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Product Review: Clif Vanilla Almond Builder’s 20g Protein Bar

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There was a time in the last year or two when I was into weightlifting. As many weightlifters do, I tried to get as much protein as possible to help maximize my muscle mass by using protein bars, shakes, and the like. I have since stopped lifting, and also discovered there isn’t much conclusive research showing that excess protein really helps develop more muscle. So for the most part I’ve given up on all the protein supplement products.

Clif’s Vanilla Almond Builder’s protein bar is the one thing in this category I still eat from time to time, not for the protein but because it’s just so darn tasty. Not surprisingly, it also happens to be quite sweet.

Flavor

My first feeling when removing this protein bar from the wrapper is that it’s really *big*. It’s solid rectangular shape hints at the bulging muscles you might get with frequent consumption of it (of course, assuming you do the necessary weight training). On its way to your mouth, this solid mass of protein and almonds gives off a very strong scent of vanilla, whetting your appetite.

As you sink your teeth in, you put in a little extra force to bite off a chunk, after which your jaw gets a real workout on chewy, sweet stuff.

This bar is composed of three parts. The outside is coated in a sugary vanilla frosting that is the star of the show, thick on the bottom but thinly painted on the top. Within there are two layers, the larger bottom one comprised of tiny almond pieces that are held together by something sticky with the appearance of brown sugar. This has only a mild sweetness if eaten on its own, pale in comparison to the candy-like frosting. The top layer, partially visible by the thin coating on top, is made of very dense, chewy soy protein isolate. It doesn’t have too strong of a taste on it own. In fact I’m impressed how they’ve managed to cover up the texture and taste of powdered protein, which is not exactly what I would call appetizing.

This bar does an excellent job at filling you up so you can continue on with exercise. In my case it filled me up for an hour or two, if not longer. A minor side effect is that it really makes you thirsty. I typically drink a glass of cold water while eating it, and another after I’ve gobbled it up. The flavor tends to stay around in your mouth for a while afterwards and the water helps lessen this effect.

If I had to describe this product in a single word I would say “addictive”. From the fresh vanilla scent to the delicious chewy texture, Clif and his company have truly crafted a masterpiece of sweet nutrition.

If little frosting pieces didn’t break off and make little white smears on my clothes it would be perfect, but for those who aren’t messy eaters like me this won’t apply to you.

Nutrition/Ingredients

In one bar (68 grams / 2.4 ounces) there are 270 calories. This figure should be judged differently than other sweet products, since the whole point of this bar is to give your body some nutrition so it can keep working, or start rebuilding muscle before you have a chance for a proper meal. Remember this type of product should never replace a real, complete meal with fresh vegetables, starches, and meat (if you aren’t a vegetarian, that is).

There is of course the massive 20 grams of protein, plus 240 mg of salt (10% DV), 170 mg of potassium (5% DV) and 3 grams of fiber (12% DV).

This is a big portion of sugar, 22 grams, which I don’t consider a bad thing if you are consuming this product during or after exercise. After all, your body does need some sugar to function properly. However, for this like myself who simply indulge in this as a tasty snack there may be a little guilt, especially given the sugar per weight (roughly 32 grams sugar / 100 grams total weight) is higher than many ice creams!

Actually I take that back – this is one of the few products where you shouldn’t feel very guilty about the high sugar content. The reason is that there is several different sweeteners used, at least one or two of which has the potential to be healthier than your average added sugar: beet juice, brown rice syrup, and dried cane syrup. Sure, it may turn out that after all “sugar is sugar” and your body handles these roughly the same, but until that is 100% proven I think you’re better off with a variety of sweeteners as opposed to a load of everyday table sugar.

Except for the “Natural Flavors” which I have a deep hatred of, the rest of the ingredients are very healthy. There is a mix of oils from natural sources (palm kernel oil, sunflower oil), natural seeds (flaxseed, quinoa), oats, almond butter, and almonds.

The only other thing which is potentially unhealthy is the soy protein isolate itself, more because it is in super-concentrated form (and hence unnatural) than because of claims of soy’s effects on testosterone, which have for the most part been proven invalid. Complaining about this ingredient when it is the primary selling point of the product doesn’t make much sense, because those purchasing it know full well what they are buying.

The full ingredient list is: Soy Protein Isolate, Beet Juice Concentrate, Organic Brown Rice Syrup, Organic Dried Cane Syrup, Palm Kernel Oil, Organic Rolled Oats, Almond Butter, Organic Soy Flour, Almonds, Vegetable Glycerin, Organic Quinoa, Organic Vanilla, Organic Sunflower Oil, Inulin (Chicory Extract), Rice Starch, Organic Flaxseed, Organic Oat Fiber, Natural Flavors, Soy Lecithin, Salt.

Vitamins & Minerals: Dicalcium Phosphate, Magnesium Oxide, Ascorbic Acid (Vit. C), Tocopheryl Acetate (Vit. E), Ferric Orthophosphate (Iron), Beta Carotene (Vit. A), Zinc Citrate, Phytonadione (Vit.K1), Biotin, Niacinamide (Vit. B3), Calcium Pantothenate (Vit. B5), Potassium Iodide, Manganese Gluconate, Copper Gluconate, Sodium Selenite, Thiamin (Vit. B1), Chromium Chloride, Cyanocobalamin (Vit. B12), Sodium Molybdate, Folic Acid (Vit. B9), Riboflavin (Vit. B2), Pyridoxine Hydrochloride (Vit. B6).

The long list of vitamins and minerals could be a blessing or a curse, depending on your stance regarding these food additives. I think they may help and are less likely to cause harm, and am therefore cautiously positive on them. Again, if you are the type of person who balks at vitamins added to a food product you wouldn’t likely be looking for a protein bar in the first place.

33% of the ingredients are Organic, which is nice bonus because the product is not openly marketed as a organic product.

Price/Availability

These are sold are various supermarkets, including Publix and Whole Foods Supermarket, from $2 – $3. If you buy wholesale online (in packs of 12), you can get the price down to $1.50 a bar.

Ratings:   Flavor: 9.0  Nutrition/Ingredients:8.0    Price:7.5    Overall:8.2

Summary

If you’ve looking for a great way to grab a load of protein quick during or after exercise, this tasty mix of mostly natural ingredients is highly recommended. Those with a sweet tooth who are less active should find it equally appealing as a delicious snack.

References

http://www.clifbar.com/food/products_builders/1230

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Soy_protein

Three Sisters Cocoa Snapz rice cereal – product review

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Introduction

I like to eat cereal every morning with my family before I go to work. It’s a good way to start the day especially when I can’t always predict when I’ll have time for lunch. To keep things from getting boring, we try to change up the cereal every few days to something different.

I had reviewed Three Sister’s Honey Puffs rice cereal in a previous blog entry (see first reference below), and I decided to try out another of their cereals. As you’ll soon find out, these two cereals have a great deal in common.

This cereal is pretty much a “healthy” version of Kellogg’s Cocoa Krispies, meaning its supposed to be healthy though in some ways it isn’t much different.

Flavor

This cereal is made of puffed rice, made with a similar process as puffed wheat in Honey Puffs. This gives it a light fluffy texture, and the added advantage of higher surface area without too much volume. In other words, you are eating a lot of air, and as a result you take in less calories, sugar, and nutrients (per spoonful) that you would otherwise if it wasn’t puffed. You could call this a health food in that sense (much like puffed rice cakes), but I actually think of it more as a way for the producer to save money on materials and sell a large bag of cereal with a good percentage of that empty space.

It has a moderately sweet chocolate flavor, which is appetizing but not quite what I am looking for in a cereal. The sweetness catches your intention while you are eating but sometime later you realize you really haven’t eaten that much food (at least if you eat a small bowl like I do) and are likely to get hungry earlier than if you ate a more wholesome breakfast.

Both the flavor and texture is nearly identical to Cocoa Krispies.

Nutrition / Ingredients

In a single 29 gram (3/4 cup) serving, there are 120 calories which is standard for this type of product. Sugar is 13 grams, a bit on the sweet side.

There isn’t much nutrition in this product, with no fiber, practically no protein (1 gram per serving), and less than 10% of most common vitamins and minerals. Sodium is nothing special at 150 mg, which is 6% of daily intake.

Because of the lack of substance and nutrition, I feel this is really not the best way to get your day started, unless of course you supplement it with other foods higher in nutrition.

The ingredients are so-so, with caramel color, and natural flavor as negative marks in my book. The full list is as follows:

Rice, Sugar, Coconut oil, Cocoa (process with alkali), Contains 2% less of: salt, caramel color, natural flavor, reduced iron, zinc (zinc oxide)

When comparing this to Cocoa Krispies, as you might expect both the ingredients and nutritional information is very similar. Calorie count is virtually the same (120 calories for one 31 gram serving) and sugars is actually a tad less in the “less healthy” version, at 12 grams. The other funny thing is that Cocoa Krispies has much more vitamins and minerals (compare 25% DV of vitamin A and C to 0% in Cocoa Snaps).

I remember writing something similar for the Sugar Puffs review – but I’ll repeat it here. If a cereal really wants to be billed as “healthy”, it should reduce sugar and add some more nutrients. This cereal actually has less nutrients and more sugar! (I’d like to point on here that some believe that vitamins and minerals added artificially are not easily absorbed by the body and have little to no value)

There are a few areas where Cocoa Snapz is healthier than its predecessor. Natural flavor and caramel color is used instead of malt flavor, artificial flavor, and BHT (a preservative). The last of those has particularly scary, with some research pointing to cancer-inducing effects in animal experiments. I’m not convinced it is truly harmful but if a cereal can stay fresh enough without BHT that is clearly a better way go.

Price and Availability

Available exclusively from Whole Foods. I purchased mine for $3.99. There are 396 grams in the package.

Ratings

Flavor: 7.0

Nutrition/Ingredients: 6.0

Price: 7.0

Overall: 6.66

Summary

A cereal that closely copies Cocoa Krispies flavor while making it more healthy in some areas (no preservatives) and potentially worse in others (less nutrients, slightly more sugar). If you are a fan of Krispies I recommend trying this, otherwise I would search for a heartier cereal with more nutrition.

References

https://sweetsreporter.com/2013/10/02/three-sisters-honey-puffs-product-review/

http://threesisterscereal.com/product/cocoa-snapz/

http://www.ricekrispies.com/products/cocoa-krispies-cereal

http://www.berkeleywellness.com/healthy-eating/food-safety/article/two-preservatives-avoid

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