The Ingredients That Shouldn't Be In The Protein Bar You're Eating

Protein bars are marketed as a healthy snack for dieters and gym-goers. Many claim to contain a hefty dose of protein, amino acids, and vitamins that make on-the-go protein supplementation easy. Unfortunately, some protein bars are no better than candy bars. "When you get right down to it, a Snickers bar isn't all that much worse than many nutrition bars. For example, the difference in calories shrinks when the portion sizes are equalized," Dr. Robert H. Shmerling, senior faculty editor, writes in Harvard Health Publishing.

A protein bar comparison found that amongst 50 top brands, some bars had nearly 50 grams of carbohydrates and 20 grams of sugar per serving (via Protectivity Insurance). A Snickers bar, by comparison, contains around 27 grams of sugar, notes Dr. Shmerling. While it's true that protein bars may pack more nutrition than chocolate bars, it doesn't automatically mean they're healthy. So how can you tell the difference between healthy and unhealthy ones?

The worst ingredients in protein bars

You may be surprised to learn that some protein bars contain sugar, dextrose, fructose, and other questionable ingredients that can actually hinder our health goals. "Some bars don't have nearly as much protein as they let on and can be chock full of carbs and fats," sports nutritionist, Sohee Lee, told Insider. Thus, reading nutrition labels can become imperative before purchasing.

Holistic nutritionist, Joy McCarthy, additionally warns about the dangers of soy protein isolate, high-fructose corn syrup, sugar, and other sneaky ingredients lurking on the ingredients lists (via The Globe and Mail). For example, soy protein isolate is highly processed and may cause digestive distress. High-fructose corn syrup, another common ingredient, can lead to diabetes, obesity, fatty liver, and cardiovascular issues.

Some protein bars, especially those coated with chocolate, may also contain hydrogenated palm oil. This ingredient is heavily processed and loaded with saturated fat, explains McCarthy. Artificial sweeteners, natural flavorings, and butylated hydroxytoluene (BHT) can be harmful too. BHT, for instance, has been linked to thyroid issues, endocrine disruption, and kidney disfunction. Artificial sweeteners are considered safe, but they can increase sugar cravings and alter your taste buds, explains Harvard Health Publishing

Healthier protein bar ingredients

Taking a quick glance at the ingredients label of your favorite protein bars can help ensure you're choosing wisely. Personal trainer, Shannon Clark, recommends checking the total calorie count as well as the fat and carb content (via Also, it may help to consider what your overall goals are. For example, it doesn't make sense to snack on a 400-calorie bar if you're trying to stay lean. You'd be better off eating 400 calories of healthy whole foods. But if you're having a hard time building mass, you may benefit from getting more calories in your diet. Muscle growth may, in fact, require additional calories.

Ideally, look for protein bars with around 30 grams of carbohydrates per serving. Choose one that's low in fat, especially if you're going to eat it after hitting the gym, suggests Clark. Dietary fat slows protein and carbohydrate digestion, preventing your muscles from promptly absorbing these nutrients, explains Generally, look for protein bars with at least 6 grams of fiber and no more than 6 to 8 grams of sugar, recommends Intermountain Healthcare. If you're trying to get leaner, look for a 2:1 ratio of protein to carbs. A 1:2 ratio works better for muscle growth, notes Clark.