Consumers Mull over Health in Cereal Bars

Commercial high-protein snack products, particularly high protein bars, are not necessarily perceived by consumers as healthy, according to a survey of high-protein snack foods conducted by safefood, a body with attributions on safety and nutrition issues in Ireland.

Among the finds, the study also highlights that adults’ protein needs can be met by consuming a varied diet containing a range of protein sources, without the inclusion of commercial high-protein food products. The products with “high-protein” claims were surveyed, including cereal bars in which at least 20% of the energy value was provided by protein.

Results from the consumer survey showed that 37% of adults on the Island of Ireland (IOI) consider protein bars to be healthy. The perception of protein bars as being healthy was highest among 15-24-year-olds and males. Just over a quarter (28%) of adults have purchased a protein bar, with 25-34-year-olds most likely to have purchased at 42%. Just under one third (32%) of adults who purchase protein bars do so weekly or more often.

The main reasons given by respondents for the purchase of protein bars included:  they are considered a healthy snack (26%), as an on the go snack (20%), for a snack before/after the gym (19%) and for extra protein (17%).

On the other hand, the study underlines that there is no evidence that population protein intakes are low. Consumers may be uncertain as to whether they are getting sufficient amounts, creating a potential desire to enrich their diet with additional protein from commercial sources.

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,” stated dr. Catherine Conlon, director of human health & nutrition, safefood.

However, the consumers did not consider the bars healthy, when using traffic-light labeling criteria: 79% had an amber label for total fat, 77% had a red label for saturated fat, 51% had a green label for sugar, 28% amber and 21% red, 87% had an amber label for salt.

The product survey found that commercial high-protein snack foods, particularly high-protein bars, are sources of saturated fat, added sugar and salt. Overconsumption of foods with high saturated fat, sugar and salt content has been linked to overweight and obesity. This increases the risk of developing additional adverse health outcomes such as cardiovascular disease, some cancers, diabetes and raised blood pressure, according to the report.

When it comes to ingredients, chocolate was listed as the primary ingredient in 38% of bars surveyed; protein was identified as the first ingredient in 35% of cereal bars or snack bars, respectively. Protein content was mainly derived from milk proteins (whey and casein) and the vegetable protein, soy. Oils (palm, coconut, soy, sunflower, safflower, shea, rapeseed and mint) were also ingredients listed in 62% of bars. Sucrose was an ingredient in 41% of bars. Other sources of sugar such as fruit, fruit purees, fruit juices, and syrups, were also prominent. Sweeteners were identified as an ingredient in 69% of the high-protein bars. Added salt was listed on 90 % of ingredients lists.

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