'Healthy' protein bars are packed full of fat, sugar and salt: report
Health conscious consumers have been warned that expensive protein bars costing up to £2.50 each may not be full of dietary benefits.
The revelation comes after a new report said that chocolate is the main ingredient in almost 40% of products examined by all-Ireland food safety organisation Safefood.
It also emerged that many protein bars are high in saturated fat and they contain added sugar and salt.
Despite this, the research found that over one in three people (37%) surveyed think protein bars are 'healthy'.
Dr Catherine Conlon, director of human health and nutrition at Safefood, said these bars are actually "highly processed foods" containing as many calories as a chocolate bar.
"We've witnessed a significant and consistent upsurge in the number and variety of foods and drinks for sale which claim to be high-protein," she said.
"From bars, milks and yoghurts, high-protein foods have now become mainstream in our supermarket.
"When we asked people about protein bars, more than one in three thought they were healthy, whereas in reality many of these bars are highly processed foods with a calorie content similar to that of a bar of chocolate."
Dr Conlon added: "What's also evident from dietary data is that men and women are already consuming more than enough protein in their diets and simply don't need this extra, highly processed protein."
Of the 39 protein bars surveyed, 38% listed chocolate as their main ingredient, 77% were high in saturated fat, with 79% being a source of salt.
The average bar size was 55g with an average price of £1.78, though some bars cost as much as £2.49 each.
"Processed snack foods high in protein need to be combined with fat, sugar or salt in order to make them tasty," Dr Conlon said.
"People would be better sticking to natural sources of protein in their diet, which tend to be much healthier.
"And if you need a source of protein as a snack, alternatives like some nuts, a small glass of milk or a yoghurt is the way to go instead of these foods with added chocolate."
Safefood's research examined the nutritional content of 83 high-protein snack foods and drinks on sale in supermarkets in Northern Ireland and the Republic.
These included protein bars, yoghurts, yoghurt-style products and milk drinks after industry sources identified an increase of 498% in high-protein products launched between 2010 and 2016.
The report, 'A survey of high-protein snack foods', is available to download at www.safefood.eu