A proper breakfast should have protein and fiber for long lasting pep. You also need calories and carbohydrates because their sugar content gives the body energy. But empty calories and simple carbs are quickly converted to sugar. Your system crashes before it even has time to produce energy and the sugar becomes belly fat. Ok, so you’ll just find something low-cal. It’s a great thought but not always the right choice. It’s where your get calories from that makes or breaks diet goals. If you’re relying on low-cal breakfast bars too often, then you might be needlessly gaining weight.
“Eating a low calorie meal helps to lower your post-meal insulin level and insulin resistance which leads to healthy changes in metabolism and fat loss,” says Jennifer Cohen Katz, RDN, a culinary nutritionist at Fresh Balance Nutrition. But processed foods, like protein bars, that are labeled as low-cal often make up for this deficit by adding fat, sugar and a slew of scary sounding chemicals. Bars are not truly helping you lose weight. They’re convenient to grab on your way out of the house or to keep in your bag as a snack just in case. And yes, many of the varieties have 9g of fiber, which is a nice number, but the rest of the junky ingredients are messing with your metabolism.
Metabolism is complex but basically it’s the process of how your body converts food into energy. Protein bars don’t give your body much to work with, even ones made from granola. The name granola has a natural, healthy feeling to it, but most granolas are packed with calories and sugar. While it’s possible to find granola bars with better stats you need to read labels carefully and watch portion size. Chances are you’re eating multiple servings in one meal. Just a ¼-cup serving of granola is typically 130 calories. Now compare that to ¾-cup serving of Lucky Charms. It’s only 110 calories!
The same warning applies to bars made with oatmeal. “People who eat good carbs like oatmeal have more energy, reduced sugar cravings, lose more weight and even have more regular bowel movements”, says Dr. Jennifer Stagg, a naturopathic physician. But instant oatmeal, the kind found in breakfast bars, doesn’t qualify because it’s been refined and lost most of its health benefits. Steel-cut oats are the ones you want to eat. They retain the entire grain and that provides ample fiber and protein.
You don’t need to toss all of the protein bars sitting in your pantry. Just make sure you choose brands that list natural ingredients first followed by low sugar, high fiber and no chemical sounding names. Getting good calories and good carbs from fresh foods is always going to be a better choice than getting them from a protein bar. Think quality, not quantity. “People who eat good, low-carbs have more energy, reduced sugar cravings and lose more weight,” says Dr. Stagg.