Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Dang, These Aren't Bad At All

I'm not one to normally shill for a product (though I have occasionally recommended a movie or a book). But now that I'm going low carb again, I have been researching various protein bars, shakes, and the like.

Let me first say that NOTHING replaces actual food. You know, the real stuff you buy and cook for yourself: veggies, eggs, chicken, fish, etc. But if you are in a pinch and need an alternative (or if you're doing 5 small meals a day like I am), the occasional shake or bar is a good way to get in a meal without overdoing it on the calories. I'd say to go easy on the shakes and bars because most contain whey and/or casein, or basically, milk protein. And dairy is inflammatory. But there are low carb non-dairy alternatives for shakes, such as rice protein. As for bars . . . well, that's where things get complicated.

The truth is, most protein bars are just glorified candy hidden as something good for you. They're loaded with sugar, and the protein is usually not of the best quality (e.g, hydrolyzed gelatin counts as a protein, and there is no nutritional value to this stuff). Low carb bars are generally low carb only because the sugar has been replaced with a sugar alcohol such as maltitol. If you've ever eaten "sugar free" candies sweetened with maltitol, you know the problem with these. Hello, Mr. Toilet. Let me sit here and hang out with you all day.

I used to eat Atkins bars way back when and even up until recently until I had a good, long look at the label. They used to taste like chocolate covered sawdust. Then the flavor improved and more fiber was added. But the most recent formula for my favorite bar, the Chocolate Peanut Butter bar, is a disaster. They've, whoever "they" are, have added a peanut butter layer to make the bar even more palatable, but in so doing they've added more sugar alcohols than I care to consume (like, 11gms of pure fart). Seriously, you eat one of those things and within fifteen minutes to a half hour, your stomach starts gurgling. No thanks.

So, here comes my shameless promotion of Quest Bars. Once out of the wrapper, they kind of look like the original Power Bars, which were like biting into a rock and didn't taste much better, but looks can be deceiving. These actually are soft and chewy to the bite and taste good. They are high in protein (20 gms of the the real stuff, whey and milk protein and no hidden hydrolyzed gelatin) and high in fiber (17 gms), are low-carb (only one gm of sugar), the only other carbs coming from the fiber in nuts, AND they don't sweeten the bars with sugar alcohols. You can buy bars with either sucralose (Splenda) or stevia, depending on your preference. There are tons of flavors and I got a sampler box first before ordering more. I've encountered nothing bad tasting yet.  Plus the calorie count is 170 (compare to Atkins' 240). Look, the bars are also gluten free and they don't bloat you. Some bodybuilders use them when on a cut, and these men and women of superb physiques abhor bloat. I doubt they eat them three days out from a contest when they want to drop serious water, but if you want a structured, fairly nutritious snack or small meal, here you go.

A caveat: apparently Quest Nutrition is being sued by somebody who claims the fiber and calorie counts on the bars are incorrect (not as much fiber as claimed, more calories than claimed). For a low carber, yeah, this doesn't matter, even if it's true. The company claims it is not, that the lawsuit is frivolous, and is fighting the charge as its own data shows otherwise. (Stay tuned, though, because a protein bar in which I can pronounce everything on the label seems almost too good to be true.)

Another thing some may not like about these bars is the amount of fat (6gm, or 9% of your daily value for fat), so if you're really fat-phobic, these may not be the bars for you. You can just go buy the high carb/sugar bars with low fat, or maybe eat a piece of fruit. But my cavewoman metabolism doesn't like high carbs. But again, if you're a low carber, fat doesn't matter. As Dr. Atkins rightly pointed out (I love that he's finally been vindicated), fat doesn't make you fat. Carbs make you fat. And sitting on your butt too much. (I did squats today, by the way. Hope I'm not too sore tomorrow.) Besides, in comparison to Atkins bars, 6gms is nothing (Atkins bars are 14gms a serving).

I will close by saying again that NOTHING replaces real food, so use shakes and especially bars in moderation. But sometimes they're good to have on hand in a pinch.

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