Gluten-free protein bars are an easy way to get protein when you are busy and on the go. Those of you experiencing stress may want to opt for gluten-free protein bars. This article will give information on what to look for when choosing a protein bar and which gluten-free protein bars can provide you with most of this needed nutrient.
Protein Is Needed for Stress Relief
Protein is a building block of life needed by every cell.
It is an essential nutrient that helps the body thrive and function. Protein should be consumed at every meal. Protein can come from both plants and animals. Sources of protein include the following: dairy, eggs, beef, poultry, pork, fish and seafood, nuts, seeds, legumes, and vegetables.
Protein is also a nutrient needed to combat the physical effects of stress, anxiety, and depression. Neurotransmitters in the brain are made from amino acids which are the building blocks of protein. Dopamine and serotonin are neurotransmitters made from amino acids. They lower stress in the body. If there is a lack of protein in the diet there will be a decrease in the number of these compounds in the brain affecting mood and increasing stress levels [R R].
A Busy Life Can Lead to Stress and Reduced Protein Intake
A busy lifestyle can lead to stress and anxiety. If your nutrition is compromised by not getting enough protein you could be putting your health at risk. Higher levels of stress were associated with lower intakes of protein [R].
If you are someone who is busy and constantly on the go, protein can be a hard nutrient to come by especially if you don’t have time to sit down to make a meal. One easy way to get protein into your diet is with gluten-free protein bars.
Chronic Stress May Lead to Gluten Sensitivity
Why gluten-free protein bars? Chronic stress may put you at risk for food sensitivities including Non-Celiac Gluten Food Sensitivity (NCGS).
Stress affects us in multiple ways. Emotional stress can affect our mood, while the physical effects of stress will put a strain on our bodies. The digestive system is affected when the body is undergoing the stress response [R].
Stress Produces An Inflammatory Response
Stress produces the hormone cortisol. Cortisol is produced as a response for the body to deal with stress. Chronic stress leads to elevated levels of cortisol. Frequent production of cortisol weakens immunity and the health of the gut.
In a state of stress, the body’s immune system will also create an inflammatory response as protection against invaders.
Normally cortisol would inhibit inflammation that occurs during the stress response. However, the continual production of the stress hormone leads to the inflammatory response becoming desensitized and cortisol becomes ineffective [R].
Someone undergoing chronic stress will repeatedly experience inflammation. This weakens the gut wall. A compromised gut lining results in a permeable gut. Bacteria and toxins will enter the body and change the bacterial balance of the microbiome. Food sensitivities like gluten intolerance can then develop [R].
Some research suggests that anxiety, depression, and stress are also tied to gluten sensitivity.
Anxiety levels were reduced by 13 percent of people who partook in a gluten-free diet [R].
When studied those with gluten sensitivity felt an increase in depressive feelings after consuming gluten for 3 days when compared with a placebo [R].
One study showed mood to be improved only after a few days of a blinded gluten-free challenge. This has illustrated the short-term effects of gluten on mood [R].
A lot of the research on anxiety, stress, and gluten was limited in its size and scope. Further larger clinical trials need to be done to get a clearer understanding of how anxiety and stress may lead to gluten-sensitivities and if gluten is a neurological trigger for anxiety, stress, and depression [R].
Gluten Sensitivity May Hinder Protein Absorption
Amino acids make up the building blocks of protein. Gluten sensitivities may lead to poor digestion and malabsorption of these compounds. As a result of this poor nutrition, amino acid deficiencies can develop.
Anxiety has been linked with inadequate protein intake. Amino acids are also essential in helping the body to fight stress [R]. Getting enough protein in the diet is helpful to combat stress and anxiety.
Healthy Gluten-Free Protein Snacks When You’re On the Go
Protein is needed at every meal. This means having protein snacks throughout the day as well. Healthy protein snacks may be time-consuming to make when you’re constantly on the go.
Nutrition bars were created to alleviate this problem. Protein snack bars are a type of nutrition bars that give you an abundant amount of protein and other nutrients in one place. For those with gluten sensitivities, gluten-free protein bars are a good alternative for those who cannot have gluten.
Are Gluten-Free Protein Bars Healthy?
Gluten-free protein bars provide ample protein, carbs, and fat in a convenient package to have on hand when your hunger strikes.
These protein bars can also provide needed nutrients such as fiber that will help you feel satisfied between meals. Fiber helps regulate digestion. It may also protect the body against stress. Stress can affect gut health by reducing the number of healthy bacteria. When digested fiber creates compounds that are found to possibly reduce the damage done to the gut by stress [R, R].
The nutrients found in these nutrition bars can also provide a boost of energy that may help you pre and post-workout [R].
Depending on what it is made of gluten-free protein bars can be part of a healthy diet. You just need to know what to look for when choosing a protein bar.
Downsides of Gluten-Free Protein Bars
With gluten sensitivities becoming more prevalent gluten-free protein bars are becoming a popular item being manufactured. Looks can be deceiving when it comes to gluten-free protein bars.
Too Much Sugar May Promote Physical Stress On The Body
A ton of cereal and protein bars that claim to be the healthiest nutrition bars. On the outside, the bar is screaming “I’m healthy” but may really be a candy bar in disguise.
Stress has also been shown to affect blood sugar levels. A 2010 review indicated that those with depression, anxiety, or stress could potentially be at risk for developing type 2 diabetes. People with type 2 diabetes will also have higher blood sugar levels if they are stressed out [R, R]
Those who are highly stressed should limit the intake of foods that hinder the body’s ability to deal with stress. Sugar is one such food that should be monitored [R].
Hidden sugar is rampant in food production. Knowing how much sugar is in your food is key to a healthy diet and reducing the physical effects of stress. According to the World Health Organization added sugar consumption should be at or less than 25 grams (6.25 teaspoons) a day. Those with health conditions should stick to a lower number of around 15 grams (about 4 teaspoons) a day [R].
Sugar and Other Sweeteners Found In Gluten-Free Protein Bars
Sugar is put in protein bars to enhance the flavor. Sweeteners come in many forms. Some are naturally derived from foods like brown rice syrup, dates, beets, stevia, and monk fruit.
Others are synthesized in a lab. These are known as artificial sweeteners and sugar alcohols. Artificial sweeteners were created as a way to consume sweet foods without having the calories of sugar. Sugar alcohols are sugars that are made from plants.
Similar to sugar, artificial sweeteners, and sugar alcohols may also initiate the stress response due to changes that occur in the gut from consuming these products [R].
- Saccharin: (Equal, Sweet N Low)
- Sucralose (Splenda)
- Aspartame (Equal Classic, NutraSweet)
- Maltitol syrup
- Hydrogenated starch hydrolysates.
Stevia & Monk Fruit as Alternative Sweeteners
Stevia and Monk fruit are two sweeteners that seem to be a more natural alternative to artificial sweeteners and sugar alcohols.
Stevia comes from the leaves of the stevia plant, Stevia rebaudiana, or “honey leaf.” Its sweet taste comes from steviol glycosides found in the plant. Some brands will add other sweeteners or additives to the stevia powder which is not really necessary since it is already 200 to 350 times sweeter than sugar.
Preliminary research on stevia showed it to be beneficial in blood sugar control, but like other sweeteners, it may affect gut health by inhibiting the growth of beneficial bacteria [R].
Stevia consumption was shown to increase levels of the stress hormone cortisol after a week of consumption when compared with those taking a placebo. It is thought that stevia may inhibit an enzyme that creates cortisone from cortisol [R].
Monk fruit is extracted from the monk fruit. It is 150 to 250 times sweeter than regular sugar. It has no calories and does not elevate blood sugar. It has been considered safe for those with diabetes and has been found to be anti-inflammatory [R].
It may seem monk fruit would be a great sweetener option, but there is limited evidence on how it affects the gut. Research indicates other sweeteners can impact bacteria and gut lining so there is a chance that this could happen with monk fruit as well [R].
More research needs to be done to know the long-term effects of stevia and monk fruit [R].
Too Much Protein Could Be Harmful
The other problem with protein bars is they may provide more protein than needed depending on what else is being consumed in the diet. If you are eating protein in excess it will not give any additional health benefits.
The risk of cancer, heart disease, and bone, liver, and kidney disorders was associated with elevated protein intakes above the recommended dietary allowance (RDA) of 0.8 grams per kg of body weight [R].
However, those under stress should be getting more protein in their diet. This is also the case among those with an active lifestyle. The needs for protein are around 1.2 grams per kg of weight.
A good rule of thumb is to calculate your protein needs and compare it with what you currently are consuming. This is done by dividing the body weight by 2.2 and multiplying it by 0.8 and 1.2.
So someone who is 100 lbs would be 45 kg and their protein needs would be 36 and 54 grams a day.
If you find you are lacking in protein it may be helpful to find healthy gluten-free protein bars for those times when you need to eat but are on the go.
Protein Bars May Have Cross Contaminants
Protein bars will say they are gluten-free but will have a label on the back saying there may be traces of wheat or glutinous grains. To avoid any cross-contamination you want to make sure you’re buying a certified gluten-free protein bar.
If you have other food allergies or sensitivities and need to be dairy-free or soy-free be sure that the wrapper specifies it is free of these foods.
Protein Bars Could Have a Lot of Sodium
Depending on your salt intake and sensitivity to salt you may want to be aware of the sodium content of protein bars. If they have natural ingredients without processed salts they will tend to have lower salt levels. It is best to look for bars without added salt. Some foods have salt naturally occurring and will be higher than other bars. Sodium is an essential nutrient and is needed for optimal fluid balance. Typically a low salt food is 130 mg or less. Regardless of your sodium needs, you should be adding vegetables to your daily intake to help lower salt levels from food and balance out your electrolytes.
What To Look for When Choosing Gluten-Free Protein Bars
There are a lot of snack bars out there that can actually give you the nutrition you need. You just need to know what to look for when choosing your gluten-free protein bars.
To be sure you are getting the best bars. You want to opt for more natural protein bars. Protein bar nutrition is important that is why you want to get a product that contains wholesome, quality ingredients that provide adequate nutrition with little to no added sugar.
Look for Low to No Added Sugar in Gluten-Free Protein Bars
You will see things like sugar-free, no added sugar, or low sugar bars on food labels. These all have different meanings when it comes to how much sugar is actually in a product.
Sugar-Free Protein Bars
Sugar-free bars will have less than 0.5 grams of sugar per serving. This also includes naturally occurring and added sugar. Depending on the serving there could be quite a few grams of sugar present as well.
Protein Bars with Low Sugar
Protein Bars with low Sugar will have less than 5g of sugar per 100 grams. Low-sugar foods may also contain artificial sweeteners, sugar alcohols, stevia, and or monk fruit.
No Sugar Added Sugar Protein Bars
Protein bars without sugar added are bars with no sugar added to them during processing. There can be sugar that naturally occurs in the food.
If you are in need of protein bars without sugar you want to check the ingredient list to see if it contains one of the 56 names for added sugar. If you see one of these ingredients listed you will know there is some minimal sugar that was added to the protein bar.
Zero Sugar Protein Bar
Also, beware of the zero sugar protein bar. Just because a protein bar says zero sugar does not mean it does not contain any sugar. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) allows food companies to list foods at 0 grams if they contain less than 1 gram of that ingredient per serving. However, there have been times when sugar was actually in the product. This misleads consumers into thinking there is no sugar in certain products.
Final Thought On Sugar In Gluten-Free Protein Bars
When choosing a protein bar your health and stress levels should be taken into consideration. A lot of sweeteners including sugar can impact gut health. A healthy gut is needed for stress relief so ultimately you want to opt for protein bars with no sugar or other sweeteners. Look for gluten-free protein bars that are naturally flavored or contain 16 grams or less total sugar.
Look for A Natural Protein Source in Gluten-Free Protein Bars
Anything can appear to be a healthy protein bar on the surface. Protein bar nutrition facts only tell you how many grams of protein are found. It does not tell you what is actually in the product. That is why you want to check out the ingredient list. This will tell if they are all-natural protein bars.
Protein bars can have an ingredient list that is as long as a newspaper article. Personally, for me the fewer ingredients, the better. I like to stick with bars that are as close to whole food ingredients as possible.
Like with fiber intake you want to make sure you are getting protein bars high in protein. This means at least 8 grams of protein per serving. If you are looking to build muscle the recommended intake is up to 20 grams per serving [R]. Protein intake should not exceed 20 grams per serving.
While it can be hard to find the perfect protein bar. There are a few bars out there that are closer to a natural protein source. These include ingredients like nuts, seeds, dairy, and even meats.
Look for High Fiber Protein Bars
Stress has also been found to affect the digestive system in some people leading to constipation, diarrhea, and irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) [R].
Like protein, fiber is an essential nutrient that may help with stress.
Fiber In Protein Bars Works As Prebiotic for Friendly Bacteria
When digested in the gut healthy bacteria in the gut convert fiber into short-chain fatty acids (SCFA). These compounds are found to help improve immune function and metabolism [R].
Stress has been known to hinder immune function and gut health so it was proposed that an increase in fiber may help to alleviate the effects of stress on the gastrointestinal system.
To test this hypothesis mice were exposed to stress-induced tests for a period of three weeks after receiving seven days worth of SCFA supplemented drinking.
Their blood was measured for levels of the stress hormone cortisol. Their feces was checked to see if there were any changes in the number of healthy microbes in their gut after consuming the supplemented drinking water.
Mice who consumed the supplemented water expressed “less reward-seeking behavior.” They were also less likely to gain stress-induced weight showing they were better able to cope with stress. These mice also had to have a healthier functioning gut with no changes in the balance of microbes in the large intestine [R].
Another study showed a diet high in fiber led to the production of the SCFA known as acetate. The high fiber diet led to changes in the microbiome that can lead to beneficial bacteria that may protect against cardiovascular disease [R].
While these results are promising for the positive effects of fiber on stress, more human studies need to be carried out to show if the results can be reproduced in humans.
Regardless of whether fiber helps lower stress, other research shows we know that is an important nutrient that everyone needs to consume and is often lacking in many people’s diets.
Fiber is important for helping to regulate digestion, promoting the production of healthy bacteria, and helping to lower the risk for heart disease, diabetes, and colon cancer [R].
Fiber can be found in fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, and gluten-free grains (buckwheat, millet, amaranth, gluten-free oats, brown rice, quinoa, teff, etc).
Fiber should be consumed at every meal. The recommended daily intake for fiber is about 35 grams a day. This may sound like a lot but if you break it up by meal you should be getting about 6 to 11 grams per meal if you eat between 3 and 6 meals a day.
Choose a high fiber protein bar. This means it will have at least a minimum of 3 grams of fiber per serving. If you can get more fiber per serving that is even better but make sure the protein bars contain a real, quality fiber.
Some protein bars will synthetic isolated fibers which can leave you with a stomach ache or other digestive issues.
Look for a Source of Healthy Fat in Gluten-Free Protein Bars
Like protein, fat should be consumed at each meal. It helps provide satiety and also is needed by your body to make fat-soluble vitamins and hormones.
What you want in a gluten-free protein bar is a serving of healthy fat. Fat will also give your protein bar flavor and make it taste good.
You want to avoid anything that contains inflammatory oils. Avoid bars listing ingredients such as corn, safflower, sunflower, soy, and vegetable oils.
Fat should be coming from healthy whole foods. This means getting a bar that has contains omega 3 fatty acids. This fat is essential for your health and can reduce inflammation caused by stress [R].
Nuts and seeds are a good source of healthy fat.
Do Gluten-Free Protein Bars Need to Be Organic
Personally I like to get organic and non-GMO gluten-free protein bars. This is regardless of whether they are plant or animal-based bars. Here are some reasons for getting organic protein bars:
Organic fruits and vegetables grown organically were found to have fewer pesticides than crops conventionally grown. They also were 48 percent less likely to test positive for cadmium a toxic heavy metal that accumulates in the liver and kidneys [R]. Organic whey and other dairy products also have fewer pesticides than conventional dairy. Look for certified non-GMO organic, pasture-raised whey protein bars [R].
More Healthy Fat
Grass-fed dairy and beef have a better nutrient profile and higher amount of naturally occurring omega 3 fatty acids. These fats are needed to help prevent inflammation [R]. Organic meats have also been found to have less saturated fat and better nutrient profile than conventionally raised meat and poultry [R].
No Hormones, Steroids or Antibiotics
More Antioxidants in Organic
Some foods could contain more antioxidants. A six-year study found organic onions were to have about a 20 percent higher antioxidant content than onions that were conventionally grown [R].
A lot of companies are now producing these types of products. Organic, non-GMO products will be labeled with the non-GMO certification.
Compare Protein Bar Prices
Protein bar price may be a factor when choosing your protein bars. Protein bars for sale can vary in price by brand and the type of bar. Depending on the ingredients and whether they are non-GMO and organic may also affect the protein bar price.
Cheap protein bars may be hard to find in retail. Protein bars can run between anywhere between $2 and $4 apiece per bar.
One way to get them discounted is by buying wholesale protein bars. The average cost per bar will decrease when you purchase a larger package of bars. Typically it depends on the bar but on average you could save almost $30 a month buying protein bars in bulk. Once you know you like a bar you can order a large quantity and have them on hand.
Purchasing protein bars online is another way to save. Amazon, Vitacost, and Thrive Market are outlets that often offer discounts on these products. I like to download the apps and scan the products in the store to see where the best deal is.
Sometimes grocers will also have discounts. Last week I was in Whole Foods and they had a bunch of protein bars marked on sale. So I stocked up on my favorites to save some cash.
The thing to note is if you are in need of a quick snack on the go you can get more from a protein bar than some other cheap snacks. You want to fuel your body with the best energy so you stay full and satisfied.
Types of Protein Found in Gluten-Free Protein Bars
Protein bars are a great way to get a fill of protein when you are on the go. You may be wondering how they pack the protein into a little bar. Gluten-free protein bars are made from a variety of protein sources. They include both animal and plant sources of protein.
Gluten-free protein bars include any bars that are made from foods not containing gluten. If the protein bars contain any grains they will be gluten-free grains.
Gluten-free protein bars have been increasingly popular as more and more people have been experiencing Non-Celiac Gluten Sensitivity. These bars will contain gluten-free protein so as not to cause a reaction in those who cannot tolerate gluten.
Animal Sources of Protein in Gluten-Free Protein Bars
The common animal sources of protein in gluten-free protein bars come from dairy usually in the form of whey and casein protein. Some protein bars will also contain eggs, beef, poultry, and/or pork as the main protein source.
Whey Protein in Gluten-Free Protein Bars
Whey protein is one of the proteins found in dairy. It is a protein source for protein powders and protein bars. Whey protein comes in 3 different forms:
- Whey protein concentrate
- Whey isolate protein
- Whey hydrolysate or hydrolyzed whey protein
Whey concentrate is about 70 to 80 percent protein. It contains some milk sugar (lactose) and fat. It is known for having the best taste. It also has the most nutrients when compared with the other forms of whey [R].
Whey isolate protein has the most protein at 90 percent or higher. It has less sugar and fat than whey concentrate [R].
Whey hydrolysate or hydrolyzed whey is a whey protein that has been pre-digested. This means that it will be absorbed faster than other types of whey. This also causes a higher spike of blood sugar than whey isolate protein. According to one study, it raises blood sugar 28 to 43 percent higher when compared with whey isolate protein
When choosing gluten-free protein bars with a dairy protein source whey protein concentrate may be the best if you’re looking for a higher nutrient profile and better taste.
Casein Protein in Gluten-Free Protein Bars
Casein protein is another animal source of protein found in gluten-free protein bars. It consists of 80 percent of the protein found in milk. In the stomach, it forms a gel which causes it to be digested slower than other milk proteins [R].
Casein protein comes in two forms: micellar casein and casein hydrolysate. Micellar casein is the most popular form and is digested slowly. Casein Hydrolysate is predigested and rapidly absorbed.
It is a complete protein source providing all the body’s needed amino acids. Casein protein has been found to increase muscle mass when combined with resistance training. It has also been shown to increase fat loss compared with whey protein when used in conjunction with exercise [R].
Beef, Pork, and Poultry As Protein in Gluten-Free Protein Bars
Animal products such as eggs, beef, pork, and/or poultry are becoming popular ingredients in protein bars. This is because they are a good quality source of protein [R]. These types of ingredients are popular among paleo protein bars. Because paleo products cannot contain any grains, dairy, sugar, or processed foods the protein content is often animal-based.
Most gluten-free protein bars that consist of meats will be dehydrated. Fruit, spices, and herbs are added to provide flavor. The consistency is similar to that of jerky.
Plants As a Source of Protein for Gluten-Free Protein Bars
Plant-based diets have become increasingly popular over the last few years. The need for plant-based snacks is also increasing the production of plant-based protein bars. A lot of these will also tend to be gluten-free protein bars.
Plant-based proteins are a great alternative for those who do not want to consume any animal products. Others have favored plant proteins due to the fact they do not contain lactose or come from animals treated with growth hormones, steroids, estrogens, and other hormones, antibiotics, or other chemicals that may affect health [R].
Vegetarian and vegan protein bars are made up of the following protein sources:
- Brown rice protein concentrate
- Brown rice protein isolate
- Pea protein
- Nuts and Seeds
Rice protein is often found as brown rice protein in gluten-free protein bars. Rice is a gluten-free grain. It provides an abundance of essential amino acids that need to be obtained from the diet [R]. It also contains a good source of branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs) which are needed to increase muscle mass and help with recovery post-workout [R, R, R].
Brown rice protein comes in two forms: brown rice protein concentrate and brown rice protein isolate.
Brown rice protein concentrate has a higher amount of carbohydrates and fat [R].
Brown rice protein isolate is brown rice protein concentrate that has been further purified. It has a higher source of protein and very low levels of carbohydrates and fats [R].
Rice protein has a varied nutrient profile but it is still lacking some needed amino acids. This will only be a problem if you are not eating a variety of foods that provide these nutrients. That is why relying solely on protein bars is not a good substitution for a well-rounded diet.
Quinoa, buckwheat, and amaranth are three grains that are gluten-free and also a complete protein. This means you will get all the essential amino acids in that one food. You can look for bars with these ingredients.
Pea protein has been praised for being a complete protein providing all the amino acids that are found in dairy and animal sources. It is not compatible with the AIP diet so anyone who is doing an autoimmune protocol may want to find a different protein source.
There are two types of pea protein: pea protein isolate and pea protein hydrolysate. Pea protein isolate is made from the protein in yellow peas. Hydrolysate is a partially digested protein.
Pea protein has been known for its satiating effect. It keeps you full for a long period of time when compared with fat and carbohydrates [R].
The process of making peas into protein removes the fiber content from this food. It still is a food that is rich in iron.
Pea protein is also boasted for its muscle promoting and heart health benefits.
Pea protein has also been found to help to increase muscle as well as whey protein. So you can use it as a way to help improve muscle mass [R].
It is important to note that pea protein is high in sodium so if you are salt sensitive or on a restricted intake you may want to opt for another protein source.
Pea protein has few side effects and is generally tolerated. Be sure not to overdo it with the protein. Stay under doses of 5 grams per kg of the body to avoid putting your health at risk. Your liver will not be able to process all that protein and you will end up with ammonia in the blood, diarrhea, nausea, or worse death [R].
Soy protein is a popular plant-based protein for vegan food products. It is derived from soybeans. This food is quite nutritious with a large amount of quality protein, fiber, and healthy fat. The soybeans are turned into flakes and then washed water or ethanol. The fiber and sugar are removed along with most of the fat. What is left is dehydrated and turned into a powder known as soy protein isolate.
Soy protein isolate provides a complete protein meaning they have all the essential amino acids. The quality of this protein is quite high but still pales in comparison with animal proteins when synthesizing muscle [R,R].
When it comes to muscle building soy protein was found to benefit specific age groups, the young and elderly [R].
In regards to health benefits, there is a lot of research showing the benefits of soy as a heart-healthy food. Many studies may have been looking at whole-food-based soybeans or textured vegetable proteins and not soy protein powder.
Downsides of Soy Protein
Soy protein isolate has some downsides.
This protein contains phytates that can limit the absorption of minerals zinc and iron found in this powder. This can be a problem if you are not getting adequate zinc in your diet. Few plant foods contain zinc so this is a concern for those who may be vegetarian or vegan.
Another anti-nutrient that may affect digestion is the agglutinins. This nutrient found in soybeans has been found to penetrate the gut wall lining. This leaves a “leaky gut” that will let bacteria and toxins slip into the bloodstream [R]. These compounds are deactivated by heating, soaking, and denaturing these nutrients [R].
Take Caution With Soy Protein
Ninety-five percent of soy in this country is GMO. If you are continuously consuming soy protein there is a concern of consuming large amounts of toxins and herbicides [R].
Soy protein isolate could aggregate those with thyroid conditions. Soy blocks the activity of thyroid peroxidase enzyme. Soy foods can also reduce the absorption of thyroid hormone T4 and interfere with thyroid hormone action. These incidences can lead to the development of autoimmune thyroiditis [R].
Healthy adults are also at risk for hypothyroidism if they are iodine deficient and consume soy products [R].
Some research shows that soy consumption can produce estrogen-like compounds that affect hormone health. The research is still out on the true risks of these compounds but they have been found to affect the endocrine system development in utero [R].
Other studies have shown it may affect fertility but more research needs to be done for a better understanding of this topic. Soy has also been linked with breast cancer but it has also been shown to prevent cancer however this was due to fermented soy and not the processed variety found in most foods and protein powders.
If you do not have health conditions and want to try soy it is best to look at your iodine levels as well as your current intake of food ingredients to see how much soy you may already be consuming.
The problem with soy is that it can be found in almost every product that goes beyond what you put in your mouth. So if you are consuming a large number of processed foods you could be getting too much soy.
More high-quality research needs to be done to truly know whether the health benefits in whole food soybeans are carried over into the processed protein powder.
If you consume soy protein isolate I would proceed with caution. Look for a non-GMO source of soy protein. Since soy protein isolate is a highly processed type of soy it is best not to have it every day. Alternative your intake with other sources of plant proteins for a varied diet.
If you have a thyroid or other hormone issue you may want to opt for another type of protein.
Hemp protein comes from the cannabis sativa plant. But don’t worry there are no hallucinogenic effects from consuming this type of protein.
Hemp protein is made by grinding hemp seeds into a fine powder. In commercial protein bars that use hemp as a source of protein will often be found as hemp seeds.
Hemp is a complete protein and contains all essential amino acids. It also is a good source of healthy fat and fiber. There is debate about the quality of its amino acids. Some research shows the protein content is similar to egg whites and soy, while other evidence shows it to be lacking in some amino acids [R, R, R].
Hemp protein is also the only plant protein that is high in fiber. Rice, soy, and pea proteins do not contain any fiber. The combination of fiber and protein will keep you full longer so it is a great choice for plant-based protein bars [R].
There is a higher level of fat found in hemp compared with other plant proteins. It is a beneficial fat that is good for your heart. It also has a great balance of omega 3 to omega 6 fats. Most individuals are lacking omega 3 fats in their diet so adding hemp protein to your diet can help to increase your intake of this essential fat [R, R]. This may also improve heart health [R].
Hemp protein is also rich in antioxidants. These compounds that help to fight the physical effects of stress along with oxidative damage from the inflammatory response. They also may protect the body from chronic diseases like heart disease and diabetes [R,R,R].
Hemp Protein Cautions
Hemp is safe for most people although there have been some mild side effects found in animal studies showing it to be unsafe for those with anemia, low immunity, and pregnant or breastfeeding to avoid this protein. However, those studies have not been tested on humans [R, R]. Those with allergies to hemp should also avoid this type of protein [R].
Large doses of hemp protein may result in digestive issues of those who are not used to consuming large amounts of fiber. Ease into the hemp seeds if you are not used to eating a lot of fiber in your diet.
While hemp protein will not get your high, there is a small amount of the psychoactive compound THC found in hemp seeds. Consumption of up to 300 grams of hulled hemp seeds per day does not interfere with urine drug tests [R].
Nuts and Seeds As Plant-Based Proteins
Nuts and seeds are a great source of plant-based proteins. They provide a ton of nutrition in a small serving. They are high in fiber, healthy fat, essential vitamins, and minerals along with antioxidant compounds that help fight stress.
Nuts and seeds are a heart-healthy food that may help reduce inflammation that often occurs when the body is undergoing stress [R,R,R]. Reduced inflammation can help lower the risk of chronic diseases.
Walnuts and flax seeds are two foods that provide a good amount of omega 3 fatty acids to help fight inflammation [R].
Nuts and seeds are limited in some essential amino acids but they do provide a good overall amount of healthy protein for the body. You can also look for bars that have things like hemp seeds to get a more complete protein.
Picks for Best Protein Bars
Protein bars come in many shapes and sizes. From the outside, a protein bar can come across as a healthy way to get your protein on the go. Looks can be deceiving and that bar may not be the best choice for optimal nutrition. Below we have compiled our picks for best bars in various categories: no added sugar, low sugar, high fiber, dairy-free, soy-free, nut-free, plant-based, vegan, and high protein bars. See the links for each group.
Gluten-Free Bars That Didn’t Make The Cut
Power bar protein bars do supply a high amount of protein (20 grams), but they also contain quite a few ingredients including processed oils and food additives. When given the choice we would recommend another bar.
Think Thin bars are a little more processed than some other bars on the market. They also contain a lot of food ingredients that a lot of people may have sensitivities to.
Clif Bars are popular but looking at the ingredients they are not gluten-free. They also contain quite a few different types of sugars. Brown rice syrup is listed as the first ingredient. This shows it to be high in sugar. This bar contains sunflower oil. This oil is high in omega 6 fats which can throw off the balance of your good fat intake.
Quest Protein Bar
Quest protein bars are gluten-free but personally I am not a fan of them since they contain the sugar alcohol erythritol and the artificial sweetener sucralose (Splenda). I try to avoid these sweeteners due to the research showing they may hinder gut health.
These bars contain their own formulated protein blend of soy and whey protein (soy protein isolate, soy crisps (soy protein isolate, tapioca starch, salt), whey protein concentrate, casein, calcium caseinate). They contain corn syrup which is a highly processed sugar and I would not recommend having this bar.
While it is gluten-free the Noggi Bar contains quite a few different types of sugar and also many oils including canola. This oil is pro-inflammatory and is very high in omega 6. Too many omega 6’s in the diet can increase physical stress.
Hammer Bars and Hammer Recovery Bars
Hammer Bars and Hammer Recovery Bars are high protein but they also contain stevia. I try to avoid this sweetener because I am not a big fan of the taste of it. It can be too sweet for me.
Zone Perfect Protein Bars
Zone perfect protein bars contain some heavily processed ingredients like corn syrup. They also contain pro-inflammatory ingredient sunflower oil.
Pure Protein Bars
Pure Protein bars contain the artificial sweetener sucralose. I am not a big fan of this sweetener. It is way too sweet for my taste buds and I find it may have some negative effects on the body.
Vega used to offer meal replacement protein bars called Vega One. This was a bar with 12 grams of protein that provide the nutrients you may need if you do not have time for a real meal. This particular item seems to be no longer available from the company and out of stock on Amazon. It seems to be replaced by the Vega 20 bar.
How Often Should You Consume Protein Bars
Protein bars are meant to be a substitute for when you can’t get to a real meal. They should not be constantly used in place of real food. We have to remember that these are processed to give you a dose of nutrition and energy. You still need to have a well-balanced diet of real food. Eating too many protein bars could lead to inadequate nutrition from certain whole foods like veggies.
You could also put yourself at risk for too much protein or fiber consumption if you are continuously eating high protein and high bars.
You could be getting a lot of sugar depending on how many protein bars you are eating a day. Too many carbohydrates or a large number of low sugar bars can add up to high sugar intake. When in doubt limit it to 25 grams (6 teaspoons) a day for healthy individuals. Someone with a health condition should consume less sugar and should stick to about 16 grams (about 4 teaspoons) per day.
Your overall health and activity levels will determine your protein needs. You should be aware of how much protein you are consuming from these bars.
Having just 1 or 2 protein bars a day is recommended. Be sure to compliment them with real food throughout the day.
Other Sources of Protein
While protein bars can be a great source of protein. You do not want to rely on protein bars alone for your protein needs. These should be used when you are in a jam and can’t get to a real meal. Be sure to add other healthy sources of protein into your diet on a daily basis. These include:
- Fresh-water sustainable fish and seafood
- Organic poultry
- Organic pork
- Grass-fed beef
- Pasture-raised Eggs
- Gluten-Free Oats
- Wild Rice
To Sum It All Up
Protein is an important nutrient to help calm the stress response that happens when we are busy with our day. Not getting enough of this nutrient can have some devastating effects on our overall health. Stress can also lead to food sensitivities which is why you may want to opt for a gluten-free protein source. One way to make sure we get enough protein throughout the day is by adding gluten-free protein bars to our diet. When picking a protein bar you want to make sure you are getting the best ingredients. That includes a quality source of protein, a substantial amount of fiber, and not too much sugar.
These bars can be a good substitute for protein intake when on the go but they are no replacement for a healthy diet. Be sure to get adequate nutrient intake from other protein sources and vegetables on a daily basis.