Americans love protein. We not only love whole food sources of protein, such as steak and cheese, we love protein bars and protein shakes and even add protein powders to our drinks. Protein bars, such as the Protein 10 Baked Bars shown below, are an easy to grab snack that will satisfy hunger, a sugar craving and boost protein intake. With 10 grams of protein on the front of the label, this bar appeals to nutritionally minded individuals, as well as athletes. But, is this the best choice? Let's take a look:
Ingredients in Protein 10 Baked Bars
Whole grain rolled oats, INVERT SUGAR, soy protein isolate, peanuts, FRUCTOSE, whey protein isolate, BROWN SUGAR, oat flour, semisweet chocolate chips (SUGAR, chocolate liquor, cocoa butter, soy lecithin, vanilla extract), glycerin, HONEY, TAPIOCA SYRUP, enriched wheat flour (wheat flour, niacin, reduced iron, thiamin mononitrate, riboflavin, folic acid), water, SUGAR, soy lecithin, rice starch, palm oil, canola oil, palm kernel oil, natural flavor, MALTED BARLEY EXTRACT, salt, xanthan gum, sodium bicarbonate, cocoa (processed with alkali), nonfat dry milk, tocopherols, corn starch, modified corn starch, cellulose gum, almonds, cashews, vegetable oil (peanut, cottonseed, hydrogenated soybean and/or sunflower seed).
Processed Protein + Sugar + Food Additives
Although each bar contains 10 grams of protein per serving, each bar also contains:
By eating this bar, we might be getting 10 grams of protein, but we get even more sugar - 13 grams per serving. Sugar is shown in all caps in the ingredient list above because with 43 ingredients, it's difficult to identify the seven different types of sugar found in this bar.
On average, women need 46 grams of protein a day and men need 56 grams of protein a day. The amount of protein needed per day varies from individual to individual and is a controversial topic. Vegetarians, pregnant women and athletes need more protein. To read more, visit our Protein Recommendations page.
Sources of Protein
To meet protein needs, choose whole food sources rather than a processed snack bar. Protein amounts in some common whole foods are shown below.
Single Nutrient Effect
Protein 10 Baked Bars are classic nutritional doublethink. The use of baked and protein on the front of the package implies the product is healthy, yet we know a chocolate peanut butter bar is more like a cookie than a health food. It's easy to be drawn to the amount of protein in the bar. This is called the single nutrient effect. The single nutrient effect creates a focus on one nutrient we think we need and allows us to ignore every other ingredient in a product, even if we know the other ingredients may be unhealthy.
To avoid falling for the single nutrient effect, always check the ingredient list when shopping. If you don't recognize the ingredients or there are more than 5 ingredients, put it back on the shelf.
Christine Dobrowolski is a nutritionist and whole-foods advocate.