Protein is having a serious moment with health-conscious shoppers. While carbs and some fats are being shunned by those who want to take care of their bodies and lose weight, protein is a nutritional all-star. As a result, it’s being added to foods all over the grocery store to turn any item into a healthier option. And nowhere is that happening more than in the snack aisle, which is packed floor-to-ceiling with protein bars.
Originally created for endurance athletes, protein bars were meant to power anyone who was working out for longer than two hours, like a marathoner or tri-athlete. But it wasn’t long before the average consumer started adding them to their grocery cart. The thing is, if you exercise for 30 to 40 minutes, three times a week, you actually don’t need that extra boost.
What are they exactly? Protein bars are a carefully balanced mix of carbohydrates, protein and fat. But most should be called carb-bars, since they have 40 percent carbs, 30 percent protein and 30 percent fat. In comparison, nutritionists say that the goal for a healthy snack should be higher in protein and lower in carbohydrates. Protein bars also have vitamins and minerals, so reaching for one every now and then is better than grabbing a candy bar, but they shouldn’t be considered a weight-loss aide. Other things to look out for when selecting the perfect protein bar include:
- Fat – Good fats, like canola oil, should be the only fats you find in the ingredient list.
- Calories – If you’re enjoying one of these bars as a snack, opt for less than 150 calories. But if the bar is replacing a meal, you’ll want at least 300 calories so you stay full and don’t go searching for more food in an hour.
- Sugar – Some protein bars can be packed with sweeteners to make them tastier, so double check the nutrition label and aim for below 7 grams of sugar.
- Carbohydrates – Complex carbs like brown rice and fruit are great because they are actually healthy, so scan the ingredient list for these.
- Fiber – Some fiber is better than none, but sadly many protein bars lack this necessary nutrient. If the bar has 10 grams or more of fiber, it’s a keeper!
- Protein – The best source of protein is whey. Look for at least 15 grams to help you reach the recommended daily amount of 50 grams.
If you’re an endurance athlete, talk with a specialist at your gym or a local niche store (such as RUNDetroit) to get a better understanding of what nutritional bars will work for your training schedule.
Photo credit: robertstinett