Think protein bars are good for you? Think again

Research finds chocolate is main ingredient in 38% of bars, with many also high in fat

Chocolate is the main ingredient in almost 40 per cent of protein bars, with many also being high in saturated fat and containing added sugar and salt, according to a new report by Safefood.

The research also noted that 37 per cent of people believed protein bars were “healthy” in an Ipsos MRBI survey of 2,000 people in 2018.

However, the research pointed out that when comparing current protein intakes among adults with what is recommended, both men and women are already consuming more protein than they need from their diet.

The research looked at the nutritional content of 83 high-protein snack foods and drinks available for sale in supermarkets on the island of Ireland. These foods included protein bars, yoghurts, yoghurt-style products and milk drinks.


According to industry sources, there was a 498 per cent increase in products launched between 2010 and 2016 with a high-protein claim.

Safefood director of human health and nutrition Dr Catherine Conlon said many of these bars have calorie contents similar to that of a bar of chocolate.

“We’ve witnessed a significant and consistent upsurge in the number and variety of foods and drinks for sale which claim to be high-protein,” she said. “From bars to milks and yoghurts, high-protein foods have now become mainstream in our supermarkets.

“When we asked people about protein bars, a third of them thought they were healthy. However, many of these bars are, in reality, highly processed foods with a calorie content similar to that of a bar of chocolate.

“What’s also evident from dietary data is that men and women are already consuming more than enough protein in their diets and simply don’t need this extra, highly processed protein.”

Of the 39 protein bars surveyed, 38 per cent listed chocolate as their main ingredient. Three quarters were high in saturated fat, while 79 per cent were a source of salt. The average bar size was 55g with an average price of €2.27.

“Processed snack foods high in protein need to be combined with fat, sugar or salt in order to make them tasty,” continued Dr Conlon.

“People would be better sticking to natural sources of protein in their diet, which tend to be much healthier. And if you need a source of protein as a snack, alternatives like some nuts, a small glass of milk or a yoghurt is the way to go instead of these foods with added chocolate.”

Colin Gleeson

Colin Gleeson

Colin Gleeson is an Irish Times reporter