Most of us lead busy lives juggling work, family, friends and hobbies, not to mention trying to fit in some exercise. So it is no wonder that protein bars and shakes are so appealing to us. We reach out for them when we have no time for proper meals, as a snack or after exercise. The adverts tell us everything that we want to hear: the bars are low carbohydrates, they are all natural, with 20g of protein they will keep you full for long, some are even organic. What’s more they come in flavors that are hard to refuse. But is this all too good to be true? Could the bars be actually harming our health?
The main ingredient in all protein bars is whey protein isolate. Whey protein isolate is a byproduct of cheese production. After the cheese is processed, fat is removed and the remaining solution is turned into powder by being heat-treated. While there is no published evidence which shows that whey protein isolate is toxic, there is a lot of evidence that shows that powdered milk, powdered soy and powered fiber pose significant health risks. We also know that browning meats, which are proteins, significantly increases their cancer risk. So according to Dr. Clyde Wilson it would only be natural to assume that whey powder isolate, which has been heat-treated, is rancid.
In addition, the ingredient list of a protein bar or a shake does not tell us how the whey protein isolate has been manufactured. Some believe that the production uses ultra pasteurized milk from conventional cows that were held in inhumane environments, sick, fed corn and soy and full of bovine growth hormone and antibiotics.
In my opinion, protein bars and shakes are not wholesome food and are best avoided. If you are still not convinced, consider two additional facts. Firstly, protein bars and shakes often contain many unwanted ingredients such as fructose, agave syrup, soy powder, lecithin, glycerin and high amounts of sugars, in the form of juice concentrates, syrups, artificial sweeteners and sugar alcohols. The sugars often come close second in the ingredient list or there are many different sources of sweeteners used in the production of one bar. Secondly, eating too much protein can lead to nutritional deficiencies especially if you are substituting the bars for meals or constraining carbohydrates for extended period of time. Too much protein in the diet can worsen kidney function because the body has difficulty in eliminated all the waste products.
So next time you want to reach for a protein bar or shake, stop and think twice. You are much better off having a good balanced healthy meal with vegetables, small portion of carbohydrates, good source of slow digesting protein like meat or fish and good fats. If you have a busy day plan ahead and if you really have no time try out some of these meal / snack ideas:
- Quick lunchtime meal with about 20g of protein – wallaby plain non fat Greek yogurt (17g of protein) with a little bit of honey, 1/4 cup of pumpkin seeds (3g of protein) and a 1/8 cup of steel cut oats (3.5g of protein). Putting all of these ingredients together gives you a total of 23.5 g of protein in one meal at around 275 calories. With this meal you are getting more protein at less calories than some of the high protein bars.
- Snacks which would give you 20g of protein – 1 cup of edamame (17g of protein at 189 calories), 1/2 cup of non fat mozzarella cheese (16g of protein at 75 calories), 1 small pot of Greek yogurt (17g of protein at 100 calories), 1/2 cup of peanuts (19g of protein but at 414 calories).
- After exercise protein and carb fix – organic fat free chocolate milk is a particularly good choice after exercise. Evidence shows that the carbohydrates and proteins in chocolate milk refuel the muscles better than carbohydrate sports drinks.