When I started getting serious about exercising again, I noticed some similarities among the fit people I knew and those I didn’t (Instagram). Everyone was talking about Quest Bars. I can’t tell you how many times I have seen them plastered on Instagram, Twitter and all over health/fitness blogs. It got to the point where I felt like I had to eat and like Quest Bars if I wanted to keep up a healthy lifestyle, get in shape, avoid sugar, look good, feel good and be better at life. But, that just isn’t the case for an average person like me. I really wondered, “Are Quest Bars Healthy?” So I went digging for some answers.
Here’s why I won’t eat a Quest Bar:
First, good nutrition comes from eating good food. That’s a basic principle that most of us can agree upon. Quest Bars have a short and seemingly “clean” ingredients list but I want all of us to take a deeper look at what those ingredients really mean and how the nutrition label breaks down. Do we need the things a Quest Bar gives us? Let’s look at the version I have seen the most of: Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough.
QuestNutrition.com gets you excited about the bar with this: “A taste so unbelievable, you’ll think you’re eating the real thing!” A tell-tale sign that you’re about to consume something that is heavily manufactured to taste like a chocolate chip cookie (but is not actually a chocolate chip cookie).
Whey Protein Isolate: To get to the isolate form, whey goes through a heat processing technique that denatures the whey and removes all of the beneficial bioactive compounds. Isolates also cause a pretty hefty insulin response which makes it less ideal as an ingredient. Undenatured whey protein concentrate is a better choice because it contains beneficial enzymes and bioactive compounds. If you want a pre/post workout boost, replace your bar with a whey protein smoothie and use a product like Tera’s Whey, it’s organic and the vanilla is delicious.
Isomalto-Oligosaccharides (IMO): A source of fiber that gives Quest Bars 17g of insoluble fiber per bar. The maximum dose of IMO that doesn’t cause diarrhea is 15-20g per day. If you’re eating more than one Quest Bar per day, you might be spending some extra time in the bathroom. This ingredient is sold and marketed as a sweetener, so adding it increases the fiber content and also makes the Quest Bar taste better.
Almonds, Water, Unsweetened Chocolate: Not much to say here.
Cocoa Butter: High in saturated fat, but not necessarily bad for you in moderation.
Erythriol: A sugar alcohol that can lead to digestive upset if consumed in excess amounts, but a good option for a sweetener.
Sea Salt, Stevia (Steviol Glycosides): Also not much to say here, either.
Natural Flavors: “Natural flavors” is a way around saying where the flavor came from, for example, beaver butt.
Sucralose – or Splenda: My least favorite sweetener, ever. I dislike it so much that I’m not even okay with the “less than 2%” disclaimer that Quest Nutrition includes on the Quest Bar label. I’ve written about Splenda before and here are the highlights: A study published in 2008 found that 12 weeks of using Splenda resulted in a reduction in good gut bacteria, which other studies have found can be related to metabolic disorders. Cooking with sucralose at high temperatures was shown to produce toxic compounds. More importantly, artificial sweeteners like sucralose interact with receptors on the tongue, letting the body know you’ve eaten something sweet and preliminary research shows that this can cause a blood sugar-insulin roller coaster that certainly isn’t good for you.
This makes me think that heating Quest Bars up to make them taste like real cookies probably isn’t a great idea.
Marketing for protein bars is BIG, and that can be confusing if you’re not sure about how much protein you need.
To give you some perspective, a woman can require around 50 grams per day. A 5.3oz serving of plain Greek yogurt has 15 grams, 1/2 cup of beans has 8 grams, and 3oz of salmon has 21 grams of protein. To find out how much protein you need, check out this calculator.
If you’re looking for a real food bar to keep you from getting hangry (hungry + angry) on the go, consider a Lara Bar (higher in sugar due to the use of dates) or Zing Bar (depending on the bar you choose, less sugar). Granted, neither one has 21 grams of protein, but the average person doesn’t need 21 grams of protein in one meal.
The bottom line: I feel that Quest Bars are a highly processed product meant to taste good, boost your protein intake and make you feel like you’re eating right. While these bars might speak to a certain population (those who limit carbs or those who want a high protein bar) I don’t think it’s a good option for the average person, especially not someone kick starting or maintaining a healthy lifestyle.
I, for one, believe carbs are a good thing.
Your turn: are you a fan of Quest Bars? Do you have a bar that you prefer?