No prep. No fuss. Easy to carry. And you can eat it whenever hunger strikes. But not all protein bars are equal. Some are more nutritious than others. And some have the rep of being nothing more than candy bars. But to make sure that your supplement doesn’t derail your efforts at the gym, we found the top five things you should look for in a protein bar.
1. The Macros
Macros is short for macronutrients, which are fat, carbohydrates and protein. All packaged foods should have a Nutrition Facts label, and it will list the percentage daily value (amount of recommended requirements) and the grams for these macros.
- For fat, you’ll want a bar that is low in fat, and that means less than five grams of fat, suggests webmd.com.
- As for carbs, rodalewellness.com recommends 35 grams or less, and no more than 19 grams of carbs should come from sugar.
- With protein, Dr. Oz recommends bars with a minimum amount of protein: 15 grams.
2. The Type Of Bar
When you’re in the supplement aisle you’ll notice that there are many different sizes of bars. Some are snack-size that can help combat in between-meal cravings. Then there are meal-size portioned bars. According to Jillian Michaels, just because a bar is labeled “snack” it doesn’t mean it’s not high in calories – some can have upwards of 400 calories. She recommends to look for snack protein bars that are about 220 calories, and meal replacement bars that range between 300 and 400 calories.
3. The Sugars
It’s true that you need to replenish carbs after a workout, but you don’t want it to come from sugars. It might be impossible to avoid sugar, especially if you’re going for a chocolate-flavored bar. Fructose and sucrose are processed sugars. According to goodhousekeeping.com there are five types of sugars to look for:
- Dextrose and glucose are sugars made from corn.
- Fructose is the principal sugar in fruit, which is easily metabolized because of fiber and other nutrients. It can be processed to unhealthy levels.
- Sucrose is a combination of glucose and fructose, which makes table sugar.
- High-fructose cornstarch (HFCS) is a combination of glucose and fructose as well, but there are health issues associated with it.
- Agave sugar is also a combination of fructose and sucrose.
4. The DVs
Below the macro- and micronutrients are listed the daily value contents of vitamins A and C, as well as calcium and iron. If you’re having more than one protein bar in a day, it’s worth looking at these numbers. Why? Because you can have too much of them. Here’s what will happen if you overeat the DVs:
Too much of this vitamin can cause dizziness, nausea, headaches, skin irritation, pain in joints and bones, coma, and could even be fatal. Over time it can also cause liver damage, says the Office of Dietary Supplements.
It’s not thought to be unhealthy to overconsume this vitamin, but it can cause diarrhea, nausea, vomiting, heartburn, bloating and cramps, headaches, insomnia and kidney stones, reports the Mayo Clinic.
There are some studies that link excess calcium to heart attacks and kidney stones, reports wsj.com.
Too much iron can cause bleeding problems and other related issues, such as cirrhosis, liver cancer, cardiac arrhythmias and diabetes, reports nytimes.com. Some research shows that when people with high-iron levels give blood, some of these risks diminish.
5. The Claims
What kind of a bar are you looking for? Natural? Organic? Vegan? There are other types of bars, such as sugar-free, dairy free and gluten free bars. And what does any of that even mean? We found out.
Most bars are processed, even the “natural” ones. So what gives? There is no FDA definition for “natural, but it generally means that it doesn’t contain added color, artificial flavors or synthetic substances.
According to the USDA, “organic” processed foods do not contain artificial preservatives, colors or flavors and the ingredients must be organic – although there are some minor exceptions. It may also be made with at least 70 percent organic ingredients.
Vegan is what it sounds like: no animal products, animal byproducts, and not tested on animals. The best way to know is to check the ingredients list, recommends greenerchoices.org.
This might be obvious, but it’s worth pointing out that you have lots of options nowadays for protein bars, including sugar-free, dairy-free and gluten-free bars that are made without these ingredients.