My wonderful brother has a friend who wanted my take on a particular brand of protein bars him and his wife have been purchasing. These are IsaLean bars. I had never heard of them, but the name alone suggested to me that these bars would be filled with highly processed ingredients. Let’s have a look at what I discovered.
Here is the ingredient label of the IsaLean Bar in Natural Oatmeal Raisin flavor
My initial thought was “wow, lots of ingredients”, but where are the natural ingredients? Oh yes, there they are! Out of the over 40 ingredients, 4 are perhaps natural in my book (raisins, rolled oats, water and cinnamon). So red flag #1, less than 10% of ingredients are natural. Yikes.
Among the listed ingredients, the ones that give me great pause are: tapioca starch, lecithin, brown rice syrup, maltitol, fractionated palm kernel oil, natural flavor, malitiol syrup, polydextrose, high oleic safflower oil, natural flavor (again) and maltodextrin. Here are some of the problems I have with each.
Tapioca Starch – Extremely high glycemic index of 85. To compare, sugar has a GI of 70. No nutritional value.
Lecithin – the label doesn’t tell us what type of lecithin is used. It can be soy, eggs, milk, marine sources, rapeseed, cottonseed, and sunflower. Most of the time it is derived from genetically modified soybeans. So what is lecithin? It is the generic term to designate any group of yellow-brownish fatty substances occurring in animal and plant tissues composed of phosphoric acid, choline, fatty acids, glycerol, glycolipids, triglycerides, and phospholipids (e.g., phosphatidylcholine, phosphatidylethanolamine, and phosphatidylinositol). It is used in the food industry as an emulsifier in packaged food products. This is a highly processed ingredient that is genetically modified and most likely chemically extracted. I will take a pass. (I would be less concerned if this was non-GMO soy lecithin, or even if the type of lecithin used was listed)
Brown Rice Syrup – this is a sweetener I see all over the snack bar market. I am not a fan at all. This has a glycemic index of 100 and, unless specified, is typically derived from genetically modified brown rice. Don’t let the words “brown rice” fool you into believing this is healthy. It is made from whole grain rice treated with enzymes that break down natural starches into sugars. It is a refined and concentrated sweetener that is often used as a substitute for high fructose corn syrup.
Maltitol – This is one of the many sugar alcohols used to make processed snacks and desserts “sugar-free”. Consumption of maltitol and other sugar alcohols can cause gastrointestinal discomfort, including a laxative like effect. Maltitol is produced from starch mainly in corn or potatoes. Definitely derived from GM food that is then highly processed into the final product. My personal experience years ago with maltitol was an uncomfortable one. I recall bloating and overall GI upset.
Fractionated Palm Kernel Oil – Let’s start with palm kernel oil, then we can touch on what fractionated palm kernel oil is. It can’t be obtained organically. Instead, the oil must be extracted from the pit with a gasoline-like hydrocarbon solvent. In short, palm kernel oil is a cheap, unhealthy fat, which well-known Dr. Andrew Weil recommends avoiding products containing it. Now what about the fractionated palm kernel oil? Fractionation is a further phase of palm oil processing, designed to extract and concentrate specific fatty acid fractions. Fractionated palm oil, as found in food products, has a higher concentration of saturated fat than regular palm oil and is used for the convenience of manufacturers who like its stability and melting characteristics.
Natural Flavor – this additive makes me angry because it can mean pretty much anything! The FDA Code of Federal Regulations Title 21 defines the term natural flavor as “the essential oil, oleoresin, essence or extractive, protein hydrolysate, distillate, or any product of roasting, heating or enzymolysis, which contains the flavoring constituents derived from a spice, fruit or fruit juice, vegetable or vegetable juice, edible yeast, herb, bark, bud, root, leaf or similar plant material, meat, seafood, poultry, eggs, dairy products, or fermentation products thereof, whose significant function in food is flavoring rather than nutritional”. In all seriousness, this can be anything, including MSG. Here’s an example of a natural flavor ingredient that will turn your stomach – it’s called castoreum and is an extract derived from the beavers’ anal glands. Mmmmmmm. Just think of all the creative ingredients that can be hiding under the “natural flavors” label.
Maltitol Syrup – Read Maltitol above, then add a more processed and concentrated version of this sweetener, which contains 50-80% maltitol and most of the remainder is composed of sorbitol. Sorbitol is another sugar alcohol that has well-documented cases of stomach upset and diarrhea in some individuals. Perhaps this is why sorbitol has been linked to IBS. The glycemic index of maltitol syrup is higher than maltitol, but just slightly below sugar.
Polydextrose – This is a multi-purpose food additive synthesized from dextrose (glucose), plus about 10 percent sorbitol and 1 percent citric acid. It is a soluble non-viscous manmade polymer that is only partially fermented by the gut microbiota. Food companies use this additive to bulk up product and add fiber. I always opt for natural fiber, which is abundant in vegetables, nuts and seeds.
High Oleic Safflower Oil – This is a highly processed oil that has taken the place of hydrogenated oil (trans fats) to keep food shelf-stable and preserve flavor since all the negative attention about trans fats. Here’s a study documenting how high oleic safflower oil, compared to high linoleic safflower oil and coconut oil caused an increase in tumors in rats. My guess is 10 years from now these high oleic oils may be on the list of “bad” ingredients.
Natural Flavor – Why is it listed twice? Well, see it above.
Maltodextrin – This is a food additive produced from starch (usually of corn in US, but can be wheat) by partial hydrolysis and is usually found as a white hygroscopic spray-dried powder. Maltodextrin is easily digestible, being absorbed as rapidly as glucose, and might be either moderately sweet or almost flavorless making it perfect for processed food manufacturers. This has a high glycemic index of 95 (sugar is 70).
So what should you do if you want a high protein snack on-the-go? Here are some suggestions:
Pumpkin Seeds – these will provide you with the same amount of protein (18g) as the IsaLean Bar does (both are 60g), and much more natural nutritive values. Not to mention, lower carb and sugar than the IsaLean bar. And they’re delicious!
Almonds – not quite as much protein (13g compared to 18g in 60g serving size), but full of healthy fats and vitamins/minerals. You can spice almonds up on your own by roasting using your favorite seasonings and spice. Just watch out for overloading on the salt – 1/4 tsp contains a whopping 590mg of sodium!
And I’m going to give the Mind Your Muffin almond cave bite (paleo, gluten-free, vegan) a plug here as it is a great option for on-the-go snack/sweet treat filled with organic, all-natural fiber and protein! Only 4g of carbs and no sugar (and of course nothing artificial or highly processed). Simple healthful ingredients to give your body what it needs and nothing it doesn’t. You never have to be without the perfect snack with our cave bite subscriptions where the bites will be delivered right to your door every month! So perfect!
There are many many protein bars out there. If you do one thing, read the ingredients and look for red flags. Do your best to stay away from them.
If you have any protein bars or snack foods you would like me to take a look at for you, please ask! I’m very busy running my healthy baked goods company, but will definitely give it a look for you.
Keep up your awareness,