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Think Thin Bars…think again

Happy Friday,

Snack bars, especially ones marketed as healthy, are hard to resist.  Super convenient, easy to bring anywhere and don’t go bad for months.  Seems like a no-brainer.  C’mon, every body’s doing it.  So why shouldn’t you?

This post is not about why you should avoid all snack bar products.  That is extreme and there are some decent ones on the market.  This post is about one brand of bars, the Think Thin protein bars.  With a great brand name and terrific marketing plastered on the bars’ wrappers exuding the health benefits of their protein bars, how could you not be tempted to try Think Thin?  “Gluten-free, 0 sugar, low glycemic” – sounds good, right?

I became a loyal customer to their brownie crunch and chunky peanut butter bars years ago and I must say I fell hard for them.  The bars became a daily staple in my diet.  I may have had even more than 1 bar some days.  They tasted good and had high protein without carb overload.  But, these convenient protein snacks were not doing me any favors.  It took months for me to figure out that the bars were actually causing my body harm as the ingredients were not healthful or beneficial for me.  All I had to do was read the long list of ingredients to understand why I was not feeling as good as I usually did.

Let’s have a look at the Brownie Crunch Think Thin protein bar.  To begin, Think Thin does not make it simple for you to locate the ingredients online.  Go ahead – take a look at their product details page on their website.  Can you find the list of ingredients?  I found the nutrition panel, but no ingredients.  Here’s a screenshot of what you will see on the company’s website.

Brownie Crunch

And here is something I find very deceiving.  I clicked on “Learn More” as I thought this is where I could locate the ingredient list of the brownie crunch bar.  This is what I found:

learn more

learn more 2

Let’s go through their list.  High protein – yes, there is 20 grams of protein per bar, but let’s look at the source.  You can find the ingredients listed on a bar.  The protein comes from soy.  Overly processed, most likely genetically modified soy.  You will actually find the word “soy” listed in the ingredients 4 times!  Go ahead – count for yourself.

brownie crunch ingredients

Let’s move on to the 2nd item listed under “Learn More” about the brownie crunch bar – No Refined Sugar.  What you find in this bar is REFINED SUGAR ALCOHOLS, so technically not refined sugar.  The maltitol, which is listed twice in the ingredients, and glycerin are both sugar alcohols that are known to cause digestive upset.  Maltitol, which is a very common highly processed sugar alcohol used in sugar free foods, is mostly derived from corn.  Another big genetically modified crop.

Next is Gluten-Free.  Fine, the product is gluten-free, but that does not mean healthy.  Please understand what gluten is and gluten-free foods can be very unhealthy.  Potato chips and many ice creams are gluten-free.

Good Source of Fiber.  The brownie crunch bar has 2 grams of fiber.  That does not qualify as a good source of fiber for a 230 calorie snack.

Non-GMO Ingredients.  Please read this closely because the brownie crunch bar does contain genetically modified ingredients.  You will notice the company has listed they strive to source Non-GMO ingredients and only their Crunch Mixed Nut Bars do not contain genetically modified ingredients!  Ha!  They rely on us consumers being too busy and rushed to read the fine print.

Low Glycemic Index.  These bars have 25 grams of carbohydrates and only 2 grams of fiber.  It’s decent, but not great.

Dairy Free.  Well, brownie crunch bars are not dairy free as they contain milk fat and casein.  Here’s some information about casein: most allergic reactions to milk and cheese are because of casein.  When casein is broken down by the body, the peptide that it is broken down into acts as a histamine releaser.  This has been shown to aggravate autism symptoms.

Vegan.  Same as above – the brownie crunch and all their protein bars contain several animal-based ingredients.

This business practice of trying to fool the consumer is something that truly gets to me.  Think Thin did fool me once, but never again.

Let’s take another look at that ingredient list:

brownie crunch ingredients

There are 3 ingredients listed above that I believe are healthy and can be within a “healthy” snack product.  Those are water, almonds and sea salt.  All the other ingredients demonstrate how overly processed and fake this product is.  Natural flavors, which is listed twice, is a big no-no as it can be ANYTHING.  No joke – here is the definition of natural flavors by the FDA:

natural flavors

So yes, it can be anything.  Including monosodium glutamate (MSG).

I am not going to go through each ingredient and tell you my thoughts, as I know you are smart enough to see these Think Thin protein bars clearly for what they are.  But, here is a former post about another brand of snack bars where I do go through each ingredient.  Not surprisingly, you will see a ton of overlap in ingredients.

Read Your Ingredients!

 

 

 

 

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How Healthy is Your Snack Bar? I take a peek at the Larabar

You know as well as I do there are so many, perhaps too many, snack bar options available.  It is overwhelming and would take not 1 minute short of an hour to look through all the snack bars at your local Whole Foods Market.  So what do many of us do when we’re looking for a healthy on-the-go snack bar option and don’t have time?  We ask our own food expert.  I’m sure you have a person you ask for recommendations on vitamins, supplements and healthy snacks.  Lately, I have been perturbed by the healthy snack bars that have been recommended to people I talk with in my daily life.  That’s where this post comes in.

Let me begin by saying it is extremely difficult to find a truly healthy snack bar product.  And it is my experience and belief that simply because all ingredients contained within a snack bar product are readable and natural, that doesn’t give it my stamp of approval.  The one bar that I have been hearing so many women snacking on recently is the Larabar.  Larabar brand has 19 flavors of its original Larabar product, which are composed of natural ingredients.  I applaud Larabar for only using natural fruits and nuts in their bars.  But here’s the problem I have with the bars.  The average Larabar contains 20.16 grams of sugar.  That’s a ton of sugar – natural or not.

So how does this over 20 grams of sugar fit into your daily diet?  The World Health Organization’s recommended daily sugar intake for adults is 5% of daily caloric intake.  For a normal weight adult eating 2,000 calories per day, that equates to 25 grams of sugar per day.  This is TOTAL sugar recommended every day.  And if you’re daily calorie consumption is 1,600 calories/day, then your recommended sugar intake would be 20 grams.  The average Larabar would put you over this recommended daily amount.  

Image

And if you say, “so what?  It’s natural sugar – as long as it’s natural it’s okay.”  In my opinion, this is very wrong.  Our body processes sugar as sugar, natural or not.  According to Time’s article, “The Truth About Fat”, here’s how that process goes: Once sugar is ingested, it is converted to insulin, which makes fat cells go into storage overdrive leading to weight gain.  Since this leaves less calories to fuel the body, we begin to get hungry even as our metabolism slows down to conserve energy.  This begins a vicious cycle where we eat more and gain more. 

I’m not saying enjoying a Larabar before an intensive workout is bad.  I definitely don’t have a problem with that.  I would rather enjoy nuts or seeds, maybe even a fresh whole fruit before a workout, like a handful of blueberries, raspberries or blackberries.  But we are creatures of habit and seems to me when you begin incorporating a Larabar (or other snack bar) into your life, it may soon be something you eat daily and treat as a “healthy” part of your daily diet.  Add on that ice cream or dessert you have at the end of a long summer day and you may be close to 50 grams of sugar in just 1 day.  It doesn’t take much to get there.

What can you do to make sure you and your family stay healthy by not consuming too much sugar in your daily diets?

– eat real food ingredients, but be mindful of starchy carbs and sugars.  I do not consume fruit daily, or weekly for that matter.  But when I do indulge in fruit (yes, I said indulge as these contain a high amount of sugar) I choose berries as they are higher in fiber and antioxidants, and lower in sugar compared to other fruits.

– indulgent cakes, ice creams and other decadent unhealthy desserts should be treats enjoyed very infrequently 

– snack on unprocessed natural, or even dry-roasted, unsalted nuts and seeds.  Try roasting some cashews in your oven with coconut oil and a sprinkling of pink himalayan salt.  Add your favorite spices and herbs – cinnamon, spicy chili, rosemary.  So many options here.  

– avoid or have an out ready in situations where you tend to let yourself go, or feel pressured to make poor food choices.  Birthday parties at work ring a bell?  Or the kids driving you crazy over the summer and you reach for any snack in site?  Recognize these tendencies and make a plan to avoid the unhealthy snacking.  What works well for me is carrying “safe” snacking foods on me at all times.  Yes, it seems bizarre to always have food on one’s person, but it makes my life so much easier.  Just saying no doesn’t always work because being the only person in a room not eating just doesn’t feel right.  I grab whatever I have on me and join the crowd.  And it feels great walking out of there knowing I don’t feel bad about what I just ate.  In fact, the opposite holds true.  If you don’t have any food on you and are in a position you feel pressured to join, just say “I’m on a restricted diet” or “I’m being tested for food allergies”.  Although these may not be true (and being tested for food allergies doesn’t mean to avoid the potential allergens), I bet they will get you out of many situations.  

– think before you eat.  Download a food journal app and get into the habit of documenting what you eat BEFORE you actually consume it.  This helps you really think before you eat, especially if the app calculates (or you have manually entered in) the nutrition of the food item.  I’ve tried and liked MyNetDiary.  If you document what you’re eating and drinking (along with workouts), it is easy to figure out why you have gained or lost weight.  These tools make you more accountable to yourself and your health.  

– when eating out, ask for your entree to be prepared plain, or with pepper only.  That “light” sauce is most likely filled with sugars, oils and salt.  You can always ask to have sauces placed on the side.  Do your best to know what you are eating.  Sometimes a restaurant will not be able to prepare an entree plain because the meat or fish or even vegetables have been marinated.  My advice – order something that can be prepared plain because you just don’t know what is in that marinade.  

– an alternate snack bar containing much less sugar (5g vs. 20g) that is a similar size as a Larabar is the Kind Bar Nut Delight.  It’s not perfect, but it provides about the same amount of calories (200), more protein and fiber, less carbs and sugar than the average Larabar does.  

– eat more healthy fats that will keep you full longer (nuts, seeds, avocados, salmon).  My favorites are almonds and chia seeds.  You can make a healthy chia seed pudding dessert easily – here’s a recipe for vanilla chia seed pudding.  In this recipe, I would omit the honey or maple syrup and find a good quality stevia extract (make sure it is additive free and the only ingredient is stevia extract – no Truvia, Stevia in the Raw, PureVia).  This will lower carb and sugar content. 

Good Luck!  

 

 

 

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A look at Protein Bars, particularly IsaLean bars

Good Evening!

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

IsaLean Natural Oatmeal Raisin Bar

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,

Gina

 

 

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