Make sure it’s a protein barTo be called a “protein” bar, it should have at least 15 grams of protein per bar, and up to 30 (like the Protein Plus bar from MET-Rx). Although carb content is variable, you should choose a bar that is relatively low in carbs to avoid blood and insulin spikes that will hinder your fat-loss efforts. Energy bars are at the other end of the spectrum: high-carb, low-protein. Energy bars such as PowerBars® or Clif® Bars are useful for intense aerobic exercise that lasts more than an hour.
Meal replacement bars like Balance® Bar, or Nutribar® have a more balanced ratio of carbs, proteins and fats, and usually contain more calories than other types of bars. Despite what they sound like, these can never replace a properly balanced meal. Organic and raw bars like Lärabar® provide energy in as natural a method as possible. They are made with whole foods and are devoid of artificial sweeteners and inserted protein. They are, nevertheless, relatively high in sugars and low in protein.
Look at the source of proteinMost protein bars will have a “propriety protein blend” as one of the first things listed in the ingredients list. Choose bars that use high-quality sources of protein, such as hydrolyzed whey, whey isolates and micellar casein. Whey or soy concentrates are fine but are frequently used as fillers and shouldn’t be listed too high on the ingredients list. Gelatin (or collagen) is often added to protein bars to improve texture. Since it is a type of protein, it contributes to the total number of grams in the bar. Careful, though: It’s a low-quality protein, and some unscrupulous brands use it to artificially boost their protein content. Check the ingredients and ensure that gelatin and collagen are not listed too high up on the list.
Look at the carbsJust because a bar is high in protein doesn’t mean it’s low in carbs. First off, avoid protein bars that list refined sugars, such as sucrose, corn syrup, high-fructose corn syrup and chocolate, as the first or second ingredient. These are no better than candy bars. To make a protein taste good without using too much refined sugars, manufacturers often add artificial sweeteners (acesulfame potassium) and sugar alcohols (or polyols) such as xylitol, maltitol, sorbitol, glycerol or glycerine. Sugar alcohols should be listed along with sugars and dietary fiber under the total carbohydrate listing on the nutrition label. These are hydrogenated forms of carbohydrate that are colorless and odorless, and give the bar a pleasing moist texture. They are not as sweet as sucrose, have fewer calories and don’t cause tooth decay. However, they may cause bloating and intestinal discomfort in some people since they are not completely absorbed by the gut. They do contribute calories and affect blood-sugar levels, so they need to be accounted for by the low-carb dieter.
Nutrition bars are not subjected to any quality testing prior to marketing. In 2001, the supplement-testing group ConsumerLab.com analyzed 30 brands of energy bars and found that 60% failed to meet their labeling claims. Among the highest failure rates were protein bars (92% failed), often because they were under-reporting the amount of carbs and sodium contained in the bar. So even if you’re super-skilled in reading nutrition labels and ingredient lists, you may not actually be consuming what you think you’re consuming.