With so many protein bars flooding the market these days – and with rich dessert flavors, like salted caramel, peanut butter, and chocolate brownie – you’ve simply got to ask:
Are protein bars good for you? It’s a sensible question.
Now, protein bars can be incredibly convenient as a grab-and-go snack, or even a meal replacement. And we all love a bit of convenience in our busy lives, right?
But, if you flip these bars over and read the labels, it’s sometimes even hard to decipher what the actual ingredients are… they read like a bunch of gibberish.
So, are protein bars actually healthy? Well…
First, let’s take a look at why you need protein in the first place.
Why You Need Protein
Protein is considered one of the building blocks of human life. It’s found in every cell of your body and is responsible for building such essential things as bones, muscles, cartilage, blood, skin, hair, and nails. Protein is also responsible for repairing any injuries to your cells.1
When you look at a healthy diet, there are three key nutrients your body needs: carbohydrates, fats, and protein. But your body can’t store protein like it can carbs or fat – so you need to keep replenishing your supply.
Some of the best sources of protein in a vegan diet include:
- Black Beans
- Kidney Beans
- Nut Butters
- Whole Wheat Bread
- Sunflower Seeds
How Much Protein Do You Need Each Day?
The minimum Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) for protein is 0.36 grams per pound of body weight.3 So if you weigh 130 lbs, you’re looking at around 46.8 grams of protein a day. If you’re a more active person or an athlete, you’ll need a little more protein to support your activity level.4 The USDA has a great calculator to help you figure this out.
Daily life isn’t as simple as just following a list of healthy foods. If you need a little help meeting your daily protein requirements even when you’re eating well, supplements may be helpful. The most common way to do this is through powders or snack bars.
As a vegan, you’ll want to look at these protein supplements carefully to ensure they’re from a vegan-based source. Both powders and snack bars often rely on whey protein or calcium caseinate as their protein source, and both are derived from milk.
However, there are also high-quality, plant-based proteins sourced from pea, brown rice, and hemp.
But, Are Protein Bars Healthy?
So, back to the all-important question: are protein bars good for you? Well, that depends. Every brand is different, and how you consume them matters too.
Here’s a cheat sheet to help you find the healthiest choice.
1. How Much Sugar Does the Protein Bar Contain?
Some protein bars are literally candy bars, carrying up to 30 grams of sugar! You want protein, not sugar. Look for bars with less than 13 grams of sugar.
Also, take note of sugar substitutes. These aren’t all they’re cracked up to be. In fact, studies have shown that artificial sweeteners may actually cause weight gain.5
2. What Other Ingredients Does the Protein Bar Contain?
Can’t understand what the ingredients are in your bar? Does it read like a foreign language? It’s probably time to walk away. Many bars contain a long list of strange chemical ingredients and no nutritious whole food ingredients.
Look for ingredients like:
- Almond Butter
- Pumpkin Seeds
- Vanilla extract
- Flax Seeds
And watch out for these chemically processed ingredients:
- Partially hydrogenated oils (including palm oil)
- High-fructose corn syrup
- Butylated hydroxytoluene (BHT)
- Soy protein isolate
- Food coloring
- Artificial sugar
- Sugar alcohols
These ingredients are dominated by hidden sugars and refined carbs, and they are very low in nutrients.
3. Protein Bars: Meal vs Snack
Some protein bars are designed to be a meal replacement, while others are snacks. But many people don’t realize this. The difference is that a meal replacement bar could have 400 calories (or more), but a snack bar should have fewer calories.6
This is an important fact to know, as snacking on “meal-sized” bars will ultimately contribute to weight gain.
So, What’s the Ideal Protein Bar?
In simple terms, the best bar should:
- Have at least 5 grams of protein (if you’re very active, closer to 20 grams is best)
- Have at least 6 grams of fiber
- Be less than 200 calories
- Be relatively low in sodium and sugar
- Have no trans fats
- Have at least five ingredients that you recognize
But guess what’s also an ideal protein bar? One that you make yourself, where you know every ingredient! There are plenty of recipes all over the internet. Just make sure that it meets the requirements above.
A good protein bar can be a great way to get more protein in your diet, but not every single day. These bars should be consumed in moderation, so save them for your most hectic times.
In reality, if you eat a healthy, well-balanced diet, you shouldn’t need a protein supplement, especially if you focus on nutritious, whole food snacks. Think trail mix, nut butter with veggie sticks, roasted chickpeas, or even some high-protein nutritional yeast sprinkled over some popcorn. Whole foods are always the best choice.
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How to Build Muscle on A Vegan Diet (it’s easier than you think)