By Alex Gryciuk
*Trigger warning* Talk about calories and dieting
Marketed as the perfect on-the-go workout snack, protein bars inherently seem healthy and nutritious. Universally, protein proves essential to the production of muscles and serves as a source of energy. So, for a consumer interested in building muscle or staying healthy, a protein bar filled with protein seems like the perfect purchase. For companies, “healthy” protein bars are a great way to make money and fuel an estimated 4.66 billion dollar (2019) industry. However, for the consumer, although protein bars contain high amounts of protein, their protein content does not automatically make them healthy. On the contrary, most protein bars are not all that good for you to eat.
First of all, you do not need a protein bar to get the amount of protein you need. For the average man, 56 grams of protein sustains healthy muscle growth; for the average woman, 46 grams of protein. Both of which are easily fueled through a normal, healthy diet. Even athletes, who require more protein to maintain muscle mass, 1.2-2 grams of protein for every kilogram of body weight, possess the ability to consume adequate amounts of protein. In fact, according to dietitians, “Most athletes can get the recommended amount of protein through food alone, without the use of supplements.” Bottom line, you do not even need to eat protein bars to be healthy. Yet, marketing makes consumers think they need more protein to be healthy.
But, let’s imagine that consumers still desire extra protein to build muscles. The fact of the matter is, protein bars will not give consumers bigger muscles because no one just needs protein to grow them. According to Kerri Major, a dietician, “iron, calcium and vitamin D” are essential to growing muscle. While protein bars contain protein, they lack other macronutrients and vitamins that are essential. Pure Protein Bars: Birthday Cake, the most popular protein bar according to Amazon, contains 10% calcium and 4% iron. Not nearly enough to support any serious muscle growth or a healthy amount of nutrients. If the most popular power bar contains not nearly enough healthy nutrients to build muscle, then companies trick consumers to make it seem that bars are great for getting stronger.
Beyond a lack of muscle-growing nutrients, protein bars lack other vitamins and nutrients that are beneficial for your health. HealthGuide states that both “perform hundreds of roles in the body” that include helping to “shore up bones, heal wounds, bolster your immune system… convert food into energy and repair cellular damage”. Bottom line, consumers should be eating foods that are helping them stay healthy and build muscles. Even if companies like Pure Protein state that protein bars essentially provide everything required to stay healthy, there are so many other things consumers can eat to obtain the same amount of protein. Greek yogurt for example, has around 20g of protein on average for less calories than a protein bar. 0% Plain Greek Yogurt from Chobani contains 22 grams of protein for 130 calories. Greek yogurt has more protein, less calories, more important nutrients like calcium and probiotics that help with gut health, and are convenient. Other healthy, protein filled snacks that are also convenient include hummus, hard boiled eggs, and peanut butter. Although they might not have as much protein as a protein bar, they still supply high amounts of protein to those who eat them along with other nutrients too. Leaving protein bars in the bottom of the healthy snack tier list.
Finally, even if protein bars might still seem like they supplement diets well, protein bars are filled with junk. According to healthline, “To enhance the flavor, many [protein bars] use added sweeteners”. In addition, “while fat in some protein bars often comes from whole nuts and seeds, others use highly processed plant oils, like palm, canola, peanut, or soybean oil”. Although not all use added sweeteners and processed oils, the most popular ones do (I encourage you to look at labels). A popular bar, Pure Protein Bar: Birthday Cake, uses palm oil and maltitol syrup, a synthetic sweetener, for example. According to WebMd “palm oil is relatively high in saturated fats” that “are linked to an increased risk of heart disease and chronic health conditions”. Palm oil is similar to most processed plant oils, so that means that most protein bars contain highly processed plant oils that increase your risk for heart disease and chronic health conditions. Likewise, the National Center for Biotechnical Information states that synthetic sugar “usually has less food energy” and “animal studies have convincingly proven that artificial sweeteners cause weight gain, brain tumors, bladder cancer and many other health hazards”. Furthermore, according to the Mayo Clinic, consuming excess amounts of sugar, found in most protein bars, “increase[s] triglyceride levels, which may increase your risk of heart disease”. In all, most protein bars are full of hazardous ingredients that make them unhealthy and hurt consumers in the long run if they eat them, while the company’s pockets grow.
Overall, companies have made it so consumers believe that protein bars are a healthy way to add protein to their diet. Their dishonest lies, works on consumers and it grows the protein bar industry every year and yields high margins. However, not only is the protein found in protein bars unnecessary to a normal diet, other healthy alternatives exist and protein bars contain harmful ingredients to the individual eating them. So, while protein bars seem like a perfect snack, protein bars are great for companies, but are bad for you.