Protein bars and powders are great for keeping us full, but offer very little nutritional value, and are not necessarily low-calorie. The protein they offer is very processed, and is often teamed with other processed and artificial ingredients. Unless you are a vegan or vegetarian with IBS, an athlete, a bodybuilder or chronically ill, it’s unlikely you need the extra protein. And, excess protein may have long-term health consequences. I personally limit them, but if you can’t find a wholefood alternative that suits you just as well, there are some products I recommend.
Protein is essential to good health. You need it to make the bricks and mortar of the body, including muscle, bone, and blood. Traditionally, global dietary guidelines have recommended that protein account for 15% of your total energy intake. Today, high protein diets are extremely fashionable, with population studies showing at least 50% of men and women wanting to increase their protein intake.
New studies suggest eating more protein, as much as 25% of total energy intake, could help to maintain a healthy body weight and preserve muscle mass and strength with ageing. Supporters of this include the CSIRO, whose ‘Total Wellbeing Diet’ is higher protein and lower moderate carbohydrate when compared to the Dietary Guidelines. The theory is, protein is the most filling nutrient, so increasing your intake may help you to reduce portion sizes of meals and frequency of snacking. Replacing refined carbohydrates with proteins is probably a good swap too.
However, these studies look at protein from wholefood sources, such as lean meat, poultry, fish, dairy, eggs, legumes, nuts and seeds. Not powders and bars. In fact, I could not find any study or organization recommending protein powders or bars as a long-term dietary strategy for better health. The only time I see them recommended is for are athletes and body builders, who may need a portable post-training option, particularly if they are not having a meal straight afterwards. Also, for the chronically ill, or for vegans/vegetarians with IBS, which limits many wholegrains, legumes, dairy and nuts.
Also, consuming excess protein by having shakes and bars in addition to protein-rich wholefood may be bad for you. High protein loads can lead to excess waste products circulating in your blood, one sign of which is bad ‘uremic’ breath. This can become dangerous quickly if you’re kidneys are struggling to filter out waste products due to age or disease. Also, high protein diets have been linked to osteoporosis, as the body removes calcium from bones to neutralize acids from protein metabolism.
Lastly, if you replace wholefood options with protein powders and bars, you are probably missing out on fibre, healthy fats and many micronutrients. For example, when comparing protein bars with a small apple and some Greek yoghurt, you will find that the protein bar:
- Has a much lower nutrient density
- Is higher in calories (unless the bar is bite sized)
- Is more expensive
- Is wrapped in fake chocolate (how can that be good for you?!)
- Contains more ingredients (obviously), and in most cases, you won’t recognize any.
And – gasp – they aren’t magical fat burners. In fact, I tried Quest bars instead of fruit and yoghurt a few years ago, and I GAINED weight! Did you know that Quest bars contain as many calories as a mini Magnum ego? I know which option I’d rather eat!
But, if you insist nothing fills you up better than a protein shake or bar, and you cannot find a wholefood replacement, there are some products that are better than the rest. These will have a protein base that is not ‘puffed’, ‘crisped’ or ‘nuggeted’, and will not contain sugars, artificial sweeteners, fillers, or long list of numbers and strange ingredients.
Some products I prefer are:
- Slim Secrets ‘Bare’ Protein Bar
- Aussie Bodies ‘Naked’ Protein Bar
- International Protein ‘Natural’ WPI powder
- Evolve ‘Supernatural’ WPI powder