It happens to the best of us. You’re busy, you’re hungry, you need a fast food fix and you also want something to satisfy your sweet craving. For most of us, that’s a signal to grab a chocolate bar and munch away as we carry on with the day.
But in recent years we’ve seen a vast array of protein bars emerge, which, as the name suggests, implies that they are a healthy alternative to chocolate bars because of their protein content. But are they? Here are some key nutritional facts about them.
Protein bars typically contain 10 to 30 grams of protein, whereas a 50g bar of Cadbury dairy milk chocolate contains less than 4 grams. Some protein bars use protein sources such as yoghurt powder, milk powder, soya, pea, brown rice, and dairy proteins like whey and casein. Others may also use nuts, seeds, and egg whites.
So, at first glance, these bars certainly appear to be a healthy alternative to chocolate, based on their protein content. And keep in mind that a person who weighs around 75 kilograms should have 60 grams of protein each day to maintain muscle mass, so a protein bar delivers 50% of that.
The calorie content of protein bars varies markedly but looking at two popular brands available from the supermarket, a 60g Quest caramel chocolate chunk protein bar comes in at 188 calories (with 20 grams of protein) and a 60g Atkins Chocolate Decadence bar comes in at 253 calories (with 18 grams of protein). Contrast this to that 50g Cadbury dairy milk chocolate bar, which contains 265 calories. So, in terms of overall calories, there’s not a substantial difference, but from a nutritional standpoint, it’s much better for you if your calories contain lots of protein rather than being mostly carbs and sugar.
If you’re buying protein bars from the supermarket, it’s best to head to the health food aisle. Don’t be fooled by the snack bars that masquerade as protein bars (which you’ll find in the muesli bar aisle) – these generally have a similar calorie content but contain less than half the protein.
Of course, when there are calories, there’s usually some form of fat. An average-sized protein bar has calories coming from 2 to 12 grams of fat. A milk chocolate bar is not too far away with 15 grams of fat. However, it’s important to note that fat is not necessarily a bad thing. If it comes from healthy sources, such as nuts and seeds, these are healthy fats that our body needs to supply energy and support brain function.
Using our examples from earlier, that Quest caramel chocolate chunk protein bar has 4 grams of carbs (of which 1 gram comes from sugar) and the Atkins Chocolate Decadence bar has just 1.6 grams of carbs (of which 0.8 grams come from sugar). On the other hand, that Cadbury dairy milk chocolate bar has 28.7grams of carbs (of which 28 grams come from sugar).
Tips on picking the right protein bar
Since there are heaps of different protein bars out there, and it’s easy to choose the wrong one - here are our top tips to help pick the right protein bar for you:
The bottom line
The answer to whether protein bars are a healthy alternative to chocolate is maybe. Unfortunately, there isn’t a definitive answer since it all depends on your body’s needs, and the key here is to check the nutrition facts before buying one. Our busy lifestyles can make it easy to neglect our nutrition and consequently our health.
While protein bars and chocolates are convenient, nothing beats natural protein sources like meat, eggs, tofu and dairy. The odd naughty snack every now and then won’t hurt, but if bad food choices are happening on a daily basis and you’d like a little financial help get you back on the right nutritional track, we’re here to help. Just take a look at our cash loans up to $5,000 to find out how quick and easy it is to get your hands on some extra funds. Once a loan is approved, the cash is usually in your bank account within a few hours – so you can fill up your kitchen with really healthy sources of protein and good food choices.