4 High-Protein Snacks To Leave on Grocery Store Shelves Right Now
The human body has an impressive, innate ability to repair itself throughout the normal wear-and-tear of life. And this is where the magic of protein comes in. There's a reason why nutritionists and health experts consider protein to be an essential part of one's diet. These chains of amino acids play roles in muscle growth, digestion, hormonal regulation, cell repair, and energy production.
"Protein contains the building blocks for muscle and tissue growth. It is necessary for optimal immune function and regulated moods," says Sydney Greene, MS, RD, and owner of Greene Health. "At its most basic level, protein is a tremendous source of energy and is critical to thriving."
You might be looking for the best ways to incorporate more protein in your diet. There are plenty of high-protein foods to munch on between meals. Why not use your snacking habit to your advantage?
"Protein helps build and repair lean muscle mass, as well as slows down digestion helping you get full faster and stay full longer," advises Amy Goodson, MS, RD, CSSD, LD, and Board Certified Specialist in Sports Dietetics. "Because it slows down the digestive process and helps keep your blood sugar more stable, it can help reduce the occurrence of energy highs and lows throughout the day."
But simply grabbing whatever advertises high-protein content off the shelf isn't going to cut it. Whether you're trying to build strength, achieve a weight loss goal, or just stabilize your energy, there's a right way to add protein to your day.
"Just because a food is high in protein does not always mean it is good for you," notes Goodson. "If it contains large amounts of added sugars or saturated fats—which can both be found on the food label—then you might want to choose another option. Both added sugars and saturated fats can add up to a lot of calories and, oftentimes, not a lot of nutrients."
To the untrained eye, it can be difficult to identify which foods are worth your money. Here are four high-protein snacks that our experts recommend you skip for a well-balanced diet.
Balance Peanut Butter Nutrition Bar
Protein bars are a convenient way to get your protein boost on the go. Nothing is easier to toss in your bag for those busy days—and it's a better way to satisfy your hunger than a handful of chips.
This mineral and vitamin-filled protein bar might seem like it has the best nutritional balance, but the ingredient list tells a different story, with 17 grams of sugar for 15 grams of protein. "This bar has more grams of sugar than grams of protein," says Greene. "In addition, the ingredient list is full of highly processed items."
One ingredient you can find in many protein bars is a protein isolate. This bar has a protein blend made up of soy, whey, and milk protein isolates.
"Ideally, protein should be coming from a whole food source instead of an isolate. For example, protein from Greek yogurt is different from 'milk protein isolate,'" notes Greene. "You also want the grams of protein in a snack to be higher than the grams of sugar." In short, this is a snack you can pass on.
Quest Dipped Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough Protein Bar
Quest Bars offer a litany of dessert flavors like S'mores, Peppermint Bark, and Birthday Cake, so you can indulge without the sugar. People with diabetes or on a ketogenic diet have to strictly limit their sugar intake, and this is marketed as a high-protein bar that can meet their needs.
How can you create a cookie dough substitute without any sugar? By using artificial sweeteners and sugar alcohols. These contain fewer calories and they do not have a significant effect on your blood sugar level.
But some studies have shown that artificial sweeteners can be detrimental to gut health. "This product contains possible gastrointestinal irritants like erythritol (sugar alcohol) and corn fiber," says Greene. If you have any digestive issues like IBS, you may want to reach for a real treat over this "healthy" dessert.
You can find high-quality protein bars if you know what you're looking for. Goodson recommends picking bars that have a reasonable 10 to 20 grams. "If you are looking at bars, shakes, and powders that contain more than 30 grams of protein per serving, it's probably not worth buying," she says.
Clean Simple Eats Cookies 'N Cream Protein Powder
When you're trying to build muscle, you have to take in a lot of additional protein. For reference, Healthline says that the average person needs about 0.36 grams of protein per pound of body weight. But in order to gain muscle, you'll want to more than double that, with 0.7 to 1.0 grams per pound of lean body mass. Mixing protein powder into a smoothie, or even water can help supplement the protein you get from your diet, making it easier to reach your goal.
But even though this particular mix looks delicious and packs 20 grams of protein with zero grams of added sugar, it's not the best if you're trying to stay on track with a nutrition plan. Greene points out that this powder contains xylitol as its second ingredient, which isn't going to help you kick a sugar habit.
"Xylitol is a sugar alcohol. Sugar alcohols are way sweeter than real sugar and can leave you craving sweets throughout the day," says Greene. For that reason, you'd be better off finding another option.
Oikos Pro Vanilla Greek Yogurt
And yet, Dannon tried to amp up their Oikos Greek Yogurt with unnecessary ingredients that you don't need in your bowl to boast a whopping 20 grams of protein per serving.
"Greek yogurt on its own is naturally rich in protein. This product adds whey protein to the yogurt to boost grams of protein," says Greene. "In addition, this product contains 'natural flavors,' which can cause GI upset, as well as preservatives."
Rather than buying the hype, stick to regular Greek yogurt, topped with peanut butter or other nuts for even more satiating protein.