When you’re trying to eat right, protein bars can seem like a healthy snacking choice and in some cases, they might be. However, telling which ones are actually good for you can be a bit tricky. After all, there are plenty of options to choose from and all are labeled as ‘healthy’. However, if you take a closer look, you’ll be shocked to find that many protein bars bear a nutritional resemblance to candy bars rather than healthy foods! How can you tell the difference? It’s by reading the labels and ingredients on the wrapper.
Now, looking at these ingredients may seem daunting if you don’t have a Ph.D. in nutrition or food science, but it is actually pretty simple. Here are some pointers to help you choose a healthier protein bar.
What’s First On The Ingredient List?
If sugar is listed as the first ingredient, you should drop that protein bar right away. The order of ingredients  usually tells you a lot about the quantity of each of them. Hence, if sugar is first on the list, it means that the product contains more sugar than anything else. High fructose corn syrup, dextrose, maple syrup, and agave nectar are all red herrings – they’re basically different sources of sugar. The high visibility of nuts may give the appearance of healthy food, but in such cases, all of those healthy ingredients are simply held together by sugar syrup. Ideally, a protein bar should contain no more than 15 grams of sugar, but many have as much as 30 grams.
Where’s the Sugar Coming From?
Even if sugar is not listed first, and probably listed in the middle or as the last ingredient, you will need to know ‘where’ it is derived from. The sugar source is an important consideration in any bar containing more than 10 grams of sugar. It needs to come from natural sources like fruits (fructose) or milk (lactose). While these natural sugars have the same caloric values as added sugars , they are not empty calories. In other words, they also contain nutrients like vitamins and minerals. The quality of nutrition in a protein bar is what sets it apart from other bars.
How Many Calories is it Packing?
Calorie counting isn’t the best way to measure food quality, but it is an important consideration when choosing a protein bar. A healthy bar should work as a supplement, providing you with nutrients you might need if you miss a meal or don’t have the time to prepare something wholesome. As a general rule, stick with protein bars that do not exceed 400 calories. More importantly, in the protein to calorie ratio, the former needs to be higher. For instance, a 200-calorie protein bar with 10 grams of protein is a healthier choice as compared to a 400-calorie protein bar with 15 grams of protein.
Does it Pack Enough Protein?
Finally, check for the protein content overall. Whether you’re using protein bars to supplement your intake of the essential nutrients or as a meal replacement, any protein bar worth its name should contain 10 grams or more protein. In terms of listing on the label, protein should appear first. This could include protein sources like whey isolate, egg protein, soy crisps, and so on. To get more for your buck, also consider the type of protein source . Whey, pea, casein, and egg protein are all high-quality sources, while soy crisps are a cheaper and a low-quality source.
Looking at the sugar, protein, and calorie content will help you make an informed decision. However, aside from the points mentioned above, you can also find other giveaways in a protein bar label. It may not be as precise, but simply looking at the list of ingredients should give you your first clue. If the protein bar contains just 6 to 10 ingredients, most of which you recognize as whole foods, it’s probably healthy.