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What’s in that protein bar?

Protein is the star nutrient at the grocery store these days. More and more labels advertise the added protein in their product, from protein bars to cream cheese.

The bars are favored by more and more people: dieters, snackers, people looking for a quick meal. But what’s in them?

Added protein is typically whey or soy-based, writes Michael Moss, food industry reporter for the New York Times. It’s got a chalky taste by itself, so bar makers have to look to things like sugar or low-calorie sweeteners to cover it up. The combination of protein and the sweetener can drive the calorie count of the bars sky high, Moss explains in his latest “What’s In It” article.

The American College of Sports Medicine tells Moss that no one, even athletes, really need added protein.

In fact, most Americans are already eating too much protein (mainly through meat consumption), according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.  In general, according to the CDC, it’s rare for someone who is healthy and eating a varied diet to not get enough protein — so the need for protein bars and products with artificially added protein is minimal.

There’s no real danger, other than weight gain, in eating too much protein. So don’t worry about how much you’re getting– focus instead on a varied diet and meeting all your nutritional needs instead.