If you’re active, or just need a snack, fuelling up with a tasty, pre-packaged quick-fix can be the most convenient option. Falling right into this category are energy bars, protein shakes and sports drinks which are seemingly healthy for us, but marketing promises on food and drink packages can mislead. Here are some ingredients to put on your watch-list the next time you’re on a grocery run!
Before, during or after a workout, an energy bar can serve as a convenient snack to give you the boost you need. However, if consumed in excess, it could very well wreak havoc on your health. Be mindful of the ingredients below:
1. High-fructose corn syrup (HFCS)
This is an artificial sugar made from corn syrup, which is processed from corn. If consumed in excessive amounts, the fructose in HFCS can contribute to:
- Increased liver fat which can cause non-alcoholic fatty liver disease or type 2 diabetes in the long run
- Exacerbating existing inflammatory diseases such as gout
- Obesity, heart disease and cancer
If you see that HFCS is one of the top ingredients in the ingredients list of your energy bar, steer clear!
2. Sugar alcohol
This is a type of reduced-calorie sweetener that you might find in energy bars. When consumed in excess, sugar alcohols can cause side effects like gas, bloating or diarrhoea.
Some sugar alcohols are known to be FODMAPs, or fermentable oligosaccharides, disaccharides, monosaccharides, and polyols. For some people, these are types of carbohydrates which cannot be digested well, and which their guts cannot absorb well, and can lead to gastrointestinal side effects. If you have a history of sensitivity to FODMAPs, such as sorbitol and mannitol, be mindful to avoid foods and drinks with such ingredients. If you don’t have a history of sensitivity to them, remember that moderation is key.
Protein shakes are a popular choice for many gym-goers because increasing protein intake can help support muscle recovery. Here are some ingredients to be mindful of:
1. Artificial sweeteners
Protein shakes may sometimes contain sweeteners such as aspartame, sucralose, acesulfame potassium and saccharin. Such sweeteners are low-caloric, but that does not mean that they are safe for consumption in large amounts.
Studies haven’t yet concluded how artificial sweeteners can affect one’s health over the years – though they have suggested that such low-caloric substitutes may spur overconsumption of other sweetened food to compensate taste deficiency. Drinks with artificial sweeteners may sometimes be advertised as being “low in sugar”, so do look out for such ingredients and consume them in moderation.
This seaweed-derived additive is used by protein powder manufacturers to create thicker and creamier drinks. Based on findings from animal and cell-based testing, carrageenan could cause side effects such as inflammation, bloating, Irritable Bowel Syndrome, glucose intolerance, and food allergies.
In pilot studies on the effect of Carrageenan on humans, improvement in glucose tolerance and insulin signalling was seen in those with pre-diabetes. Until more evidence is found, we should consider monitoring the intake of products containing this ingredient.
Such drinks are widely promoted as products that can help replenish glucose, fluids and electrolytes lost during a strenuous workout and to enhance physical endurance. Some may even help increase energy levels. However, some ingredients cause harmful effects on your health when consumed in excess. Let’s have a look at some of them:
Did you know that sports drinks contain caffeine? Consuming too much caffeine can lead to issues such as insomnia, heart problems and elevated blood pressure – and in rare cases, seizures and cardiac arrest. Remember to go easy on these drinks to safeguard your health. If you are sensitive to caffeine’s stimulant effects, it may be best to avoid the beverage entirely. For example, drinking caffeine when you have Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) can result in diarrhoea.
Such drinks are usually loaded with sugar, and can cause a series of health issues when consumed in excess, especially if you are not doing a vigorous workout. Besides adding on to your calorie intake, excessive consumption of sugars can increase the risk of obesity, type 2 diabetes and heart diseases. When shopping for a drink, you can compare the sugar content of various drinks before taking your pick.
Choose natural food alternatives over energy-boosting products
Opt for natural alternatives if you don’t wish to load up on products with such ingredients. These can also be portable with minimal to no preparation time required. If you’re looking for substitutes for energy bars – bananas, raisins, figs and dates are good alternatives. Protein shake alternatives? Eggs, tuna and sardine are worth a try. Instead of sports drinks, you can opt for fresh juice, milk, and smoothies – dietitians have also recommended chocolate milk, for its potential anti-inflammatory properties!
Always consume in moderation
While energy-boosting products are convenient, we must be mindful that they do not always contain ingredients that are healthy when consumed in excess. Here’s to making smarter, and healthier additions to our diet!
If you are concerned about your current diet, or would like to draw up a diet that suits your lifestyle and helps you prevent diseases, consult a dietitian.
Article reviewed by Louis Yap, Senior Dietitian at Mount Elizabeth Novena Hospital
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