June 19, 2024

In the late 1980s, two distance runners who were living
together in the Bay Area blended vitamins, oat bran, milk protein, and corn
syrup in their kitchen, concocting what would become a PowerBar, one of the
first modern protein bars. By the mid-1990s, it was a phenomenon — what one
writer for The New York Times called “a high-octane snack for yuppies and
fitness freaks”.اضافة اعلان

Today, though, protein bars are everywhere, and their branding
has expanded far beyond exercise fanatics. They are presented as healthy snacks
for when you are on the go or even as part of a self-care routine. Grocery
stores, gas stations, supermarkets, gyms, and pharmacies now carry colorfully
wrapped hunks of whey protein, marketed as energy-supplying health foods,
despite coming in flavors such as cookie dough and lemon cake. The global
market for protein bars is growing quickly and expected to swell to more than
$2 billion by the end of 2026, according to the financial analysis site,
MarketWatch.

“You can put ‘keto’ or ‘protein’ on a candy bar and sell it, and people don’t even question it.”

“We’ve just gone completely off the rails with protein in recent
years,” said Hannah Cutting-Jones, a food historian and director of the food
studies program at the University of Oregon.

Manufacturers of these products would have you believe that they
can improve your health and your workout. The website for Clif Bar shows people
hurling kettlebells or racing through the rain; Gatorade describes its protein
bar as “scientifically designed for athletes.” Others seem to brand themselves
under the squishy umbrella of wellness. Their marketing features photos and
videos of serene women writing in journals, with tips for preventing burnout on
the side.

Despite the advertising, though, nutrition experts say that
protein bars are not all that healthy.

“You can put ‘keto’ or ‘protein’ on a candy bar and sell it, and
people don’t even question it,” said Janet Chrzan, an adjunct assistant
professor of nutritional anthropology at the University of Pennsylvania.

Protein is an important part of our dietThere is no question that our bodies need protein for building,
maintaining, and repairing muscles, said Anthony DiMarino, a registered
dietitian with the Cleveland Clinic’s Center for Human Nutrition. Protein also
makes up our hair, skin, nails, and organs; and the amino acids in proteins
help our brains function. Perhaps because of that, protein stands alone in the
world of wellness. Over the past 40 years, fad diets that vilify sugars, fats,
and carbs have come in and out of fashion.

But many of the most popular diets, past and current, prioritize
protein, associating it with weight loss, Chrzan said. “We value protein so
much that it’s the central thing on our plate,” she said.

Protein is likely to fill you up more than simple carbs will. … That may be because protein helps our bodies release hormones that keep hunger at bay.

People also instinctively associate protein with fitness, said
Marion Nestle, a professor of nutrition, food studies, and public health at New
York University. When they eat protein bars, “people think they’re doing
something good for their health,” she said.

You would be hard-pressed to find an American who actually needs
more protein, though, said Eric Rimm, a professor of epidemiology and nutrition
at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. Most meat eaters get far more
than the recommended daily dose of protein. And those who do not eat meat can
get enough protein from plant sources including tofu, nuts, and legumes.

Are protein bars health foods?Protein is likely to fill you up more than simple carbs will,
Rimm said. That may be because protein helps our bodies release hormones that
keep hunger at bay.

But many protein bars are also full of sugar. A chocolate chip
Clif Bar, for example, contains 16 grams of added sugars, more than what is in
a serving of Thin Mints. A Gatorade protein bar in the flavor chocolate chip
contains 28 grams of added sugars, twice the amount in a Dunkin’ Donuts
chocolate frosted doughnut with sprinkles.

“By and large, they’re highly processed, high in sugar and salt
— kind of a ‘Frankenfood,’” Cutting-Jones said. Rimm agreed: Many protein bars
are really just “candy bars with a lot more protein,” he said.

Protein bars might make sense for someone who needs to increase
their protein intake — for example, a vegan who does not get enough protein
from their diet, or someone who just had an intense workout, DiMarino said. But
for the average person, adding another punch of protein into your diet —
particularly when it comes with a lot of added sugar — is not going to make you
healthier.

“It’s a snack for when you’re in a pinch,” said Stephanie
Urrutia, director of performance nutrition at the Department of Intercollegiate
Athletics at UCLA, such as “if you’re going up the side of the mountain, if you
can’t grab a full meal.” But it is not meant to be an actual replacement for a
meal, she said.

Some bars are worse than othersNot all protein bars are created equal in terms of their
ingredients and nutritional content. If you do want to reach for a protein bar,
pay attention to the nutrition facts label. Opt for those with ingredients that
you recognize, Nestle said. “If they’re largely nuts and fruit — that’s not
bad,” she said.

“It’s a snack for when you’re in a pinch.”… But it is not meant to be an actual replacement for a meal.

If you are having a protein bar as a snack or post-workout
supplement, aim for a one that has roughly 200 calories per serving, DiMarino
said, with fewer than 5 grams of fat and 5 grams of added sugar. And the amount
of protein it contains can vary from bar to bar, but he said you might want to
aim for one with 15 to 20 grams per serving.

You also might consider opting for a different snack that’s just
as portable and nutritious, Rimm said, such as grapes, a banana, an apple or
yogurt with berries. Nestle suggested a handful of nuts and DiMarino
recommended tuna or hard-boiled eggs, which are high in protein but not
processed. But you likely do not need to stress about ensuring you’re meeting,
or exceeding, your daily protein allotment.

“People just need to relax about protein intake,” Cutting-Jones
said.

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