Protein Bars: Filling Snacks or Empty Calories?

A small trial revealed that eating protein bars daily might only offer empty calories rather than satiety. Researchers wanted to see if the bars curbed appetite and would therefore help with weight management. However, it may have the opposite effect.

The trial used 21 non-athlete participants who ate one protein bar a day for seven days. Most participants were female, with a mean age of 22, 30% of whom were overweight.

Participants ate one of the following protein bars for one week, and after a one-week break (rest week), they switched to eating the other protein bar (whichever one they didn’t have during the first week):

Pure Protein bar: 21 g protein, 15 g carbohydrate, 5 g fat, 2 g fiber, 180 calories
Quest protein/fiber bar: 20 g protein, 10 g carbohydrate, 7 g fat, 14 g fiber, 180 calories

On average, their caloric intake increased by 170 calories, but there was no change in their appetite. Appetites were measured using five 100-m Visual Analog Scales (VAS), which showed that their appetites barely changed regardless of whether the protein bars were high-protein or high-fiber.

Interestingly, by the end of the seven-day period, the participants’ fat mass levels increased by 3% – what researchers believe is a result of the additional 170 daily calories. This came out to 1,776 during the rest week, 1,902 from the high-protein bar and 1,998 for the high-protein/fiber bar.

Though waist size and body mass did not change during this trial, researchers say the 3% increase in fat (adipose) tissue predicts increases in body mass over time. These findings suggest that if caloric intake is a health priority, protein bars are better eaten in place of other calories rather than added to the diet.

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