Protein bars. You’ve probably heard all about them and seen them on the shelves. But are they as healthy as the adverts say they are and what actually is protein anyway? In this article, we will explore protein in more detail and whether or not protein bars are good for your health.
What is Protein?
Protein is a macronutrient, which means that your body requires large amounts of it to keep you alive. That’s because proteins are essential molecules that are found in every cell of your body! They play a variety of roles in your health and well-being, including muscle and body tissue development, organ maintenance and energy provision.
Protein in Food
Humans can make their own protein, using smaller units called amino acids (or building blocks), which join together to form long chains. There are currently 22 different types of amino acids that we know about, some of which we can make ourselves, whilst others must be acquired from our diet. The latter units are known as essential amino acids because we can’t get them any other way.
Essential amino acids form a variety of arrangements in different foods, creating distinctive proteins. For example, casein and whey proteins are found in dairy products, whereas legumin proteins are found in beans. Once digested, these are split into their amino acids, which can be used throughout your body for a variety of functions.
What are Protein Bars?
Protein bars are (sometimes) healthy and convenient snacks that have a high content of protein.
Why Do We Need Them?
Have you ever found yourself at a train station or an airport, with only 5 minutes spare to grab a snack? Eating a protein bar is great at giving you that extra boost of energy to complete your journey.
Studies have also shown that those that exercise need a much higher level of protein than sedentary people. Consequently, protein bars are a fantastic way to refuel your muscles after that run or that challenging strength session at the gym.
What are Protein Bars Made of?
All sorts! As mentioned previously, there are a variety of proteins that can be extracted from different food sources. Protein bars use anything from whey to egg white, rice, soy, pea, and even nut-based protein.
There are usually a lot of other ingredients as well, such as fruits, sugars, carbs, fiber, sweeteners, and colorants. They can be organic, gluten-free, vegan/plant-based, animal-derived and low or high in carbs, fats and sugars.
How Often Should I Eat Them?
This can be quite a complex question, as it really depends on the content of your chosen protein bar, as well as your individual requirements. If you eat too many protein-containing foods, then you risk increasing your overall calorie intake. However, if you are an athlete, then you will often require more protein and increasing your intake can dramatically improve your results.
Furthermore, if your chosen protein bar contains other ingredients, such as sugar and carbohydrates, then you should be wary about the amount you consume. If you want to be sure, it’s best to keep track of your dietary reference intakes.
One clear message is that you should never rely completely on protein bars! They are a supplement, rather than a meal.
Are They Healthy?
Based on the above, depending on which protein bar you choose, they can have differing impacts on your health. There are many protein bars that are essentially just candy bars! It also depends on what you need them for (e.g. what type of exercise you do) and how often you eat them.
As a general rule, you should look out for protein bars with a short ingredient list, with names that you recognize and understand. Choose a protein bar that’s got plenty of protein, but not too high in calories, low in additives (e.g. sugar, sweeteners, etc.) and contains lots of other healthy nutrients (e.g. fiber, vitamins, etc.).
There are plenty of healthy protein bars out there if you know where to look. For example, our Apple Cinnamon Cranberry bar has a complete protein blend with only organic, natural and non-GMO ingredients, plenty of fruit and nutrients!
What About Gluten-Free, Organic, Vegan, Low-Sugar and Low-Carb Protein Bars?
In next week’s post, we will look in more detail at some of the different types of protein bars, such as gluten-free, organic, vegan, low-sugar and low-carb. The blog will discuss the pros and cons of each of these, in the hope that it will help you to decide which is the best protein bar for your lifestyle!