What to look for when choosing a protein bar

MICHELE MEMMO, RS RD :::

According to the Institute of Medicine, adults should eat a minimum of 0.8 grams of protein for every kilogram of body weight daily. That’s about 58 grams for a 160-pound adult. Eating enough protein is essential when maintaining a healthy diet and helps your body burn fat and builds muscle. Protein rich foods include meats, poultry, fish, and eggs which are the main staple foods of the American diet.

When you’re in a rush, and don’t have time for a full meal, one option that you may decide to turn to is a protein bar. Or in some cases, you may just find that there is one particular protein bar that you find absolutely delicious because some of them taste just like candy bars! If you are trying to add more protein into your diet, eating a protein bar as a meal supplement or snack can quickly elevate your protein intake, but how do you know if you are choosing a good one?

It’s important that you always look at the calorie level of the protein bar because they can be highly variable, all the way from a mere 70 calories to massive 484 calories. If the bar is greater than 300 or more it is labeled as a “meal replacement, and if it is less than 250 it can be a supplement or a quick snack.

If you’re on a fat loss diet, consuming a 400 calorie protein bar isn’t exactly going to make fat loss easy. If you only have a total of 1200 calories that day to take in, that’s a third wasted on a snack! You’re better off satisfying those 400 calories with a full plate of food that might be something like six ounces of fish, half a cup of whole grain rice, and two cups of steamed green vegetables.

The next thing to look at is the carbohydrates. If you are looking to lose fat, or have diabetes and are watching blood sugar, you don’t want to go much over about 30 grams of carbs per bar, and even that could even be too high, depending on your overall diet recommendation from your healthcare team. If you’re using the bar directly after exercising, then you are allowed more carbohydrates since the key objective at that time is to maintain a consistent carbohydrate intake.

After checking out the calorie and carb information, look down and look through the ingredients list. The big thing to watch for here is the form of carbohydrates contained in the protein bar. If possible, you want to avoid a long list of ingredients that you can’t pronounce and high amounts of added preservatives or sugars like high-fructose corn syrup.  Some protein bars have high amounts of sugar, which can be unhealthy, increase blood sugar, and distract from weight loss goals.

The protein content should be higher than the sugar content, and there should be no more than 10 grams of sugar per serving.

Be careful, because some protein bars are more than one serving.

The last thing to pay attention to is the fat content. It’s a good idea to find a bar that does contain some fat since this will slow down the release of the carbs into the blood stream and make it more balanced overall, but you want to just watch the level of saturated or tans fat, aiming to keep those as low as possible.

You want saturated fat to be one gram or less, and trans fat to be zero grams and to have no partial hydrogenated oils in the ingredients.  When in doubt for protein sources, the best choices are always lean meats, nuts, fish, eggs, and low fat dairy without the added ingredients to help make a more satisfying meal that keeps you fuller, longer. Ω

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