In our fast-paced world, protein bars have become a go-to snack for health-conscious peeps seeking quick and convenient nutrition. However, before reaching out for a random bar, it's important to know what goes into these products. Beyond the advertised proteins and nutrients, some ingredients may be deleterious to your health.
Did you know that some of the popular protein bars contain additives derived from petroleum?
Here's a closer look at these ingredients and why you might want to avoid them.
Emulsifiers, such as polysorbates, carboxymethylcellulose, glyceryl, gums and carrageenan, are added to improve the consistency and shelf life of protein bars. However, they can damage the gut lining, cause inflammation, and increase gut permeability, leading to a condition commonly known as 'leaky gut'. This can lead to a host of health issues, including autoimmune disorders.
Furthermore, carrageenan and gums alter microbiota density, composition, and expression of pro-inflammatory molecules in a non-reversible manner! Such detrimental alterations in microbiota, loosely referred to as gut dysbiosis, can promote chronic inflammatory diseases, such as metabolic syndrome and inflammatory bowel disease, whose main forms include Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis.
Sugars, Sugar Alcohols, and Sweeteners
HIGH FRUCTOSE CORN SYRUP (HFCS) is 55% fructose. There’s a limit on how much fructose our body can uptake in one day. Unlike glucose, fructose is mainly metabolised in the liver. When the liver gets overloaded with fructose, it starts converting it into fat, and that’s how you can end up with a non-alcoholic fatty liver disease. Without going into too much detail, fructose overload is considered to be a driver of many diseases, such as metabolic syndrome, obesity, kidney disease, insulin resistance and Diabetes 2, to name a few. Because it causes inflammation, it can also be a contributing factor to developing cancer. Furthermore, daily fructose excess damages your gut, alters your gene expression and induces leptin resistance. Leptin is an appetite-regulating hormone, and if you become leptin-resistant, you will never feel full, which is one of the main reasons people overeat and become overweight and obese.
SUGAR ALCOHOLS, also known as polyols, are a type of carbohydrate and a popular alternative to sugar because they provide fewer calories and have a lesser effect on blood glucose levels. Common sugar alcohols include xylitol, erythritol, sorbitol, and maltitol. They often cause gas, bloating, and diarrhea. Some may also experience cramping and laxative effects.
ARTIFICIAL SWEETENERS are not real food. They are made in a laboratory, and our bodies don’t recognise them as food. They are toxins that damage your gut and can make you fat and sick despite containing zero calories.
For example, research indicates that saccharine, sucralose, and aspartame damage the gut barrier and induce glucose intolerance more than glucose because they alter the composition and function of the gut microbiota. Saccharine is the worst in this regard. Aspartame, Sucralose, and Saccharin are also linked to obesity, diabetes, heart disease, and cancer.
EXCESSIVE SUGAR CONSUMPTION can also harm your health if you do it daily. It can make you age quicker due to destroying collagen in your skin, joints and gut lining. Look for bars with less than 10% sugar to avoid these risks. Don’t worry whether the sugar comes from dates or whether it is organic. Just stick to the 10% rule.
Check out our previous blog post on added sugar and sweeteners to learn more.
Maltodextrin is a fast-digesting carbohydrate that can spike blood sugar levels. It's an empty-calorie source (meaning it has no beneficial micronutrients) and is often made from GMO corn. Maltodextrin impacts several health parameters, including microbiota density, composition, gene expression, and, perhaps consequently, expression of pro-inflammatory molecules. Some of the changes might be irreversible.
Seed and Vegetable Oils
Hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated oils, such as soybean, corn, and sunflower oil, are highly inflammatory and can damage the gut lining. Inflammation is a root cause of many chronic diseases, including heart disease and arthritis. Healthy fats include nuts and seeds and MCT, olive, coconut, or cold-pressed nut oil.
If you care about the environment, stay clear of palm oil. Aside from health concerns, the production of palm oil is linked to deforestation, biodiversity loss and social issues. Highly processed palm oil contains higher levels of 3-MCPD, a processing contaminant, which has been linked to toxic effects on organs, particularly the kidneys and has also been associated with reproductive issues, developmental problems and cancer.
Soy Protein Isolate
Soy protein isolate might sound healthy to you, but it’s often processed with hexane, a solvent, and typically made from GMO-modified soy that’s also sprayed with herbicides and pesticides, which are toxic, especially in high concentrations such as in the case of soy protein isolate. Herbicides and pesticides used in industrial farming significantly impact gut health, mood, and behaviour, leading to serious health issues like liver disease and nervous system damage.
Artificial Colours and Flavours
Artificial colours and flavours are linked to behavioural issues and allergic reactions in children. These additives damage the gut lining and alter gut microbiota.
Some artificial colours such as Red No. 40 and Yellow No. 5 are derived from petroleum!!! Like colours, artificial flavours are often petroleum-based, and their safety, particularly with long-term use, is debated. The concern isn't just about the immediate reactions but also the long-term impact of regular consumption of these petroleum-derived substances. The International Agency for Research on Cancer has classified some artificial colours as "possibly carcinogenic to humans."
Thickeners are added to food to improve texture. They can cause gut inflammation, bloating, and gas and lead to the development of various inflammatory illnesses when consumed daily. Thickeners commonly used in protein bars include carrageenan, xanthan gum, gum Arabic, agar-agar, and modified starches.
We looked at one of the popular Australian protein bars, which claims on the front of the packaging to be a healthy high-protein treat with no artificial colours and flavours. However, the nutrition label at the back contains a long list of harmful ingredients, including soy protein isolate, soy protein nuggets, maltitol, glycerol, sorbitol, emulsifiers such as polyglycerol polyricinoleate (conveniently listed by the name and not by the number, E476), canola oil, mixed tocopherols (synthetic). There’s literally no real food in the bar except 1.5% cocoa powder!!! Don’t get fooled by product claims. Become a pack flipper and always check the ingredients label. While this synthetic bar won’t kill you if you eat it once, it will impact your health if it’s a part of your daily diet.
Emulsifiers and gut
Artificial sweeteners and cancer
Artificial sweeteners and microbiome
Sugar and cancer
Maltodextrin and other additives
Artificial colours and flavours