The do’s and don’ts of choosing protein bars

Megan Harper is a Kansas City-based registered and licensed dietician and is also a certified Leap therapist who focuses on real food and gut health. Harper gave us some tips on finding bars that give you the nutrients that your body really needs.

Harper’s first rule of thumb is to read the ingredient list and look for “real” ingredients that will actually nourish your body. The shorter the list, the better! Look for things like nuts, seeds, and coconut for their healthy fats, and fruits and whole grains for good fiber. Next, look at the nutrition facts. Harper suggests bars that have 3 or more grams of fiber, 5 or more grams of protein, and 8 or more grams of fat. This combination will help provide sustained energy.

Many bars appear to be healthy, but are more like a candy bar in disguise. Try to avoid the bars with artificial sweeteners such as sucralose or aspartame. And unless you are using a nutrition bar to fuel a workout, avoid a lot of added sugar. Some bars claim to only have 1 gram of sugar, but show “sugar alcohol” in the ingredient list.

“Sugar alcohols have few safety and toxicity studies, and are generally accepted as safe,” Harper says. “However, they can cause digestive distress in sensitive individuals if too much is consumed.”

According to Harper, research shows that these artificial sweeteners may disrupt the balance of beneficial bacteria in your gut. Good gut bacteria is so important to many aspects of our overall health, from our weight, immune system and even brain function.

“Too much added sugar is broken down very quickly, so it does not provide sustained energy,” Harper says. “You will get a spike in blood sugar, which could result in a sugar high and a crash later on. This is why it’s important to have fat and protein to help balance those blood sugar levels.”

The bars that make Harper’s list are Rx bars, KIND’s Nuts & Spices or Strong varieties or the Lärabar Crunchy Nut and Seed Bar.

When you’re pressed for time, bars are a healthy option to give you the nutrients and energy you need, but make sure to incorporate them in your diet as a snack and not a meal replacement. In the end, real food always wins.

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