Are energy bars, protein shakes and other foods advertised as "health foods" good for us? Answer: More often than not, NO they aren't.

Processed foods are generally not good for us, regardless of how they are advertised. I’ve lived with roommates who firmly believed that they were on wholesome, perfectly nutritious diets all the while subsisting on Power bars, frozen TV dinners from the health food section of our local grocery store and Gatorade. Just because a product is advertised as a health food does not make it one! A trip to the grocery store quickly confirms this simple, yet often forgotten principle. In fact, many of the foods advertised as “energy bars” or nutrient packed “protein powders” are some of the most dangerous foods you could possibly consume. Take for instance PowerBar’s Triple Threat Chocolate Peanut Butter Crisp. Putting aside the fact that the name of this bar doesn’t sound healthy to begin with (albeit it does sound decadently delicious), let us pretend that we fall for the claim that this bar provides “long lasting energy” as marketed on the packaging. Now, let us begin to become enlightened about why this PowerBar can do no such thing and doesn’t even taste decadently delicious for Pete’s sake.  

Energy bar. Flickr: D'Arcy Norman

The first ingredient is corn syrup. Corn syrup, only slightly better than it’s cousin high fructose corn syrup, is the nutritional equivalent of sugar. The next ingredient is soy crisps, a combination of soy protein isolate and rice flour. Mmm, tasty. Soy protein isolate is a highly processed soy product that retains none of the original nutritional value of the natural soybean and raises levels of insulin like growth factor-1 (IGF-1) in the blood, subsequently hastening the growth of our cells and the aging process. The manner in which soy protein isolate is processed and manufactured is freaky too. It involving acid washing it in aluminum tanks. I’m not sure what the purpose of acid washing is, but I do know that a significant aluminum load manages to make its way into the final product. Nitrites and chemical flavoring are also used to add flavor. These chemicals have been linked to the development of certain cancers, allergies and even Alzheimer’s disease. So far we would be damaging our cells with a big helping of processed sugar and cancer causing processed junk. Let’s see what else this “energy” bar has to throw our way. Next we’ve got a chocolatey coating. Oh look, more sugar! Some oil and whey! Mmm. More wholesome goodness for us to chew on. Whey is the liquid remaining after cow’s boob milk has been curdled, so not only is it bad for us, but it’s gross too. Just like soy protein isolate, whey is a processed protein which raises IGF-1. Excess protein is simply not lifespan favorable.

After reading the ingredient list (see actual list below), it becomes obvious that the ingestion of this “energy” bar will provide no more energy than if we simply blended a bunch of sugar, processed proteins, salt and oil. Even though calling it a “drop dead prematurely” bar would probably not be the best marketing strategy, it would be much more accurate. There is a restaurant in Dallas, Texas called Heart Attack Grill, which I’m told is quite successful, so I don’t know. Perhaps a “drop dead prematurely” bar would do quite well in grocery stores. It might peak the interest of children around Halloween.   

Ingredients

CORN SYRUP, SOY CRISPS (SOY PROTEIN ISOLATE, RICE FLOUR, ALKALIZED COCOA), CHOCOLATEY COATING (SUGAR, FRACTIONATED PALM KERNEL OIL, COCOA, WHEY, NONFAT MILK, SOY LECITHIN, NATURAL VANILLA FLAVOR), WHOLE OATS, DRY ROASTED PEANUTS, SOY PROTEIN ISOLATE, INULIN (FROM CHICORY), NATURAL FLAVORS (CONTAINS PEANUT, MILK, SOY LECITHIN), RICE CRISPS (MILLED RICE, SUGAR, SALT, BARLEY MALT), SALTED PEANUT BUTTER, VEGETABLE GLYCERIN, AND LESS THAN 2% OF PEANUT FLOUR, ALMOND BUTTER, SALT, SOY LECITHIN, MINERALS: CALCIUM PHOSPHATE, POTASSIUM PHOSPHATE, FERROUS FUMARATE (IRON), VITAMINS: ASCORBIC ACID (VITAMIN C), VITAMIN B6 HYDROCHLORIDE, RIBOFLAVIN (VITAMIN B2), THIAMINE MONONITRATE (VITAMIN B1). CONTAINS ALMOND, MILK, PEANUT AND SOY INGREDIENTS. MADE ON EQUIPMENT THAT ALSO PROCESSES WHEAT.

The moral of this short blog post is that processed foods advertised as health foods are not necessarily healthy. The less you use foods that come in packages, boxes or wrappers, the better. There are a few processed products that make the nutrient density, body lovin’ cut, but we need to do our homework and read the labels if we decide we are in the mood to open a can or unfreeze a TV dinner.   

But it would cost

I got thinking the other day how different my life would’ve been if, as a toddler, beer would’ve been repeatedly put into my sippy cup. . . .and fake food & cigarettes would’ve been a negative stigma to even be around or touch.

And later on, as I got older, beer would’ve been served with my high-nutrient meals, including school lunches.   

Most likely I would’ve grown up not eating pizza, cheeseburgers, spaghetti, fried chicken, beef ‘n noodles, cheese, ice-cream cones, donuts, and chips. In fact, most likely, I would’ve probably thought they were disgusting. . . . just as disgusting to me as the lingering smoke and smell of cigarettes.

However, I’d probably be totally addicted to alcohol and not be able to function without it. Possibly even totally dependant upon the stuff to get me through each day. 

I’d seek friends who also liked to drink. 

I’d seek activities where drinking was encouraged. 

I’d even possibly seek religious and social affiliations where drinking was condoned.

I’d most definitely turn to alcohol to calm my nerves, celebrate victories, cheer sadness, cope with stress, overcome insecurities, escape pain and responsibilities, and soothe a bleeding heart.

However, if, on down the road, I realized the damaging affects of alcohol on my body; including my inability to think clearly, hold down a job, raise a family, and have healthy interpersonal relationships, I may decide to get rid of the stuff. Once and for all.

But it would cost.

It would cost abstinence for rest of my life.

It may possibly require developing new friends and activities. 

And it may even cost finding different religious and social affiliations that would support my decision to remain sober.  

Addiction is addiction. When one is addicted to any health damaging substance, whether it is the standard American diet, sugar, “healthy” sweets, artificial sweeteners, alcohol, nicotine, cocaine, heroine, or meth; to live in freedom from the addiction will require a radical commitment to abstinence. Including possibly finding new friends, activities, religious and social affiliations that support the decision to remain free . . . for life!

 

According to Dr. Fuhrman, “The facts are that fast food and junk foods cause a thousand times as many premature deaths compared to cocaine; and it’s condoned.”

 

Are you committed to abstinence?

Think about it.  

 

image:  Emily Boller circa 1964