If you want protein, don’t get it from a bar, experts say. Although popular high-protein supplements — bars, shakes, powders, and other products — aren’t the best way to get your daily protein intake.
We like easy. We like convenient. Instead of grilling a steak or hard-boiling an egg, we prefer to grab whatever pre-packaged goodness we can find that will meet all our nutritional needs. The problem, experts say, is that there is nothing in a single-serve package will meet all your daily nutritional needs.
In 2012, 19 percent of new food and beverage products launched in the United States were labeled as being “high-protein,” according to market research company Mintel. That is a higher percent than anywhere else in the world. High-protein items are marketed with other specialty foods, advertised to improve health and meet nutritional needs.
Proteins are essential nutrients. Protein is found inside every cell in the body, and are used for growth and maintenance — as tissue-builders, muscle repair, muscle builders — and are also a small source of energy.
In general, about 10 to 35 percent of your daily calories should come from protein, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Adult women should eat about 46 grams of protein a day, and adult men should eat about 56 grams a day. And — unlike most health statistics — we actually get enough protein. In fact, we Americans get more than enough, according to a 2009 U.S. food survey.
While a bar or shake may seem like an easy — and tasty, if it’s chocolate-flavored — way to get your protein intake, you’re better off getting nutrients from real food.
“I never recommend protein supplements,” said Katherine Tallmadge, the author of Diet Simple. “People need to be eating real food.”
While high-protein bars may be full of protein, they are full of lots of other things, too. Calories and sugar and preservatives all add up, but they don’t leave people feeling full like natural sources of protein. We need well-rounded meals with a variety of flavors and nutrients, Tallmadge said.
“You can feel full or more satisfied with fewer calories” when you eat real food, she added.
Good sources of protein include meat, poultry, fish, legumes (such as dry beans and peas), eggs, milk and tofu, according to the CDC.
To fuel exercise and build muscle, Tallmadge recommends yogurt, which she herself eats before and after a workout. “Yogurt is a major protein source,” Tallmadge said. For people who want a nonperishable food to take on hikes or outings, Tallmadge recommends nuts and dried fruit.
Heather Mangieri, a nutrition consultant and spokeswoman for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, also notes that once a body gets the recommended protein, the rest just goes to waste. Any additional protein in a meal or bar won’t confer an extra tissue-repair or muscle-building benefit, Mangieri said. So it is important to space out protein consumption throughout the day, consuming about equal portions at each meal.
Do you get your protein from bars or “real food”? Why?
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