Protein bars are often the snack of choice post-workout or between meals, but these so-called “health” foods are often teeming with added sugars – in fact, it may be the sugar, not the protein, that gives you that energy kick. The problem? It also gives you a blood-sugar spike and an energy crash. Here’s why, and which brands to watch out for.
Protein bars have become a ubiquitous snack choice for those seeking quick energy and a protein boost on the go. These convenient bars promise to satisfy your hunger and help build muscle, but lurking beneath their health-conscious exterior lies a potential pitfall: sugar. Is sugar the secret ingredient in protein bars, and why can these seemingly wholesome snacks become a trap for the unsuspecting consumer? Let's dive into the sweet and sometimes not-so-sweet world of protein bars to uncover the truth.
Protein bars typically tout their high protein content as a selling point. Indeed, protein is crucial for muscle repair and overall health, making these bars appealing to fitness enthusiasts, busy professionals, and anyone looking for a convenient snack option. But, as we're about to find out, that's not always what we're actually getting in these bars.
Sugar by Any Other Name
Protein bar manufacturers are crafty when it comes to disguising sugar on their ingredient lists. You may not always see the word "sugar" in bold letters; instead, you'll encounter a variety of sweeteners under different aliases. High fructose corn syrup, agave nectar and even fruit juice concentrate—all of these are sugar in various forms. Protein bars often contain more sugar than you might expect. This paradox arises from the desire to make the bars palatable while ensuring they have a longer shelf life. Sugar not only sweetens the taste but also acts as a preservative, keeping the bars from spoiling.
Excess sugar intake can lead to blood sugar spikes followed by crashes, leaving you feeling hungry and fatigued shortly after consumption. The rollercoaster effect on insulin levels can also contribute to cravings for more sugary snacks, leading to an unhealthy cycle of consumption.
Reading Labels: Your Defence Against Sugar Traps
To avoid falling into the sugar trap with protein bars, it's essential to become a diligent label reader. Look beyond the front-of-package claims and check the ingredient list for hidden sugars. Opt for bars with minimal added sugars or those sweetened with natural alternatives like stevia or monk fruit. You’ll also want to check the following:
Protein Content: A good protein bar should have a substantial amount of protein. Look for bars with at least 10-15 grams of protein per serving. Protein helps keep you full and supports muscle maintenance and repair.
Low Added Sugar: Check the sugar content, specifically added sugars. Many protein bars contain added sugars that can contribute to excessive calorie intake and blood sugar spikes.
Fibre: Fibre is essential for digestive health and can help you feel full. Look for bars with a reasonable amount of dietary fibre, ideally around 3-5 grams per serving. Fibre can also help stabilise blood sugar levels.
Healthy Fats: Check the type of fats used in the bar. Look for bars that contain healthy fats like nuts, seeds, or nut butter. These fats provide satiety and
For those who prefer full control over their snack ingredients, consider making homemade protein bars. This allows you to choose wholesome ingredients, control the sweetness level, and tailor the bars to your nutritional needs – all while saving money! Try including the following:
- Peanut butter
- Coconut oil
- Coconut shavings
Protein bars can be a convenient and nutritious snack option, but they can also be a sugar-laden trap. Being mindful of added sugars, reading labels, and exploring homemade alternatives can help you enjoy the benefits of protein bars without falling into the sweet but unhealthy abyss. Remember, knowledge is your most potent tool in navigating the world of supermarket snacks and making informed choices.
Best + Worst Performers on the Market
The sugar content in popular protein bars can vary widely depending on the brand, so it's essential to check the nutrition label of specific products – we’ll show you a few of the better options, and some of the more shocking options.;
- Quest Nutrition Protein Bars: These bars typically contain around 1-3 grams of sugar per bar.
- Musashi Protein Bars: Musashi offers a range of protein bars, and their sugar content can vary. Some flavours have approximately 3-5 grams of sugar per bar.
- Vital Strength Protein Bars: The sugar content in Vital Strength bars varies by flavour, but many of them contain around 2-4 grams of sugar per bar.
- Balance Protein Bars: Balance offers protein bars with varying sugar content. Some flavours may have around 3-6 grams of sugar per bar.
- Carman’s Protein Bars: Carman’s protein bars are known for being relatively low in sugar, with most flavours containing around 2-3 grams of sugar per bar.
The options above are not bad at all – but still not as nutritious as your own homemade protein bars! But if you’re keen for a fright, take a look at some of the more outrageous options on the market – some pack more sugars than a choccie block!
- Clif Bar: Clif Bars are known for their wide range of flavours and are popular among exercise enthusiasts – the only issue is, some of their bars can contain up to 20 grams or more of sugar per bar.
- Probar: Some Probar products may contain higher sugar levels, ranging from 15-20 grams of sugar per bar.
- MET-Rx: MET-Rx offers protein bars with varying sugar content, and some flavours can have around 15-20 grams of sugar per bar.
Yikes! With that much sugar you might as well splurge on your favourite junk food. Instead, try this delicious and wholesome recipe for a protein bar – this will keep you energised without spiking your blood sugars.
Energy-Boosting Power Bar
- 1 cup rolled oats
- 1 cup unsweetened protein powder
- 1/2 cup almond butter (or any nut or seed butter of your choice)
- 1/4 cup unsweetened milk of your choice
- 1/4 cup rice malt syrup (adjust to taste)
- 1/2 cup unsweetened shredded coconut
- 1/4 cup chopped nuts (e.g., almonds, walnuts, or pecans)
- 1/4 cup ground flaxseed or chia seeds
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- A pinch of salt
- In a large mixing bowl, combine the rolled oats, protein powder, shredded coconut, chopped nuts, ground flaxseed or chia seeds, ground cinnamon, and a pinch of salt. Mix well.
- In a separate microwave-safe bowl or on the stovetop, heat the almond butter, rice malt syrup, and almond milk until they are well combined and slightly runny. Be careful not to overheat; you just want to make it easier to mix.
- Pour the wet mixture over the dry ingredients in the mixing bowl. Add the vanilla extract. Stir until all the ingredients are well combined. The mixture should be sticky and hold together.
- Line an 8x8-inch (20x20 cm) baking pan with parchment paper, leaving some overhang on the sides for easy removal.
- Transfer the mixture into the prepared pan. Use a spatula or your hands to press it down firmly and evenly.
- Place the pan in the refrigerator for at least 1-2 hours to allow the bars to set.
- Once the bars have set, remove them from the pan using the parchment paper overhang. Place them on a cutting board and slice into bars or squares of your desired size.
- Store the bars in an airtight container in the refrigerator for freshness. They can also be individually wrapped for convenience.
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