Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Product Review: Low-Sugar Gluten-Free Protein Bars

I have not had candy since January 2nd. I have not had a single baked good, pastry, or packet of sugar pass my lips in over 3 weeks. This is huge, people. (Though = my jest that if I never craved sugar I would weight 100 pounds has not quite come true, dang.)

But one can not completely go without, and thankfully my morning protein-bar has a sweet appeal. Recently I changed out my go-to bar (Promax, just not the controversial ones) for a couple low sugar varieties. I think the nutritionals may win you over.

[FYI: I have not been furnished with samples from the companies, though they are welcome to send me some if so inclined, and this is not a compensated review.]

1. Promax Lower Sugar Energy Bar, Chocolate Fudge Variety (with Stevia)

Nutrition: Frankly, these blow their sugary counterparts out the water nutrition-wise. (For a complete ingredient list, click here.)They have 70+ less calories than regular, less fat, and an almost silly amount of fiber - especially considering the regular bar has only around 1g of fiber. And there is also no artificial sweetener, only Stevia. There is 2g less protein in the LS variety, but really 2g of protein is nothing to squabble about.

Taste/Texture: Great of all counts, and less sweet than say, the cookies and cream bar, which I actually enjoyed - it felt healthier, if that makes sense. Promax bars have a much better protein blend than some other brands, who have a gritty or overly-chewy bite. This you can actually eat without choking - a plus in the morning. And anytime I can feel like I'm eating chocolate without actually eating a dove bar is a good one.

Cost: From the Promax website they are 16.99/box of 12, from Amazon you can find them from 13.99/box of 12 and up (some other varieties are more expensive for some reason). I buy from Amazon for the convenience. Overall about $1.25/bar, not including shipping (try to buy a couple things at once from Amazon and get free shipping).

The Sticky: Beware, I have seen these sold at my local San Francisco Walgreens for 2.99 a bar, which is kind of  a rip-off. Also, other LS varieties contain that old annoyance barley malt, which is sad because I really wanted to try the peanut butter cookie flavor. Oh well...

2. Quest Protein Bars (with Erythtitol)

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Why We Still Need to Read Labels, An Update!

So After contacting Promax last night, and leaving a message on Twitter about this issue, they wrote me back with this:
" While barley/barley malt  contain  gluten, barley malt extract does not.  Gluten is found in the protein portion of a wheat product.  Barley malt extract contains no protein.  Further more, we have tested this bar several times for gluten and it falls well below not only the FDA proposed limit of 20ppm but also the GFCO’s (Gluten Free Certifying Organization) standard of 10 ppm.  Part of the agreement with the GFCO is that  the bars and the manufacturing facility be audited for the presence of gluten regularly.  We have always tested well below the standards above. "

Ok...But then I read articles like this one, which state:
" Why the confusion over barley malt extract?
It is very tricky to test for barley contamination in food. One of the assays (sandwich omega-gliadin ELISA) severely underestimates gluten contamination from barley; the other (sandwich R5 ELISA) overestimates gluten contamination from barley by a factor of 2. And when it comes to testing for gluten in a hydrolyzed product (a product that has been partially broken down), such as barley malt extract, the test that usually overestimates barley contamination may now underestimate it. It really is a confusing situation! Fortunately, there is an assay available for testing hydrolyzed ingredients. It is called the competitive R5 ELISA.

How much gluten does barley malt extract contain?
When 3 barley malt extracts were tested for gluten using the competitive R5 ELISA, they contained approximately 320, 960, and 1300 parts per million (ppm) gluten. Taking into account the fact that the R5 ELISA may overestimate barley contamination by a factor of 2, the extracts more likely contained approximately 160, 480, and 650 ppm gluten.

Obviously, when barley malt extract is an ingredient in a food product, such as breakfast cereals, waffles, and pancakes, the ppm gluten content of the final food product will be far less than the ppm gluten content of the extract. In one study that assessed the gluten content from barley in two breakfast cereals containing barley malt extract, one product contained 795 ppm gluten; the other 171 ppm gluten. "

And then I see advice from medical sources, like this:
 "In the FDA’s proposed rule for labeling of food as gluten free, malt ingredients are included among those ingredients that can not be included in labeled gluten-free foods. It doesn’t matter if the final food product contains less than 20 parts per million of gluten."

So I suppose I can see why this Promax's party line on the issue, however all research I've done says that barley malt/barley malt extract still has gluten, although it may not be in high amounts. Even the FDA is having a problem with this!

And I've found that the smallest amount of things - like oat bran, for instance - can make me sick. For people with Celiacs, the only way to live is by eliminating all possible sources of gluten, even those which are declared "safe" despite their name; we know that sometimes what our bodies tell us is ahead of the current information. I've also read that less than 1/8 tsp of an ingredient can kick off your symptoms, and I have no idea how that corresponds with the 20ppm standard. And since other companies have chosen to remove barley malt extract because of the Celiac issue, it seems like there is in fact a problem for some consumers.

So again, I shall be returning them.

I don't blame the Promax company, and I don't think they're trying to "fool" people into eating traces of wheat. However I do think it's difficult that there are all these extracts and flavorings out there that are mysterious in origin or content, and it's nearly impossible to cut them out of your diet. So I guess that means you have to be proactive when you can!

Monday, January 16, 2012

Every Celiac for Herself? Why we still need to read labels.

Don’t get fooled by the familiar packaging!

Sometimes it’s very easy to not read the whole label. Sometimes it’s long, you’re in a rush, and you’re so grateful to find something with “certified GF” image on it that you skim over the ingredients.

Here’s the sticky: we still have to read labels. Even though the FDA is trying to help us out, they aren’t really our friend. Their requirements don’t require an absence of gluten, only for products to be below a certain level of gluten-contamination. This means that if you see a GF label on a product that you know has a gluten ingredient listed, you shouldn’t trust it. Trust yourself and your own knowledge, because you’re the one putting your health (and your digestive system) at risk.

Why am I writing this now, you may wonder? I’ve been eating Promax protein bars for breakfast every morning at work, and I dig them; they have 20g protein and actually keep my full till lunch. I buy them in boxes from Amazon, so they’re cheaper, and today a couple boxes arrived at my house, one of them the nutty butter crisp variety. Upon examination, I looked past the GF label and saw that barley malt was listed in the ingredients list.

For a moment, I thought I might be mistaken, perhaps barley was not always gluten? Alas, I was right, though with barley I seemed to have stumbled into a bit of a controversy. There have been other products with this ingredient labeled GF, and consumers made a (deserved) fuss. Vans (the waffle folks), for one, decided to remove the ingredient completely. Removing barley malt was the step Chex took before labeling their cereals GF.

Apparently barley malt can sneak under the FDA radar, though any web search or Celiac site will set you straight that people with gluten intolerance should not eat any barley or malt-type flavorings. This only adds to my upset – one would think that a health and fitness company would be a little more vigilant in their ingredient use.

I will still be eating these bars, but only the varieties I know are safe. And I hope that in the future, the FDA will get its act together and make sure that foods labeled GF are actually gluten-free.

So the moral is: Sometimes we don’t get labels, so we have to trust. But when there is one, always read it!

UPDATE: Read more here!