Protein bars not as healthy as people think

Many are highly processed, high in fat and sugar
  • Deborah Condon

While many people may assume that protein bars are healthy, the reality is that these products are highly processed foods with a calorie content similar to that of a bar of chocolate, a new research report by Safefood has revealed.

According to its findings, chocolate is the main ingredient in almost 40% of protein bars on sale in Ireland, and 77% of these products are high in saturated fat and contain added sugar and salt.

Safefood looked at 83 high-protein snack foods and drinks available for sale in supermarkets throughout Ireland. These included 39 protein bars, as well as products such as yoghurts and milk drinks. A survey of over 2,000 consumers was also carried out.

Of the 39 protein bars assessed, the average size was 55g, with an average cost of €2.27, although some bars cost as much as €3.

The research report noted that according to Bord Bia, there was an almost 500% increase in products launched between 2010 and 2016, which included a high-protein claim.

"We've witnessed a significant and consistent upsurge in the number and variety of foods and drinks for sale which claim to be 'high-protein'. From bars to milks and yoghurts, high-protein foods have now become mainstream in our supermarkets.

"When we asked people about protein bars, a third of them thought they were healthy. However, many of these bars are, in reality, highly processed foods with a calorie content similar to that of a bar of chocolate," commented Dr Catherine Conlon, director of human health and nutrition with Safefood.

She noted that the research shows that men and women are generally consuming enough protein in their diet, and so they do not need "this extra, highly processed protein".

Furthermore, there is no evidence to suggest that consumption of protein above the recommended intake levels provides healthy individuals with any additional health benefits.

Safefood said that it is evident that commercial high-protein snack foods, particularly protein bars, are not as healthy as perceived by customers.

"Processed snack foods high in protein need to be combined with fat, sugar or salt in order to make them tasty. People would be better sticking to natural sources of protein in their diet, which tend to be much healthier.

"If you need a source of protein as a snack, alternatives like some nuts, a small glass of milk or a yoghurt is the way to go instead of these foods with added chocolate," Dr Conlon added.

The research report can be viewed here.


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