Whether it’s for a quick post workout protein hit or as a craving crushing snack alternative, plant based protein bars are a convenient tool to have in your nutritional arsenal, when in need of a protein pick me up.
Whilst It can’t be disputed that they are a handy snack when on-the-go, whether they are healthy or not, has always been up for debate.
Some claim they are nothing more than glorified candy bars, whilst other argue that they are the perfect, protein packed, weapon of choice.
Here at TPW, we’ve decided to finally set the record straight, once and for all.
Let’s take an in-depth look at what’s inside and if plant powered bars can actually be of benefit to our health.
Is the verdict ‘Healthy’ or ‘Hype’?… Let’s find out.
Not to point out the obvious, but when choosing a protein bar, we of course want it to be full of protein.
The majority of protein bars on the market today use Whey as their primary protein source, but being a by-product of the cheese industry, these of course, won’t be suitable for vegans.
Fortunately, there are plenty of plant based protein sources available and on their own or through a combination of just two or three, a full amino acid profile can be achieved, making them a protein power house of a snack.
The most commonly used source in vegan bars is Soy isolate. This is due to the fact that Soy is a complete protein, meaning it contains all nine essential amino acids needed to build and repair muscle tissue.
Furthermore, Soy has been shown to have the added benefit of reducing your risk of cardiovascular disease. (1)
Pea protein is another favourite for those looking to pack on size with a vegan diet, due to it being just as effective as whey protein at increasing muscle thickness and strength. (2)
Other commonly used plant protein sources are Hemp, Brown rice and Wheat, all of which come with their own unique health benefits and help provide all the amino acids necessary to help you pack on muscle.
The first health benefit of dairy free protein bars is that they don’t contain any lactose, music to the ears of those of us who are lactose intolerant, which as it turns out, is quiet a lot of us – up to 70% in fact. (3)
The other benefit plant based protein has over Whey is the benefits of Phytoestrogens.
Studies have shown the plant hormone, mainly isoflavone, has proven protective effects on cardiovascular disease, whilst reducing total cholesterol, lowering blood pressure and improving heart function (4)
Alongside these benefits there is also research to suggest that the intake of Phytoestrogens can reduce the risk of some cancers and improve bone density. (5)
Full of Fibre
Being plant based, it will come as no surprise that vegan protein bars come with a healthy dose of fibre, which means they will go down just as easily as they go in.
Fibre is essential for a healthy digestive system, unfortunately it’s often a part of our diets that we neglect.
Most plant based bars generally contain anywhere from 5-10 grams of dietary fibre, making them a great way to reach the Governments recommended daily dose of 30 grams.
So, what’s the health benefits?
Well there’s almost too many to mention, but some of the significant ones are (deep breath) lower risk of: coronary heart disease, stroke, hypertension, diabetes, obesity, high blood pressure and cholesterol levels (4)
Not forgetting that fibre is great for keeping you feeling fuller for longer, making a vegan protein bar a great breakfast or early afternoon option, to keep you going throughout the day or as an evening snack to stave off any late night hunger pangs.
Plant based Power
Along with the above, increasing your intake of plant based protein has been shown to have a number of other benefits, especially for athletes.
One study found that plant protein was superior in aiding recovery, reducing oxidative stress and reducing inflammation. (5)
But don’t just take our word for it, here’s what the worlds largest organisation of nutritional experts, The American Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, had to say:
“Appropriately planned vegetarian, including vegan, diets are healthful, nutritionally adequate, and may provide health benefits for the prevention and treatment of certain diseases. These diets are appropriate for all stages of the life cycle, including pregnancy, lactation, infancy, childhood, adolescence, older adulthood, and for athletes.” (6)
Final Verdict: Healthy
Ramdath DD, Padhi EM, Sarfaraz S, Renwick S, Duncan AM. Beyond the Cholesterol-Lowering Effect of Soy Protein: A Review of the Effects of Dietary Soy and Its Constituents on Risk Factors for Cardiovascular Disease. Nutrients. 2017;9(4)
Babault N, Païzis C, Deley G, et al. Pea proteins oral supplementation promotes muscle thickness gains during resistance training: a double-blind, randomized, Placebo-controlled clinical trial vs. Whey protein. J Int Soc Sports Nutr. 2015;12(1)
Lactose Intolerance (online) Available at: www.nutrition.org.uk/nutritionscience/allergy/lactose-intolerance (Accessed 22 June 2020)
Desmawati D, Sulastri D. Phytoestrogens and Their Health Effect. Open Access Maced J Med Sci. 2019;7(3)
Lissin LW, Cooke JP. Phytoestrogens and cardiovascular health. J Am Coll Cardiol. 2000;35(6):
Anderson JW, Baird P, Davis RH Jr, et al. Health benefits of dietary fiber. Nutr Rev. 2009;67(4)
Barnard, N.D.; Goldman, D.M.; Loomis, J.F.; Kahleova, H.; Levin, S.M.; Neabore, S.; Batts, T.C. Plant-Based Diets for Cardiovascular Safety and Performance in Endurance Sports. Nutrients 2019, 11, 130.
Craig WJ, Mangels AR; American Dietetic Association. Position of the American Dietetic Association: vegetarian diets. J Am Diet Assoc. 2009;109(7)