Getting Smarter @ our TOP Energy/Protein Bar Picks
Just when we think we have the energy/protein bar question answered, we learn that one of the most common energy bar protein sources, soy protein isolate (SPI), is inferior to casein, whey & rice. If you have followed our data driven analyses, you know that we select our athletic-minded favorites based on taste, nutrition, ingredients AND the DATA!! See our last article here.
But NOW we need to dig deeper and think MORE about the protein source in our bars.
- First, we will explain why we are starting to forgo soy protein in favor of whey, casein or rice.
- Second, we will give you the data you love about our "refined" top picks.
Our objective is to ensure that the energy or protein bar you choose works hard for you. And with all the nutrition noise out there (all natural, low sugar, high protein), it's not easy to separate the cream from the crap!
Is soy protein bad? It depends.
- Studies are not full-proof, nor fully conclusive. However, there is enough research out there to suggest that consumers should consider how much, and what type, of soy they are consuming. Bottom line: be informed.
- Whole soy is not "bad". Research shows this complete protein is heart healthy and can lower other disease risks. It is also one of the few plant protein sources that is complete.
- About 90% of soy grown in the U.S. is genetically modified. There is no scientific agreement on the dangers of GMO soy. This article raises the red flag on all non-fermented soy, even Non-GMO and organic. Again, there is much controversy.
- Some argue against soy based upon its "hormone" and "endocrine disrupter" effects. Many attest that soy can interact with hormones and cause all sorts of havoc including cancer. But, the evidence swings both ways and is dependent upon a host of factors.
- Soy can be dangerous for those who already have an existing thyroid problem and take medications for it.
- The type of soy consumed is really the crux. Nearly everyone agrees that AVOIDING processed soy is good. When soy is processed the good nutrients are stripped away and it loses its health benefits. "Soy protein" as an ingredient is a red flag for processed.
Bottom line: Choose whole soy products like edamame and fermented soy products like tempeh and miso. Fermented foods have the bonus of good for your gut probiotics. Avoid or limit processed soy like soy protein isolate (SPI) -- which is what MANY energy and protein bars use.
What does it mean for energy/protein bars? Well, NuGo's Dark Chocolate Pretzel is one of our favorite energy/protein bar and it relies on SPI. Luckily the company also makes a soy "free" version, but it's not as tasty. Now that we are better informed, we will mix in other protein sources and decrease our stock of soy based bars.
What is a better protein source? Whey. It was the Oatmega Bar by Boundless Nutrition that got us thinking about protein sources. This gluten-free bar uses whey protein. The company also makes a delicious cookie (3 flavors). We liked the Perfect Cookie and Oatmega Bar ingredients and nutrition profile so much that we sought out more information about whey.
- Whey & casein are both dairy by-products and complete proteins, which means they have the essential amino acids that the body needs.
- Studies suggest that whey is superior to soy and casein in terms of repairing and stimulating new muscle fibers fast. It is the amino acid leucine that is credited with this effect. And whey has more of it.
- Whey is a "fast" protein and therefore best for post workout recovery. Casein is "slow" and a better choice before bed.
- Since whey rapidly increases protein synthesis and casein blocks protein breakdown, a combo is best. (Read more here.)
- Whey protein comes in 2 forms: concentrate and isolate. Whey Protein Isolate (WPI) contains 90% or more protein and little or no fat or lactose. This article on WebMD goes into more detail about whey and its health benefits.
What about rice and wheat protein?
- The main reason energy bar makers use rice or wheat protein is that they are vegan. Rice has the added benefit of being gluten free
and easily digested. Both are also favored by those who have lactose intolerance. Of our top picks, only the Fiber d'Lish Bar (by NuGo Nutrition) uses wheat protein isolate. And the amount used is minimal.
- Rice and wheat proteins are not complete.
- A new, small, study demonstrates that rice protein isolate performs as well as whey protein isolate in terms of absorption and muscle use.
- Rice protein is slightly higher in calories than whey. Fat content is the same. The big difference is in the carbs. Whey has significantly less.
- This article presents a nice summary of the various proteins availble in powder form.
- Along with the Fiber d'Lish Bar we really love Health Warrior's Chia Bar in Chocolate Peanut Butter. It's a smaller bar with an impressive nutrition profile!
|NuGo Dark (Choc Pretzel)||
Perfect Cookie (Peanut Butter)
|NuGo Free (Dark Choc Crunch)||OatMega (Brownie Crisp)||FiberLove Bar (Chocolate Brownie)||Bonk Breaker (PB&Choc Chip)||
Health Warrior Chia Bar (ChocPB)
|Sugar + Sugar Alcohols||15||7||11||5||9||16||5|
|Sugar/gram as %||30.00%||17.50%||24.44%||10.00%||20.00%||25.81%||20.00%|
|Taste||One of the best. High quality dark chocolate||We love the slightly crunchy taste. Not too sweet.||Dark Chocolate is the plus. NO SOY.||One of our favorites. ONLY 5g sugar & fiber & protein.||Oaty, less sweet, takes a bit to get used to. Worth it.||Best in taste for a chewy, non chocolate covered bar||Sweet & a little crunchy from chia seed coating|
|Texture||Crunchy.||Inbetween crunchy and chewy.||Crunchy mostly.||More crunchy than chewy||More chewy than crunchy||Chewy. We love it.||Soft, but not overly chewy.|
|Protein Source||Soy Protein Isolate (SPI)||Grass fed whey protein concentrate||Rice Protein Concentrate||Grass-fed Whey Protein Concentrate & Isolate||Wheat Protein Isolate||Non-GMO Brown Rice Protein||Chia & Organic Brown Rice Crisps|
|Ingredients: GMO? Organic?||Real dark chocolate; Cocoa butter NOT palm oil; BUT soy protein.||Gluten free, non-GMO, Omega 3's||Soy free, Gluten free; OU Pareve||Hooray for Whey, Gluten Free, Non GMO, mostly organic||Fiber!! Low sugar, Low calories, wheat protein||Gluten & dairy free; Mostly organic, GMO-free rice protein,||Gluten & dairy & soy free; 1000 Omega3, Non-GMO|
- Isolate: Considered the most pure with the highest concentration of amino acids (protein).
- Hydrolysate: These proteins are soaked in water which makes them quicker digesting.
- Concentrate: The protein is condensed. It's the least processed and least concentrated, meaning less protein by weight as compared to an isolate protein. It has more carbs and fat.
Why not just go for the bars with 4-5 ingredients like LARABAR?
- For this team, it's taste. Even the newer LARABAR flavors like cookie dough, still taste like dates to us. Regardless, we think that LARABAR is a high quality product.
- The sugar content can be high on date/cashew/fruit solid bars. For example, LARA's cookie dough comes in at 4.67 cal/gram -- higher than the others in the above chart. Sugar/gram is also much higher at 35.56% -- the next highest in the chart is 25.81%. Yes, we know it's "natural" sugar....
- We feel similarly about the "trail mix" style bars like KIND. Extra sugar holds the bar together. And KIND uses inferior ingredients like Palm Kernel Oil vs. cocoa butter.
If Soy Protein Isolate is bad, why do so many energy bar makers use it? It's cheap and has a long shelf-life. It's up to you to decide. For our team, we won't ban SPI, but we are diversifying. And we feel even better about favorites like Bonk Breaker, Perfect Cookie & Health Warrior. We also appreciate that NuGo offers a soy free option. For those who don't have a lactose issue, whey protein is a winner, and the Oatmega Bar or Perfect Cookie is a top pick. We still can't believe there is only 8 grams of sugar in each bar. Kudos!