Lately, we’ve been hearing more and more from Fooducate community members about Quest Bars. They seem to be tasty, they have an impressive nutrition facts panel, and somebody on their team is doing a kick ass job in marketing.
Quest promotes itself as the “#1 Protein Bar” and at first impression the nutrition numbers look very impressive. Take, for example, the Vanilla Almond Crunch Protein Bar. It’s a 200-calorie bar, but only has half a gram of saturated fat. It’s got 20 grams of protein, which is 40% of the recommended daily intake. The fiber count is super high at 18 grams, almost three fourths of the daily requirement. Most Americans lack woefully in fiber intake; here an individual can erase her deficit with a single bar. Quest sells itself as a low sugar, low carb solution, claiming only 2-6 “net carbs”. Indeed, only 22 grams of carbs, of which 18 are fiber, and just 1 gram of sugars. Amazing.
But then you take a look at the ingredient list, and the house of cards comes crumbling down. This product has “gamed” the nutrition facts panel by using food-like ingredients to compose the bar. Let’s have a look at the Ingredient list:
Protein blend (whey protein isolate, milk protein isolate), isomalto-oligosaccharides, almonds, water, natural flavors, sea salt, lo han guo, sucralose.
First the pros: It is a short list.
Now for the problems. The protein sources are not something you can make at home or buy from a farmer. Whey protein isolate milk protein isolates are a byproduct of cheese production. Body builders buy them in powdered form to add to food and drink. In some cases, they may cause digestive problems such as bloating, cramps, and gas.
Next are the isomalto-oligosaccharides (IMO), the source of fiber in the bar. It is a syrupy goop that tastes slightly sweet but is not considered a sugar because it is a long chain molecule. Although it is found naturally in fermented foods, it is much cheaper to manufacture it in factories by applying enzymes to various starch sources. The problem with ingesting 18 grams of this IMO, is that it feeds only a small subset of our gut bacteria.
A balanced diet with a variety of fruits, vegetables, legumes, and whole grains will provide a much better fiber profile for your digestive system. In our book, IMO is a fake fiber. Incidentally, Quest is being sued now, with the plaintiffs claiming that the actual fiber count is lower than stated in the package.
But we digress.
Whenever we see natural flavors added to a product, we try to imagine what it would taste like without them. Added flavors are made in labs and serve to mask the lack of flavor of the other ingredients in the product. Ask yourself this – do you need to add natural flavors to food you prepare at home?
On to sweeteners.
Lo han guo, also known as monk fruit, is the Chinese equivalent of stevia. Instead of a leaf, this is a fruit. Monk fruit extracts, called mogrosides, can be processed to manufacture a powdered sweetener that is 200 times sweeter than sugar.
Sucralose is an artificial sweetener that may or may not cause cancer, bowel disease, and DNA alterations in mice. We understand that despite no added sugars, this bar is rather sweet due to the addition of processed and artificial sweeteners.
This product is engineered to taste good and look like a nutrition powerhouse. In fact, it is a highly processed food-like product that we would not eat.