.

Have I confused you yet?  Here are some general guidelines for the average adult (with and without diabetes) who is moderately active on what to look for in a nutritional bar:

  1. Look at the saturated fat content; it should be LESS THAN 10% of the total fat.  So if the total fat is 4g, it’s okay if saturated fat is less than 0.5g.  If the bar has 6g of fat, and the saturated fat is 4g, that is more than 50% of fat coming from the bad kind of fat!
  2. Aim for fiber content to be over 2g (ideal if it’s over 5 grams).  Fiber fills us up, keeps blood sugars from spiking, and adds to the over-all nutrition of a quick snack.
  3. Try to choose bars that are under 150 calories.  If they are over 150 calories, look to see where those calories are coming from… protein, high-fat or high-carb/low-fiber.
  4. Protein: Try to look for bars that are between 7-14 g of protein.  One serving of protein equals 7 g.  If you are consuming 3 meals and 3 small snacks a day as part of a healthy diet, you should be consuming 1-2 servings of healthy lean protein at each meal/snack to get your daily recommended amount.
  5. Sugar: sugar and fiber both fall under the ‘Total Carb’ category.   Try to aim for sugar to be less than 15 grams, and have most of the carbohydrate load made up of fiber.

If taste is a concern for you when choosing a healthy bar option, I urge you to sample more bars then you’ve ever considered trying.  I love that many of the grocery stores now have an entire isle dedicated to ‘pick your own’ bars.  Try a few that encompass my above recommendations and I bet you would be surprised when you find more than one that is not only healthy but delicious too.  Remember, not all bars NEED to have chocolate in them to be yummy!

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Comments (2)

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  1. Elizabeth Shapiro says:

    Great post…as a working mom, I often reach for a nutrition bar at some point during the day! Thanks for the insight!

  2. Veronica says:

    So helpful. It really is “0verwhelming”in those healthy foods isles. Thank you.

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