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How many calories is in a protein bar?

How many calories is in your protein bar?

It seems to be a simple question. But the answer to it is not so simple. And I ask that for a reason. Actually, many reasons. And here’s the answer to it.

You might be surprised I want to answer to that not-so-simple question straight away. But I have a reason to do that. So here it is: it depends. Yes, I know. I can nearly see you rolling your eyes. But believe me, I really would like to give you a much more precise answer to this question. However, I just can’t do that. In other words, it’s not possible. Here’s why.

The nutrients you can see on the pre-packed products may be far from being precise.

There are specific regulations within the EU regarding the uncertainty of nutrients value. In short, if let’s say, a protein bar, declared 8.5g of sugar per 100g on its packaging, in fact, it may contain anything between 6.5 to 11g of sugar per 100g. And it’s still perfectly fine according to EU regulations. You can read more about it in Is counting calories reliable?

Anyway, you buy your favourite protein bar, scan its nutrition value using a barcode on the back of its packaging, log it using MFP (MyFitnessPall) or other application and you’re done, right? Well, not exactly. And I don’t mean MFP may have some missing data regarding a specific product. That happens. And that’s easy to fix – just tap ‘Report food’ at the bottom of the screen, choose the reason for that and you can correct values straight away. What I mean, however, is protein snack weight.

Say what? Yep, you read it right. But hey – you may say – there’s a weight on the packaging so what’s the problem? And I tell you there is a problem. Sometimes it’s a small one. But sometimes it’s a huge one indeed. How come? That’s the answer: pretty often the weight from the packaging is different from the actual weight of the snack. Seriously. And here’s the proof based on the weight of just a couple of protein snacks we’ve already tested and reviewed for you.

As you can see in the pictures we’ve taken, the exact weight varies from treat to treat. Sometimes they are perfectly weighted, sometimes they are underweight(!) and sometimes they are overweight(!). One bar might lack 1g, and another one has, let’s say, 2g or 3g extra. And if you think it’s better to have more than less, then I will say that it’s not so obvious. Why so?

What happens when you pay for a 60g protein bar and you get the snack that only weights 57g?

Not too much. You (most likely) unwittingly log it and eat it. And you’re happy you have had a protein snack. A protein snack that had a couple of calories less than it should have, but still. However, looking from the other perspective, you simply paid for the product you didn’t get. In other words, you are a loser, and a maker of that treat is a winner. Whatever it sounds, it’s not fair.

Furthermore, once you get what you paid for, i.e. a 60g bar weights 60g in fact, that’s OK. Perfect. But still, it doesn’t mean the nutrients you can see on its packaging is precise. And most likely it’s not, as there are too many variables even to estimate that. But we already know it and, basically, we can’t do anything about it.

But here’s the most troublesome situation. You pay for 80g flapjack, you log 80g of it, but it weighs as much as 91.1g! Yep, 11.1g more than it should. What does it mean in reality? Instead of 326 kcal it should have, in theory, it’s as much as 371 kcal. The difference is 45 kcal what gives 13.8% more than it should be. So by eating such a snack, you eat roughly 45 kcal more than you though. Add to that uncertainty of nutrients value and it’s safe to say you may be even as much as 100 kcal above your goal.

Do you still think it’s good to get more than you paid for?

I don’t think so. The thing is, if I log all my food then I want to be sure it’s more than less precise. Also, beside of uncertainty regarding nutrients value, I don’t need to be, and I don’t want to be misled by another factor which is the weight of a specific snack. And here are some examples of products that do that correctly on the spot.

And no, if you don’t log your food, it doesn’t make that thing easier. Yes, you may be happy you get more than you paid for. But at the same time, you may still get less than you paid for. Unless you carry your kitchen scale with yourself and weight the products before you unwrap them or take them home. Did I mention it’s still not the best option?

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