Protein bars are hugely popular and there are many different brands and flavors to enjoy. However, if you are looking for one to help you reach your weight loss goals – one that will provide a healthy snack between meals, or even a meal replacement, you should know that not all these bars are created equal!
How do you interpret the labelling on the packaging to decide whether you should be eating it as part of your weight loss plan (no matter how good it tastes)? Read on to find out what makes a protein bar suitable for your diet.
Why is the Principle of Protein Bars a Good One For Weight Loss?
- A higher protein content in a meal makes you feel fuller and more satisfied for longer after eating it. This helps avoid those hunger pangs and makes it easier to stick to that lower calorie diet.
- Increasing the protein content on a lower calorie diet means that when you shed those extra pounds, more of the weight loss will be fat and you will retain more lean muscle.
The other factor that has been widely publicised in successful weight loss is, eating regularly! Five, six or more small meals a day instead of the traditional three, with shorter times between meals helps to regulate blood sugar, energy levels, keep the metabolism up and encourages fat burning.
So, adding in a protein bar or two between your main meals, could be a good thing from the point of view of the extra protein content in your diet. With our busy lifestyles and often being away from home and the convenience of a kitchen in which to prepare a healthy snack, a good high protein bar can help by stopping you from eating other, readily available but less nutritious alternatives when hunger strikes – such as cookies or candy!
But Here’s The Bad News!
Some protein bars are little better than cookies or candies! They are high in refined sugars, bad fats and other nasties!
So here is our guide to what to look for on product labelling if you are choosing a protein bar to support your weight loss plan.
How Much Protein Does it Contain?
Reject any protein bar that does not have at least 10 grams of protein in it. You are wasting your time and your money! Ideally, aim for bars with 15 grams or more.
How Much Fiber Does it Contain?
Ideally, it should have 5 grams of fiber or more but there are not that many bars on the market that satisfy this criteria, so look for 3 grams as an absolute minimum. Why? Because the fiber is not only good for the health of your digestive tract, but it also ensures that the bar will keep you feeling full and not reaching for another snack too soon!
How Much Fat Does It Contain?
Check the total fat. How much is acceptable depends on whether you are specifically following a very low fat diet and also whether the improvement in taste and texture that often accompanies the higher fat content is important to you. A higher fat content will certainly help you to feel fuller for longer after eating the bar because it will be digested more slowly. However, it is important to avoid saturated fat as much as possible so look for a low figure for ‘saturates’ and ‘cholesterol’ if this is specified separately.
How Much Sugar Does It Contain?
Sugar is the biggest “NO NO” from the dieter’s point of view in these bars. There are a lot of protein bars out there that contain way too much sugar. Because of the different size and weight of bars, it is easier to say that you should aim for less than 30% of the calories from sugar rather than a specific number of grams.
As a quick way of doing this, one gram of sugar is 3.87 calories so just multiply the number of grams by 3.87 and see whether this figure is less than approximately one third of the total calories in the bar. For example in a 120 calorie bar, ideally there should not be more than 10 grams of sugar (just under 40 calories).
Meal replacement bars are generally higher in calories – around 230 – 270, so only you can decide whether you want the sugar content to be up around 20 grams (that’s four whole teaspoons of empty calories from refined carbohydrates!).
Eat Little And Often
A protein bar provides a conveniently packaged way to enable you to get the nutrition you need – at any time, and wherever you are during your day.
Of course, these bars should not be used as a substitute for all your meals and are not intended to be. They do make a great choice to eat as a breakfast bar if you are in too much of a hurry in the morning to prepare breakfast for yourself. In addition, eating five or six small meals a day (as recommended to boost the metabolism and help you lose weight) is much easier if you carry a suitable nutrition bar as a between-meals snack that you can eat whenever you need it.
Protein bars can make an occasional substitute for lunch or dinner. A balanced diet of fresh foods prepared and cooked at home should make up the majority of your diet. However, using a nutritious, high-protein bar can really help you when you are trying to lose weight and provide a sensible alternative to the sort of fat and sugar-laden snack foods available from most vending machines.
If you can add regular exercise to your weight loss plan, those pounds will come off even quicker! Finding the energy to actually go to the gym or for a run or swim, is where our favorite protein bar, the Clif Builders Bar comes in handy! Each bar packs a great 20 grams of protein from soy isolate and contains 20 grams of sugar, 5 grams of saturated fat and 4 grams of dietary fiber (dietary fiber does vary slightly between the different flavor bars in the range though).
Soy protein is a great choice because like whey and casein, it is a complete protein. These bars come in lots of great flavors, have many organic ingredients (including the soy), plus vitamins and minerals. They are suitable for Vegan and Vegetarian diets, are classified as Kosher Dairy and contain no wheat gluten (however they do contain oats).
If you are trying to shed those extra pounds, my suggestion would be to cut your bar in half and use one half as your pre workout snack and enjoy the other half afterwards to give your energy levels a boost again. At around 270 calories each, this is a bit high for a bar not intended as a meal replacement.
For a great tasting low calorie, low carb bar that really fills you up, we recommend one of the great recipes from Simply Bars. These healthy diet bars have the most protein (16 grams) for the least calories (160 or less per bar). The website of Simply Bars states that a 2012 Canadian Study shows that one bar will satisfy your hunger for three and a half hours.
Depending on the recipe of the Simply Bar you choose, you could consume as little as 3 grams of sugar which is great news! If you are trying to lose weight, one of these bars is a sensible way to satisfy hunger between meals and ideal to carry with you so that you can enjoy a snack on the go. The protein in these bars comes from non-GMO soy.
The manufacturers of Simply Bars recommend them for those who have had bariatric surgery to help them lose weight. After this type of surgery, six small meals a day are recommended so a bar could even act as a meal replacement in these circumstances.
We don’t recommend you use protein bars as a replacement for a main meal too often. No matter how great the ingredients sound, they can never replace the healthy whole food goodness of a meal prepared from fresh ingredients. However, they really do make a great way of ensuring that you have a healthy choice when out and about for work or on vacation and can avoid you giving way to temptation and piling into those extra calories.
Our favorite bars at the moment are Quest Bars from Quest Nutrition. A 60 gram bar contains on average 20 grams of protein, 10 grams of fat and are high in fiber and low in sugar. We believe they offer the best nutritional value in terms of the mix of ingredients and keep you feeling fuller so you can use them instead of a main meal occasionally and keep your calorie intake down.
The protein comes from whey protein isolate and the extra fiber comes from prebiotics called isomalto-oligosaccarides. These come from plants and have the dual function of reducing your hunger and improving digestive health. The low sugar content is down to a plant derived sweetener called lo han guo which is similar to stevia.
Make Your Own Breakfast Bars
If cost is an issue for you – or you want to experiment with tastes and textures to make your own ‘designer’ bar, the video below is a great basic recipe to build on (recipe starts at 2:00). The recipe is quick and easy to prepare and each bar costs around one third of its store-bought equivalent. We have put the basic ingredients below the video for your convenience.
- 2 Cups of Oats
- 5 Scoops of Vanilla or Chocolate Protein Powder of your choice *
- 1 Cup of Natural Peanut Butter
- 1/2 Cup of Honey
- 1 Cup of Milk
A whey protein isolate powder is probably the very best choice in nutrition terms. We recommend Now Foods Whey Protein Isolate. This top quality product is unflavored and easy to use in any recipe you like.
If you are vegetarian a soy protein isolate will be your best choice and we recommend Jarrow Formula Iso-Rich Soy which offers top quality, complete protein nutrition from Non-GMO soy.
Protein Bars At A Glance
Here is your at a glance summary of using protein bars to support you in achieving your weight loss goals.
- Check labelling carefully, avoid bars with less than 10g of protein or more than 30% sugars. Check fat content, particularly ‘saturates’. Look for higher fiber content bars to keep you feeling fuller, longer.
- Use instead of less healthy snacks when hunger strikes between meals.
- Use before and after exercising to give your energy levels a boost
- Use as an occasional main meal replacement if you are out and about or on the go.
- Use as a breakfast bar if your hectic lifestyle means you sometimes don’t have time to prepare breakfast.
Research your favorites
Remember that a slightly higher calorie content might be more desirable in your protein bar if this means that it is more nutritious, containing less sugar and fat. There is no doubt that protein bars can be a valuable tool in helping you lose weight and the fact that they are individually wrapped, small and easy to carry anywhere without the need for refrigeration to stay fresh makes them so convenient too.