Hold The Protein Bar

I don’t appreciate this New York Times takedown of protein bars.

The lowlights:

“Manufacturers of these products would have you believe that they can improve your health and your workout. The website for Clif Bar shows people hurling kettlebells or racing through the rain; Gatorade describes its protein bar as ‘scientifically designed for athletes.’ Others seem to brand themselves under the squishy umbrella of wellness. Their marketing features photos and videos of serene women writing in journals, with tips for preventing burnout on the side.

Despite the advertising, though, nutrition experts say that protein bars aren’t all that healthy.

‘You can put ‘keto’ or ‘protein’ on a candy bar and sell it, and people don’t even question it,’ said Janet Chrzan, an adjunct assistant professor of nutritional anthropology at the University of Pennsylvania.”

Can we trust Chrzan, when she’s missing a vowel or two? Prob not, but she’s not the only one with bad news:

“But many protein bars are also full of sugar. A chocolate chip Clif Bar, for example, contains 16 grams of added sugars, more than what’s in a serving of Thin Mints. A Gatorade protein bar in the flavor chocolate chip contains 28 grams of added sugars, twice the amount in a Dunkin’ Donuts chocolate frosted doughnut with sprinkles.

‘By and large, they’re highly processed, high in sugar and salt — kind of a ‘Frankenfood,’’ Dr. Cutting-Jones said. Dr. Rimm agreed: ‘Many protein bars are really just ‘candy bars with a lot more protein,’ he said.”

Has Cutting-Jones ever seen Thin Mints or a frosted doughnut with sprinkles in the back pocket of a cycling jersey after even a few minutes in the saddle.

Sigh. The one thing nutritionists seemingly agree upon is that we should avoid eating any foods that require removing a wrapper. Guess I’ll wait for some team of scientists to figure out how to grow Snickers in the wild.

Postscript: Is it donut or doughnut?

Is Fat Killing You, or Is Sugar?

The title of a recent New Yorker essay by Jerome Groopman.

The problem with most diet books, and with popular-science books about diet, is that their impact relies on giving us simple answers, shorn of attendant complexities: it’s all about fat, or carbs, or how many meals you eat (the Warrior diet), or combinations of food groups, or intervalic fasting (the 5:2 diet), or nutritional genomics (sticking to the foods your distant ancestors may have eaten, assuming you even know where your folks were during the Paleolithic era). They hold out the hope that, if you just fix one thing, your whole life will be better.

In laboratories, it’s a different story, and it sometimes seems that the more sophisticated nutritional science becomes the less any single factor predominates, and the less sure we are of anything. Today’s findings regularly overturn yesterday’s promising hypotheses.

On top of that:

. . . research seems to undermine the whole idea of dieting: extreme regimens pose dangers, such as the risk of damaged kidneys from a buildup of excess uric acid during high-protein diets; and population studies have shown that being a tad overweight may actually be fine. Even studying these issues in the first place can be problematic. Although the study of the Mediterranean diet, for example, reflects randomized controlled experiments, most nutritional studies are observational; they rely on so-called food diaries, in which subjects record what they remember about their daily intake. Such diaries are notoriously inexact. No one likes admitting to having indulged in foods that they know—or think they know—are bad for them.

What to do?

Amid the constant back-and-forth of various hypotheses, orthodoxies, and fads, it’s more important to pay attention to the gradual advances, such as our understanding of calories and vitamins or the consensus among studies showing that trans fats exacerbate cardiovascular disease. What this means for most of us is that common sense should prevail. Eat and exercise in moderation; maintain a diet consisting of balanced amounts of protein, fat, and carbohydrates; make sure you get plenty of fruit and vegetables. And enjoy an occasional slice of chocolate cake.

The problem with that, common sense is not common.