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Healthy & Wise Newsletter | Protein Bars: Better Nutrition Through Science?

Protein Bars: Better Nutrition Through Science?

Modern food manufacturing practices allow us to get the protein and vitamins we need in a single bar. It seems too good to be true. Is it?

That depends, says Beverly Kindblade, MS, RD, CD, nutritionist and faculty member at Bastyr Center for Natural Health, on whether you are eating protein bars as an occasional snack or a meal replacement. “They can serve a purpose in certain situations,” she says, “but in our rush-rush world, people are living off these.” And it’s not only protein bars into which we’ve crammed our nutritional qualifications; we also consume powders and other fortified foods, seeking a quick boost of nutrition.

One potential problem with this is protein overload, which can stress the liver and kidneys in certain disease conditions such as diabetes. Protein consumption is definitely “in,” but protein deficiencies are actually rare. “Most of us are getting 100 percent of our protein needs [about 60-75 grams per day], because protein exists in all foods except oils and fruits,” says Kindblade. Even the NIH now recognizes that a well-rounded vegetarian diet provides adequate protein. A typical Western diet, with its reliance on animal proteins, can provide 100-160 grams per day. Add extra fortified foods, and you can exceed 200 grams per day.

Another serious concern, says Kindblade, is iron overload in men, which increases heart-attack risk. Men should steer clear of protein bars and nutritional supplements containing iron. She also notes that most fortified foods should never be given to infants or children unless prescribed by a physician.

One ingredient found in most protein bars is actually implicated in obesity: high fructose corn syrup. When we eat too many prepackaged foods, we are also not getting enough phytonutrients. Phytonutrients are plant pigments that provide cancer-fighting and heart-protective benefits. “Whole foods give us nutrients we don’t even know exist yet,” says Kindblade. So, next time you go shopping, buy some carrots and hummus, apples and nuts. Pre-make some bean burritos for the week, and carry around a small cooler if necessary. Scientific advances may make life more convenient, but nature provides an abundance of fresh foods for a good reason -- to be the fuel for a healthy life.

Writer: Sydney Maupin, staff writer
Source: Beverly Kindblade, MS, RD, CD

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