The other day as I was leaving the gym, my 3-year-old spotted a box of free goodies on the front desk, so he ran straight to it to, somehow knowing the ingredients included chocolate. They were chocolate mint “Builder’s” protein bars. Having never tasted a protein bar before, I was curious to try it and was sure to steal a bite from each of my toddlers. To my surprise, it looked and tasted like a chocolate bar. Had I eaten it without seeing the wrapper, I would have assumed it was some form of candy. Only later did I look at the ingredients and nutrition info to see if it was healthy at all.
You would assume protein bars are healthy, right? While they are packed full of protein and vitamins, I would not consider them healthy for most of us, and here is why. The biggest rules of healthy eating are to eat fresh and lean: fresh fruits and vegetables, lean meats, lean dairy, and whole grains with minimal sweets and fats. The only things from this list that fill protein bars are sweets and fats. Processed foods are full of preservatives and a ton of questionable ingredients that you have never heard of. So if you are new to eating and cooking fresh, the first step is to shop around the perimeter of the grocery store (fresh breads, fresh produce, fresh meats, fresh dairy). A strict, fresh diet would exclude all processed foods and pre-made frozen meals. So, unfortunately for chocolate-lovers, protein bars should probably not be a regular part of your diet. Instead, get your protein from lean meats, legumes, nuts and dairy. And get your vitamins and minerals from a fiber-filled, balanced diet.
There are a few groups of people that could likely benefit from regularly indulging in protein bars. These tasty bars could be a decent meal replacement for those who are extremely busy. They provide protein, vitamins, calories and fat to hold you over until your next meal. Protein bars also may be a good addition to the diet of someone who is calorie-deficient, such as an elderly person who does not eat well. Obviously hard-core athletes could benefit from the extra protein and calories. Athletes trying to gain weight might want to add protein bars to their high-calorie diets.
In many ways, a protein bar is similar to an “Ensure” shake or a “Slim Fast” shake if it is used as a meal supplement or replacement. But if you are using meal replacements (such as a protein bar or protein shake) to lose weight, you may need to consider which weight loss program will be most effective long-term. I would argue that a healthy, balanced diet and regular exercise will more likely help you to lose weight and keep it off than eating a protein bar every day for lunch. Likely you may enjoy the taste of a protein bar as I did, but I recommend you spend your grocery money on salmon and avocados.