As a mom, I love having snack bars on hand for when life gets busy and the kids and I are on the go, which is most of the time! Since my kids are always telling me they are hungry, I like the option of a protein bar to fill their bellies and give them some lasting energy. And, let’s face it, I need the energy, too! But I am also aware that a lot of the bars on the market are essentially candy bars, filled with fat and sugar. Protein bars are appealing, both for busy folks and for those trying to lose weight, but finding options that are healthy and filling as well as tasty can be a bit overwhelming.
I had the chance to ask Jennifer Christman, RDN, LDN, Clinical Nutrition Manager with Medifast for some advice when shopping for protein bars. She offered some great general guidelines and we were also able to carefully look at the labels for 10 popular protein bars. Hopefully this guide can empower you to make healthier choices when you hit the protein bar aisle at the store!
What To Look For in a Protein Bar and How They Stack Up!
We are going to look at how 10 popular protein bars stack up when it comes to healthy ingredients. When looking at these bars and others on the market, there is a lot to keep in mind and it can be a bit daunting. It is important to scrutinize the labels when making a decision as to which protein bars are "good" and "not so good." Keep an eye on the amount of sugar, the protein source and other hidden health risks. You don't want to eat a bar that has as much sugar as a candy bar! Here are some general guidelines to simplify the search!
- Serving Size: Always start here because everything else can change quickly depending on how many servings the label is written for.
- Fat: A food with 3 grams of total fat per 100 calories is consdiered low fat. Just remember, our bodies do need a little bit of healthy fat each day. Look for mono-unsaturated and poly-unsaturated fats and avoid trans fats (hydrogenated oils) and saturated fats. Note that a label can say "0 grams trans fat" but still contain trace amounts, so keep an eye out for the word "hydrogenated" in the ingredient list.
- Calories: There is no set number since it can vary from food to food and person to person. The amount of calories you consume in a day will impact your weight. Balance out the amount of calories you eat throughout the day, including snacks like protein bars. To know your individualized calorie needs, use a calorie calculator like this one. Remember, fat-free, sugar-free and low-carb does not mean calorie free. These items may still have as many calories as full-fat versions. Meal replacement bars are generally around 300 calories – when going for these higher-calorie protein bars, be sure to choose ones with lots of nutrients, like fiber, vitamins and minerals.
- Protein: Most Americans get plenty of protein but not always from the healthiest sources. When choosing food for its protein content, make choices that are lean, low-fat or fat-free. For protein bars, ingredients like soy and whey protein isolates are what you want to look for. Avoid poor-quality protein sources like gelatin and defatted peanuts.
- Carbohydrates: For snacks, 15 grams of carbohydrates is a good rule of thumb. For meals, the amount varies based on age, gender and activity level, but 30-60 grams per meal is a typically a good amount to go by. Fiber: You want to aim for 25-35 grams of fiber per day. Fresh fruits and vegetables as well as whole grains are great sources. Look for at least 2.5 grams of fiber per serving when choosing foods. Sugar: Try to find foods with as little as possible! The American Heart Association recommends limiting the amount of added sugars you consume to no more than half of your daily discretionary calorie allowance. For most American women, that’s no more than 100 calories per day, or about 6 teaspoons of sugar. For men, it’s 150 calories per day, or about 9 teaspoons.
- Everything Else: Follow the 5/20 Guideline. When you look at the % Daily Value (DV) on the nutrition label, a DV of 5% or less is considered low while a DV or 20% or more is considered high. For sodium, cholesterol and total fat, look for 5% or lower. For vitamins and minerals, go for 20% or more!
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