The good, the bad, and the ugly—are all protein bars truly healthy or are we being fooled?
Most protein bars are riddled with ingredients that even a scientist would have trouble pronouncing, let alone spelling... without the inevitable Google search. Many claim to be healthy yet contain ingredients such as ‘dried cane syrup,’ ‘chicory fiber syrup,’ ‘soy lecithin,’ or ‘palm kernel oil’ – yes I’m looking at you Luna Bar… They even try to disguise the high sugar content as ‘organic sugar’ or ‘brown rice syrup’ in an attempt to persuade you that what you’re about to consume is ‘healthy’ because it is derived from brown rice or doesn’t contain pesticides – but does this really make it any better for you? Doubtful. And for a while I truly believed it wasn’t possible to find a protein bar that I could eat and feel good about it.
Until I found RXBAR. They contain only a handful of quality ingredients while still maintaining a great taste that leaves me wanting another. Don’t get this confused with fullness – I am extremely satisfied after I consume just one of these bars, but their deliciousness leaves me excited for my next. Okay you caught me... I consume one a day!! The Chicago startup prides themselves on this minimalist ingredient list that they hold, and even make this the focal point of their packaging. Quite refreshing in this day and age when most products on supermarket shelves try to hide this...
3 egg whites, 6 almonds, 4 cashews, 2 dates, and ‘No B.S’ – the fifth ingredient on their list, and for anyone who is into simplistic eating like myself, this screams BUY ME, even if it is just a marketing ploy… On the back of the packaging you will notice the cacao, cocoa, natural chocolate flavor, and sea salt, and although this deceitful manipulation makes me mad, it is hard to stay so angry at RXBAR due to all their other amazing qualities. No gluten, no dairy, no soy or added sugar – this non GMO protein bar is even compliant with paleo and whole30 diets. Best of all, RXBAR sources their protein from eggs, not dairy which is perfect for my intolerant belly (which can sometimes subject me to being observed as somewhat pregnant).
So in commemoration of this outstanding food substitute (packed with 12 grams of protein), I have chosen to highlight the ingredients that you should AVOID at all costs when selecting a protein bar (although why you would ever need to I’m not sure). Yes, this is a naming and shaming of all additives that have hurt me, left me crippled, or even given me a migraine. Now by no means am I an expert (except to say that I am an expert at Google search), but these are backed by some expert sources… and by expert sources I mean I found a whole bunch of articles, took what I wanted from them, and gave them my own flavor. Enjoy.
Soy protein isolate: found in most protein bars, it was considered a waste product in soy processing until recently when manufacturers discovered that it could be used as a super cheap protein replacement. Worse – the process of isolating the soy could potentially create harmful neurotoxins such as hexane and aluminum, and cause digestive issues with the potential to block the digestion of plant protein. Ninety percent of soy is genetically modified.
High fructose corn syrup: a sweetener made by adding enzymes to corn syrup in order to convert its glucose to fructose. This low quality ingredient avoids sending the important signal to your brain when your stomach is full, leading to weight gain, abdominal fat, and insulin resistance.
Fractionated palm kernel oil: a cheap and highly processed, unhealthy fat that is commonly found in the chocolate coating of your favorite bar. It contains more saturated fats than regular palm kernel oil... and even more than butter – need I say more? May as well take a spoon of butter and pop it in your mouth. If you’re into the environment (like myself), it is also linked to the deforestation and destruction of animal habitats.
Sugar Alcohols: maltitol, xylitol, sorbitol, lactitol, isomalt, mannitol, erythritol, and hydrogenated starch hydrolysates – basically anything that sounds like it was just cooked up in a laboratory. These are often used to sweeten ‘sugar-free’ foods, but can cause unpleasant digestive issues such as gas, bloating, and diarrhea. If you have to go there, apparently erythritol has been known as the easiest to digest.
Inulin: extracted from chicory root to up the fiber count of the bar. It can cause an upset stomach, diarrhea, constipation, bloating, and gas if consumed in larger amounts.
Agave syrup: sounds healthy? Think again. It is one of the most refined sugars on the market, containing more fructose than high-fructose corn syrup, making this sweet sounding product (pun intended), deadly. It has been linked to obesity, diabetes, and fatty liver disease.
Soy lecithin: a highly processed additive that makes ingredients stick. Most likely genetically modified.
Sucralose: an artificial sweetener that is super sweet on your taste buds, leaving you wanting more (unlike RXBAR who source their naturally sweet flavor from dates – yes, an actual fruit). Also known by the brand name ‘Splenda,’ it could disrupt the body’s blood sugar controls causing a spike in insulin, leading to carb cravings. So while you’re munching on your seemingly low calorie bar, you will actually end up eating more due to those cravings... and, it has been linked to heart disease and diabetes.
Casein or whey: avoid at all costs if allergic, or intolerant to dairy.
Brown rice syrup: yes brown rice is considered healthy due to its lack of processing, but that has little to do with this product. Brown rice syrup is a high sugar product that has been seriously processed! If this ingredient is seen at the top of the list, then what you’re about to consume could contain toxic arsenic (according to a 2012 study by Dartmouth University, not me).