Fact Checked by

Ysabel Montemayor, RD

Hidden Ingredients to Avoid in Protein Bars

Protein bars are a convenient choice when you're seeking a quick hit of nutrition. However, when choosing these bars, there are certain ingredients you should aim to avoid.
homemade granola protein bars ingredients


Don’t let “natural flavors” fool you into purchasing granola bars that are actually full of added sugars. The list of hidden ingredients to avoid includes sugar alcohols and fractionated palm kernel oil.

Most of us turn to protein bars when we are too busy to cook or meal prep because they are quick, give us a power boost, and are filling.

However, it is important for us to know what ingredients they are made of.

You might be thinking that you are eating a healthy protein bar, but not all the ingredients are the best for health-conscious eaters.

It wouldn’t be a bad idea for you to review the ingredients of your bar before you purchase them.

Today we are going to cover the ingredients that you should avoid in your protein bars.

Related: Foods you thought were healthy but aren’t

Sugar Alcohols

  • There are a couple types of sugar alcohols that you should be aware of that you might find on the backs of your protein bar wrappers: erythritol, mannitol, sorbitol, xylitol, lactitol, isomalt, maltitol, and hydrogenated starch hydrolysates (HSH).
  • Sugar alcohols are more often seen in sugar-free products because they have fewer calories and don’t impact blood sugar levels as much.
  • However, for some people, sugar alcohols are difficult to digest and can cause bloating, gas, and diarrhea. If you have sensitive digestion, then you definitely want to avoid sugar alcohols in your protein bars.

Added Sugar

  • Added sugars, such as high-fructose corn syrup, are additional ingredients that you want to consume in limited amounts.
  • Too much can lead to elevated blood sugar and high triglyceride levels, which can increase the risk of developing type 2 diabetes.
  • Also, a study conducted by Yale School of Medicine suggests that fructose does very little to suppress your appetite because it doesn’t signal the brain when the body is full. This can cause you to overeat and contribute to weight gain.

Casein and Whey

  • These two ingredients should be avoided if you are allergic to dairy, lactose intolerant, or vegan.
  • Casein and whey are both dairy-derived proteins that are slowly digested by the body (Lactose isn’t present except in trace amounts if the ingredient is just casein or whey). If you are sensitive to dairy proteins, they can cause bloating or gas.
  • If you’ve been advised by a health professional to limit your protein intake due to kidney disease or another health condition, you may need to avoid casein and whey.

Natural Flavors

  • “Natural flavors” is the fourth top ingredient category listed on food labels, according to the Environmental Working Group‘s Food Scores reported by CNN.
  • Although many associate the word “natural” with better health, that is not always the case. Most of these “natural flavors” are derived from natural sources but are still processed in a lab and don’t add significant health benefits.
  • Also, food companies add these “natural flavors” to trick the consumer into expecting flavors that don’t naturally exist, according to David Andrews, a senior scientist at the Environmental Working Group.
  • Food companies want you to become addicted to them so you can continue to purchase their products. Those thoughts were expressed by Vandana Sheth, spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.

Fractionated Palm Kernel Oil

  • Don’t let the name of this oil fool you into thinking that it is healthy.
  • The process of creating this Fractionated Palm Kernel Oil actually results in higher levels of saturated fats, which is ultimately more than Regular Palm Kernel Oil and butter in some cases.
  • Also, on the environmental side, it’s not so eco-friendly because it is linked to deforestation and destruction of animal habitats such as the Orangutans in Borneo and Sumatra. You can learn more about the side effects Palm Oil has on these endangered animals at the Orangutan International Foundation website.


  • Inulin is a fiber that can be found in the following vegetables: garlic, jicama, asparagus, onions, and artichokes. In those vegetables, Inulin can be a probiotic that promotes good digestion and gut bacteria. However, this type of Inulin is not what you will find in protein bars.
  • In protein bars, the Inulin is extracted from a chicory root to help boost the fiber count. If you consume too much of this version of Inulin, it can do the reverse of promoting healthy digestion, according to McKel Hill, MS, RD, creator of Nutrition Stripped.
  • Lastly, Inulin can help relieve constipation, help control diabetes, may support heart health, improve bone health, and may help prevent colon cancer.

Get Snacking

Get snacking with raw and organic protein bars made with clean ingredients that will leave you feeling full and with a boost of energy. Here are 10 healthy vegan snacks you can put together quickly for when you’re on the go.

Fresh N Lean is the nation’s largest organic meal delivery service. Our tasty, chef-prepared cuisine is always fresh and never frozen, and we offer convenient meal plans like Protein+, Keto, Paleo, Standard Vegan and Mediterranean. Choose Fresh N Lean for affordable nutrition, delivered to your doorstep.

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