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We eat protein bars for one simple reason: We want protein. Seems obvious, doesn’t it? In the wake of several successful “Low Carb” protein bar brands, the industry is now moving away from the old standard of “protein bars” that are really just glorified carb cakes.
The replacement? Fiber. You may have noticed everyone and their mother advertising “Low Net Carb” protein bars, implying that the 10-15g of fiber in the bar aren’t actually digestible carbohydrates.
The problem? That isn’t exactly true.
The fiber of choice these days for protein bar companies is something called Isomalto Oligosaccharide Fiber (or IMO fiber for short). When IMO fiber was first being considered for use as a food additive, they subjected it to two enzyme tests to see if those enzymes could break it down – one of these is found in your mouth, and the other in your stomach. The result – Neither enzyme broke IMO down, so voila – it isn’t digestible! It’s a fiber!
Not so fast.
See, those early tests were technically correct – mouth and stomach enzymes DON’T break down IMO. That’s because the enzyme that breaks down IMO fiber isn’t in your mouth or your stomach. It’s in your small intestine.
So Dr. Wilson did a full battery of tests on the digestibility of IMO fiber, from blood sugar response, to breath hydrogen analysis. Similar to other recent studies, Dr. Wilson found that IMO does in fact get digested in the small intestine. If it were a true fiber, it wouldn’t (it would get fermented in the colon).
What does that mean? IMO is a good old-fashioned carbohydrate. NOT a fiber.
IMO is getting digested and metabolized, and all those carb calories aren’t showing up on the nutrition facts panel.
So, if your diet calls for plenty of carbohydrates, IMO is great, but if your diet calls for low carbohydrates, then IMO bars aren’t the answer.
If you (like many of us) are borderline-religious about your macronutrient ratios, then this is a serious problem: by masquerading as “low net carb,” IMO protein bars are throwing your calculations way out of whack.
Let’s be honest, fiber isn’t the sexiest of topics in the nutrition world, so most companies could probably be forgiven for not being totally up-to-date on the research.
Except… several companies have started to dump IMO in favor of other fiber sources; they’re doing their homework and following the science.
Look to see a lot of other fiber sources popping up in protein bars as more and more companies (and health-conscious consumers) discover the truth about IMO.
The lesson here is simple – read the ingredients list. No matter what the nutrition facts panel claims, if you see IMO as an ingredient, that bar isn’t low-carb.
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