Benefits of Protein Bars for Weight LossProtein Bars: Meals in a Pouch
Carolyn Classick-Kohn,MS,RD

 

High protein bars, low carbohydrate bars, and energy bars...
are popular meal replacements and snacks for those who are highly physically active and want extra calories and for those who are trying to control their food intake and need fewer calories. These bars can be divided into two general groups: those that contain a balance of protein, fat, and carbohydrate, and those that contain mostly protein, fat, and very little carbohydrate. Basically, the energy bars that contain a concentrated source of carbohydrate for quick energy and a source of protein for muscle repair and growth are geared towards sports/fitness enthusiasts. The meal replacement or snack bars that contain very low amounts of carbohydrate and mostly protein are marketed towards the weight loss population and those who wish to follow a low carbohydrate diet. How do they fit into a healthy diet for good health and for weight loss or weight gain?

Advantages
Energy bars are convenient, travel well, and many contain reasonable amounts of fat, saturated fat, and sodium. Many are a good source of high quality protein without the cholesterol and saturated fat of high fat animal protein sources. They have a low sodium content, and most are fortified with vitamins and minerals. In short, for a quick, small meal or snack, they are a better choice than a fast food meal and other highly processed packaged convenience foods. 

Disadvantages
While energy bars may appear to be nutritionally equivalent to a balanced meal of whole foods, they don't take the place of a nutritious, varied diet of natural, minimally processed sources of protein, fat, carbohydrates and vitamins and minerals. It is a challenge to break them down into natural food groups. For example, many of these bars are fortified with the same vitamin and minerals found in fruits and vegetables, but they don't contain the phytochemicals, bioflavonoids, natural fiber and balance of vitamins and minerals found in these foods, so their comparative health benefits are not the same. Most do not contain the amount of fiber that would be found if one ate an equal amount of carbohydrate from whole grains or beans rather than the carbohydrate in the energy bars. Most of the energy bars contain hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated palm oil, so even though the fat content of these bars is within reasonable limits, the percentage of saturated fat in the bar can be quite high (more than 50% of the fat in some bars).

A Few Good Rules
If your choice is between a high fat, high salt typical fast food meal and an energy bar, you're better off nutritionally choosing the bar. But they don't contain the nutritional health benefits of a well chosen, varied diet of fresh fruits and vegetables, very lean sources of protein, nutrient dense carbohydrates and good sources of fats. So, if you choose these as part of your diet, keep them in perspective, and make them healthier by adding some raw veggies, a piece of real fruit, and some whole grains or beans if you expect to make a meal out of these bars. As a snack or pre-workout source of energy, they are pretty much o.k. as is, with the proper amount of water you need for exercise.

Some basics:

  • Read labels for other substances added to the bars. Some of them contain herbal supplements or carbohydrate blockers, and sources of caffeine or other stimulants. Find the bars that fit your needs and don't have anything you don't want in them.

  • Look for energy bars that are low in saturated fat and do not contain palm oil or other hydrogenated fats, or at least contain very small amounts of these fats (less than 2-3 grams or so for about 200 Calories of food).

  • Look for bars that are fortified with vitamins and minerals (see below - read labels) if you are going to replace an occasional meal with a bar. This will help keep your intake of these important substances within a good range, to replace the lost nutrients from the foods you are substituting the bars for.

For those of you following PersonalDiets, we provide both eating guidelines for the bars listed (see below) our search database and a meal planner (Plan-A-Meal) as resources for you. Review the table below for a comparison of some popular energy bars. Most of the bars contain some soy and some dairy protein, and most contain some palm oil. Look at the ingredients, but also look at the breakdown of fat, protein and carbohydrate to choose the bar that best fits into your daily plan. I do not recommend any brand or product and discourage replacing fruits, dairy, and lean meats with their carbohydrate, fat and protein derivatives that are in bars, but realistically, people consume these products and they are not a bad choice for a quick fix once in a while.    

Bar 1:  Balance Bar, Chocolate

Calories  Fat  Saturated Fat Protein Carbohydrate Sodium Fiber

200 Calories 

6g, Fat 

35,Saturated Fat

14g,Protein

22g,
Carbo
hydrate

230 mg, Sodium

1g,Fiber

Carbohydrate   source: corn syrup, honey, sugar
Fat Source: mostly palm oil, some Canola, sunflower, soybean
Protein Source:  Soy, dairy
Fortified w/vitamins/minerals? yes
Eating Guidelines for one bar:  1 1/2 Fats,2 Meats

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Bar 2:  Power Bar- Chocolate

Calories  Fat  Saturated Fat Protein Carbohydrate Sodium Fiber

240 Calories

3g, Fat

.5g,Saturated Fat

10g,Protein

45g,
Carbohydrate

95 mg, Sodium

3g,Fiber

 

Carbohydrate source:  High Fructose Corn Sugar, Juices, Oat Bran, Malto Dextrin, Rice, Peanut Flour
Fat Source: Peanut Butter
Protein Source:  Dairy,Non-Fat Dry Milk
Fortified w/vitamins/minerals? yes
Eating Guidelines for one bar:  1 Dairy, 1 1/2 Fats, 1 1/2 Breads 

 

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Bar 3:  Doctors Low Carb Diet

Calories  Fat  Saturated Fat Protein Carbohydrate Sodium Fiber

240 Calories

3g, Fat

.5g,Saturated Fat

10g,Protein

45g, Carbohydrate

95 mg, Sodium

 

3g,Fiber

 

Carbohydrate source: Peanut Flour, Poly Dextrose
Fat Source: Palm Oil, Butter Oil, Canola
Protein Source:  Soy, Dairy
Fortified w/vitamins/minerals? No Vitamin or Minerals Added 
*Contains stevia - a plant source sweetener and carb blocking products
Eating Guidelines for one bar:  1 Fat, 1 1/2 Meat, 1 Dairy

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Bar 4: BioChem, Ultimate Lo Carb Bar

Calories  Fat  Saturated Fat Protein Carbo
hydrate
Sodium Fiber

240 Calories

7g, Fat

.5g,Saturated Fat

23g,Protein

2g, Carbohydrate

 

260mg, Sodium

1g,Fiber

 

Carbohydrate source:  Nuts
Fat Source:  Canola Oil, Almond Butter, Almonds
Protein Source: Soy, Dairy
Fortified w/vitamins/minerals?  yes 
*Contains stevia - a plant source sweetener
Eating Guidelines for one bar: 2 Meats,  1 Dairy

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Bar 5 - GeniSoy, Creamy Caramel

Calories  Fat  Saturated Fat Protein Carbohydrate Sodium Fiber
230 4 g 2.5 g 14 g 34 g 160 mg 1 g

Carbohydrate source:  corn syrup, sugar
Fat Source: palm oil, peanut butter
Protein Source:  Soy, Dairy
Fortified w/vitamins/minerals? yes 
Eating Guidelines for one bar: 1 Meat, 2 Fruit, 1 Dairy