Smart Shopping for Protein Bars

Protein bars can be convenient, nutritious snacks that are quick and compact. However, finding a nutritious protein bar is not always easy among the many choices of meal bars, energy bars and organic food bars available today. Grocery stores stock candy bars that claim to have added protein in the checkout line, making the quest for a nutritious protein bar even more confusing.

While protein bars used to have a reputation for tasting chalky and unappetizing, the newest bars today can taste just as good as a candy bar. Many, however, are laden with high levels of saturated fat and refined sugar, neither of which is good for the waistline. Seek out brands that offer the benefits of convenience, good nutrition and great taste without the hidden calories.

What to Look for

Always check the nutrition facts label of the protein bar before purchasing to check the amounts of saturated fat, sugar and protein. Most protein bars that have more than 6 g of fat have high levels of saturated fat. Since all fats are not created equal, look for a protein bar with less than 6 g of fat, and avoid any bar that contains trans fats. Those that contain monounsaturated or polyunsaturated fats are preferable.

It is also important to check the nutrition label for sugar. Avoid bars with higher than 10 to 12 g of sugar, and look for those that have low glycemic indexes. The glycemic index is an indication of the effect that the product will have on blood sugar. Spikes in blood sugar lead to low blood sugar later, which can cause hunger and other problems for those with unstable blood sugar. Many protein bars list the glycemic index on the wrapper–the lower the glycemic index, the better.

Common Pitfalls

One of the most common mistakes made is choosing a protein bar laden with fat and sugar. If healthy choices are slim, cut one of these protein bars in half for portion control or choose another snack. The sugar-free versions are often loaded with sugar alcohols, which can upset some people’s digestive systems.

Some people also make the mistake of choosing energy bars or meal bars instead of protein bars. These choices usually contain high levels of fat and sugar with little protein, which can be less satiating and may lead to low blood sugar. Moderate to high levels of protein prevent blood sugar spikes and are more satiating.

Lastly, remember that protein bars are meant for occasional use, not several times a day. It is usually better to choose fresh, whole foods that are more filling and easily digested by the body.