“Often marketed as a healthy alternative to sugary and fatty snacks, these bars have become a popular choice for hardcore gym goers, health conscious dieters and now anyone who wants a grab-and-go snack,” Andy Brownsell, commercial director at health, sports and travel specialist insurer Protectivity told FoodNavigator-USA. “We created the [Protein Bar Index] to find out if our favorite protein fix is really as healthy as it seems.”
Unfortunately for health conscious consumers, the answer based on the index in many cases is no.
“Our findings have revealed that many bars have more saturated fat and sugar than people may have thought. Over a third had more saturated fat than a Krispy Kreme doughnut. Of the 56 bars researched, 10 contained more sugar than the famous original glazed treat,” Brownsell said.
For example, the index reveals that the Nutramino Protein Bar Coconut has 9.9 grams of saturated fat – more than double Krispy Kreme’s 3.9 grams. The Chocolate Brownie flavor of Phd Smart bar comes in a close second with 7.1 grams of saturated fat and Yorkie’s protein Chocolate Crisp bar had 6.9 grams, making up almost 17% of the bar’s contents.
“In terms of sugar, PowerBar’s Protein Plus 30% Lemon Cheesecake is at the top of the chart with 19.5 grams of sugar compared to Krispy Kreme’s 12.6 grams,” Brownsell said. “The same bar, but the Vanilla Coconut flavor, comes in just underneath with 18.9 grams and when looking at the percentage it was Yorkie that came out on top again, with sugar making up 39% of the 41.5 gram bar.”
The index also revealed that while protein bars are often associated with the clean eating trend, some have artificial sugars and colors along with the “alarmingly high amounts of fat and sugar,” Brownsell added.
Manufacturers should act now to avoid estranging consumers
Based on these findings, Protectivity urges manufacturers to re-think how they market and formulate protein bars.
“Excessive fats and sugars in snacks have been a hot topic for manufacturers for years and change is already underway. Many popular bar manufacturers are already selling bars with reduced sugar, but clearly more still needs to be done,” Brownsell said.
One solution might be clarifying what kind of exercise or activity certain bars should be paired with to help consumers choose a bar based on its nutrition rather just on its protein content or flavor, Brownsell said.
Manufacturers also may need to reformulate with healthier ingredients as consumer awareness grows, Brownsell added.
“It’s difficult to say from our data if protein bars are a passing fad or a long term ‘health’ staple. Clearly there will also be a desire for quick, easy and healthy snacks so there’s little reason to believe that they won’t stick around,” Brownsell said. “However, as consumers become more aware, there’s no doubt that the market will need to adapt with a greater focus on healthier ingredients