For anyone looking to bio hack their health and make dieting easier, you would have heard and most likely ingested something with sugar alcohols. They are mostly synthetic products (man-made), except for a couple, that taste like sugar, have a negligible effect on blood sugar, but have minimal or no calories, or so we thought…

I’m going to cover the most popular sugar alcohols found in protein bars and other ‘healthy’ snacks that people tend to lean towards. After you review the sugar alcohols comparisons,  you may think twice before picking that favourite protein bar you love.  But I also want you to keep in mind, that a protein bar is, for the most part, much much better than a chocolate bar. So, ultimately it depends on your goals and what is going to help you progress forward towards them. 

For those of you strict dieting for a competition then I only recommend a couple of brands of bar; which I will list as we go through the different sugar alcohols.

  1. Maltitol:

2 calories/ gram       versus sugar – 4 calories/gram

glycemic index: 52   versus sugar  – 60-65 range   (on a scale of 1-100, with 

  100 being the highest; maltose)

When you see protein bars with maltitol as the main sugar alcohol, then you know you’re getting 50% of the calories you think you’re not. For example, if the protein bar says 20 grams of sugar alcohols, you’re not really getting 0 calories from it, but instead roughly 40 calories. Also you will get a significant insulin spike; not good if you already have sugar cravings, or are pre- (or diabetic). Also, for general health limiting your daily insulin spikes is an important factor.

Bars made with Maltitol (which I was shocked when I first saw it): 

Yeah One, Muscle Pharm (plus they have added sugar), Think Thin (plus soy; stay away from soy and its cancer causing effects), Pure Protein.

**But, if it means having either a chocolate bar with 3 tablespoons of sugar plus a lot of bad fat or a protein bar with maybe 40-60 calories (1 tablespoon of sugar calories), then stick with the protein bar**

2) Erythritol:

0.2 calories/ gram      versus sugar – 4 calories/gram

glycemic index: 0       versus sugar  – 60-65 range 

This sweetener is also found in gums and dental products; shown to aid in dental health where plaque buildup is reduced and bacterial growth is stunted versus using other sweeteners like sorbitol or xylitol. Also, of the other sugar alcohols (ending in ‘ol’) erythritol tends to be easier on the digestive system. 

Bars made with Erythritol : Quest bars (best choice)

3) Xylitol:

2.4 calories/ gram      versus sugar – 4 calories/gram

glycemic index: 7       versus sugar  – 60-65 range 

This sweetener is about 70% as sweet as sugar and often found in juices, jellies, jams, gum, and candies, in addition to oral products like toothpaste, mouth wash, etc. Xylitol also promotes healthy gut health and feeds friendly bacteria in your digestive system. 

Bars made with Xylitol : B Up Protein bars (also have stevia and monk fruit; will discuss below)

4) Monk Fruit:

0 calories/ gram         versus sugar – 4 calories/gram

glycemic index: 0       versus sugar  – 60-65 range 

This sweetener is relatively new on the market and very sweet; roughly 250x sweeter than sugar so you don’t need much. There are numerous health benefits in addition to its 0 calories and none effect on blood sugar levels. The magrosides found in the fruit is what gives the health benefits that range from: anti-bacterial, anti-cancer, reduces phlegm and sore throats, among other features. It is more expensive than the other sweeteners and has been shown to give a weird aftertaste for some individuals.

Bars made with monk fruit : Paleo Thin & Primal Thin protein bars (also better bars, but reviews of texture are not the best; think ‘toffee’ bar versus soft chewy bars)

5) Stevia:

0 calories/ gram         versus sugar – 4 calories/gram

glycemic index: 0       versus sugar  – 60-65 range 

This sweetener is one of the natural ones, like monk fruit. And is even sweeter, 300x as sweet as sugar. Like most sweeteners, too much of anything can cause gas & bloating so be mindful of how much you’re consuming. The after taste is quite bitter. Studies have also shown stevia consumption can affect your gut bacteria, and not in a good way.

Bars made with stevia : B Up Protein bars (also have xylitol and monk fruit)

As a pre-emptive note, please be mindful I did not list all protein bars worldwide that are made with these sweeteners; I listed the more popular ones and better choices among the many out there. Also there are a few things to look for when looking at a protein bar; the most important one being dependent on your goals and eating habits. If you are a true keto-type follower, then you may not like any of the bars I listed because they are far too high in protein and too low in fat. On the other hand, if you’re following a modified ketogenic diet, then any of the bars should suffice.  If you are diabetic or pre-diabetic, you probably want to avoid the bars with maltitol as it has a high impact on your blood sugar levels.

Furthermore, if a protein bar has ismalto-oligosaccharides (IMO) then add 50% calories to the carbohydrate content (where the sugar alcohols are listed) as well as be wary of the blood sugar effect. Despite these sugars being a pre-biotic bacteria and improving your gut health, there is still calories in them. The only time you can truly believe there are no added (or minimal) calories from and IMO product is if it’s made naturally (versus synthetic which most companies do since its far cheaper to manufacture) with miso, sake, or soy.  

Ultimately, a protein bar is typically better than a chocolate bar so you’re better off picking that despite the misleading labeling on some of the protein bar brands. And try not to rely on a daily protein bar, unless you’re:

  1. already at your goal and just maintaining your weight and body composition; and enjoy the daily sweet treat
  2. struggle with sugar cravings and need a daily fix to stay on track
  3. are busy with your schedule and find it hard to eat multiple meals with meat(or fish, etc), veggies, and other macronutrients.
  4. are traveling and need the easy 3 minute meal
  5. starting a food plan and finding it difficult to get all of the volume in so need something easier to digest and lighter.

As a reminder of what the Canadian Heart & Stroke Association recommends for sugar intake it is only 10% of your total calories. So if your daily intake is 2000 calories, then of that you should only be consuming 48 grams of sugar (4 tablespoons). A can of pop is equal to 3 tablespoons; a large apple has 2 tablespoons. 

According to the American Heart Association, their recommendation is 24-36 grams/day versus the reality of the general population is that they’re consuming 2.5x that amount; 88 grams/day. That’s over 7 tablespoons of sugar!

With that in mind, think twice before reaching for your next sugar fix. If you cut down your sugars -> you’ll cut down your cravings -> you’ll improve your clarity and energy -> you’ll reduce your waistline ->>>> reduce risk of a number of health conditions. Why wouldn’t we all want that?

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