What’s Really In That Protein Bar?

Sometimes I feel that being a coach is kind of like being a parent (in the loosest sense). Clients will ask questions all day, and most of the questions have to do with food. “Can I eat this?”, “Is ___ bad for me?”, etc.

It all depends on what their goals are, but usually if you have to ask, the answer is no. Michael Pollan has a food rule that I really like to live by: “Don’t eat anything with ingredients a third grader couldn’t pronounce”. While it doesn’t encompass everything you shouldn’t eat, it certainly narrows down the list. Protein bars are one of the items on a long list of products that are full of ingredients. The unique problem with that is most people eat them because they feel it will help with fat loss, muscle gain and so on. A lot of people tend to fall for the flashy label and the “organic/natural” logos on the front and forget to look at the ingredients. More often that not a protein bar will actually contain more sugar than protein.

I am going to look at the ingredients of 3 major protein bars and see what kind of crap I can come up with. I won’t be looking at things like saturated fat content though, because we like our fat, don’t we?

Clif Builder Bar

Ingredients: Soy Protein Isolate, Beet Juice Concentrate, Organic Brown Rice Syrup, Organic Evaporated Cane Juice, Palm Kernel Oil, Unsweetened Chocolate, Organic Rolled Oats, Cocoa, Organic Soy Protein Concentrate, Organic Sunflower Oil, Vegetable Glycerin, Natural Flavors, Organic Dry Roasted Almonds, Rice Starch, Evaporated Cane Juice, Inulin (Chicory Extract), Cocoa Butter, Organic Milled Flaxseed, Organic Oat Fiber, Soy Lecithin, Salt, Red Cabbage Color.

A big selling point for these bars is that they are “32%” organic. Well that’s great, except organic sweeteners are still sweeteners, and they are 2 of the first 4 ingredients. I count a total of 4 sweeteners in this product, the brown rice syrup, evaporated cane juice (it’s on there twice) and the vegetable glycerin. In addition to this, the protein in this bar comes from two versions of soy. Soy protein is not an effective alternative to animal based protein. It is high in antibodies, and the more soy you eat, the more likely you are to develop allergies to it. Unless the soy has been fermented, it will contain protein enzyme inhibitors that block the the enzymes need for protein digestion.

Not exactly what you want when you are trying to eat more protein, is it?

Met-RX BIG 100

INGREDIENTS: METAMYOSYN® V100 Protein Blend (Whey Protein Concentrate, Milk Protein Concentrate, Calcium Sodium Caseinate, Whey Protein Isolate, Dried Egg White, L-Glutamine), Corn Syrup, Brown Rice Syrup, Sugar, High Fructose Corn Syrup, Glycerin, Milk Powder, Natural Flavors, Crystalline Fructose, Maltodextrin, Canola Oil, Water, Potassium Chloride, Corn Starch, Chocolate Liquor, Vitamin and Mineral Blend (Tricalcium Phosphate, Ascorbic Acid, Ferrous Fumarate, d-Alpha Tocopheryl Acetate, Niacinamide, Zinc Oxide, Copper Gluconate, d-Calcium Pantothenate, Vitamin A Palmitate, Pyridoxine Hydrochloride, Thiamin Mononitrate, Riboflavin, Folic Acid, Biotin, Potassium Iodide, Cyanocobalamin), Cocoa Butter, Butter Oil, Soy Lecithin, Wheat Germ, Almond Meal, Peanut Flour.

Where do I begin with this one? Ever wonder how it can taste so much like cookie dough? With the 30 grams of sweetener, it pretty much is. In addition to containing corn syrup, brown rice syrup, sugar, HFCS, glycerin, it also contains maltodextrin which has been known to cause gas and make you crap your pants. It also contains canola oil, wheat germ, and peanut flour for some strange reason. Soy makes another appearance, and corn starch shows up high on the list as well. It may contain 27 grams of protein from whey and egg whites, the trade-off is nowhere near worth it. How many of these ingredients can you pronounce?

MuscleTech Smart Protein™ Bars

Ingredients: Protein Isolate Blend (Whey Protein Isolate, Milk Protein Isolate), Soy Protein Isolate, Chocolate Coating (Maltitol, Palm Kernel Oil, Whey Protein, Sugar, Cocoa Powder, Soy Lecithin, Vanillin), Chocolate Cookie Pieces (Wheat Flour, Sugar, Partially Hydrogenated Soybean and/or Cottonseed Oil, Cocoa (Processed with Alkali), Salt, and Sodium Bicarbonate), Glycerine, Polydextrose, Corn Syrup, Water, Hydrolyzed Gelatin, Fractionated Palm Kernel Oil, Sugar, Rice Flour, Cocoa (Processed with Alkali), Fructose, Natural and Artificial Flavors, Chocolate Liquor, Non Fat Dry Milk, Salt, Soy Lecithin, Rice Starch, Sucralose, Evaporated Cane Juice, Peanut Flour, Wheat Starch, Almond Flour, Pecans, Walnuts, Cashews, Hazelnuts.

This is one of the most interesting ingredient lists I have seen in awhile. You have about 8 sweeteners present, including Hydrolyzed Gelatin (that’s a new one). We even have some trans fats from the partially hydrogenated soybean/cottonseed oil. Ever heard of polydextrose? Me neither. Polydextrose is an indigestible synthetic polymer of glucose. Fractionated Palm Kernel Oil is used to keep the chocolate from melting, and is the lowest grade of palm oil. And finally, soy makes yet another appearance. It seems to be a theme with these bars. Most soy is processed with hexane, a gasoline by-product,and since all of these bars contain soy it is safe to assume that you will be ingest some hexane as well.

Contrary to the name “meal replacement”, bars can never replace a meal, because they are so full of trash that you are better off not eating anything. If you are having trouble bringing a bunch of meals to work. Try dried coconut, nuts, making your own jerky, or leaving a gallon of milk on the fridge, like me!

Here is a video of a recipe I have used before. I use almond butter instead of peanut butter, and I don’t add any honey, I don’t think its necessary. Try it out for yourself and stop buying protein bars that are filled with trash.

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