Eating Protein Bars Has An Unexpected Effect On Your Cholesterol

Protein bars have come a long way in the past several decades. In the past, you only found them in health food or vitamin stores, but now you can pick one up at any vending machine or convenience store. Protein bars are an easy way to add a little more protein to help build muscle after a workout. The heavy amount of protein in these bars can be a great snack between meals or a somewhat healthier alternative to a donut for long car rides.

While a protein bar might be an easy grab on the go, take a closer look at the nutrition label and ingredients. Many of them might highlight the huge amount of protein on the front, but they might hide the amount of calories, processed ingredients, and added sugars on the back. Halfway through eating a single protein bar, you might be shocked at how much saturated fat you're getting. According to a 2023 article in the Journal of Nutritional Science, saturated fats in foods block the LDL receptors in your body, which makes it harder for your body to remove cholesterol from your blood. Some of your more popular brands of protein bars have more than half of your daily recommended amount of saturated fat, which could inch up your cholesterol levels.

Some protein bars have more saturated fat than others

If you're watching your cholesterol, the American Heart Association says to limit your amount of saturated fats to 6% of your total calories for the day. That comes to just 13 grams a day for a 2,000-calorie diet. A MET-Rx Protein Plus Peanut Butter Cup has 6 grams of saturated fat in a 300-calorie bar. You'll also get a lot of processed ingredients and sugar alcohol. A Power Crunch Red Velvet bar has 8 grams of saturated fat from palm oil, which puts you at more than half your limit for the day. You'll also get 8 grams of added sugar.

A Quest Nutrition Lemon Cake is a little better at 2.5 grams of saturated fat from palm kernel oil, but you'd probably be better off with a chocolate sea salt RX Bar with just 2 grams of saturated fat. The RX Bar is one of the healthiest protein bars. It has fewer ingredients than other bars (and ones you can pronounce) as well as 5 grams of fiber that comes from dates and nuts.

Cholesterol in food probably doesn't matter

Eggs have gotten a bad reputation for being high in cholesterol, but a single egg has just 1.6 grams of saturated fat with 186 milligrams of cholesterol. Your protein bars have relatively low cholesterol and more protein compared to eggs. However, most people can eat eggs every day because the cholesterol in your food isn't the same as the cholesterol in your blood. Many observational studies have found no link between dietary cholesterol and blood cholesterol, but a 2019 article in Circulation from the American Heart Association said that dietary cholesterol might increase total cholesterol but not the LDL cholesterol that leads to heart disease.

Even if you choose foods that are low in saturated fat or cholesterol, it makes a difference what foods you substitute for them. According to a 2020 article in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, you should swap out saturated fats for foods rich in unsaturated fats rather than refined carbohydrates and added sugars. In other words, look for a protein bar that's low in saturated fats without processed carbs and sugars. Polyunsaturated fats found in walnuts, flaxseeds, and sunflower seeds are the best replacement for saturated fats to lower your LDL cholesterol.