Promoted as healthy meal substitutes, protein and nutrition bars are a billion-dollar health food business. Labeled as “70% organic” or “all-natural”, many people consume them as part of a healthy weight loss plan. But are they really good for you?

Protein is a vital component to healthy weight loss, right? So it follows the logic that eating protein bars, which contain specified caloric amounts, can aid weight loss while providing you with necessary nutrients. Unfortunately, this is not always the case.

On average, everyone should be having around 25 grams of protein with each meal. Many protein bars contain less than 10 grams of protein. In addition, some protein bars contain upwards of 29 grams of sugar, that is OVER 7 teaspoons of sugar in one serving. With little protein and lots of sugar, your blood sugar yo-yos, leading to dips in energy and quick hunger, in other words, you eat more. And don’t forget that excess sugar is converted into fat. Thus, those meal replacement bars can actually cause weight gain.

Protein bars that pack the most punch are derived from dairy protein, providing up to 30 grams. But the protein is either a whey protein isolate or concentrate, which contains very high levels of free glutamic acids. In the body, glutamic acid is converted into monosodium glutamate (MSG), an excitotoxin that causes allergic reactions, facial swelling, headache, flushing, and chest pain in otherwise healthy people, and it has been linked to autistic symptoms.

For vegetarians and vegans, there are protein bars derived from soy. These are no better since the soy protein isolate contains just as much free glutamic acid. Soy is one of the most genetically modified (GMO) foods, which may have toxic effects on the immune system, liver, pancreas, kidneys and reproductive organs. Soy is difficult to digest and forms opiate-like molecules that act on reward centers in the brain, causing food addictions, changes in mood and difficulties concentrating.

Labeled as “whole nutrition” or meal replacements, these bars are fortified with synthetic (think unnatural) nutrients that the body has difficulty utilizing. Some synthetic nutrients are even associated with increased disease risk and mortality, an example being dl-alpha tocopheryl acetate, a form of Vitamin E.

Check out these protein bars and decide if they are healthy:

Luna Chocolate Chunk is promoted as a Whole Nutrition Bar for Women. It is labeled as 70% organic and contains calcium, vitamin D, folic acid and iron. This bar has only 9 grams of protein, which is derived from soy protein isolate.

Clif Chocolate Chip is similar, labeled as 70% organic and has 9 grams of soy protein isolate. It contains non-organic soy lecithin (i.e.: GMO) and dl-alpha tocopheryl acetate. It is fortified with synthetic B12, which is poorly absorbed and utilized. And it contains the equivalent of 6 teaspoons of sugar!

Supreme Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough provides 30 grams of protein derived from whey and soy protein concentrate. It contains maltitol, an artificial sweetener that causes abdominal pain, diarrhea, flatulence, and gas. Used as a sugar substitute, it is very high on the glycemic index, which raises your blood sugar rapidly.

Protein bars are often used in a pinch, when hunger strikes. But the additives and isolates prove more detrimental to your health. Have boiled eggs and carrots or nuts and fruit as a snack, avoiding protein bars as meal replacements. The bottom line…eat whole foods, not protein bars.

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