How healthy is your protein snack?

Meyken Houppermans, PhD. CrossFit Level 3 Trainer.
Founder and Head Coach
High protein oatmeal balls, a Dutch oliebol, or a sausage roll? You might be surprised what the best option is.

Media made snacking healthy

Healthy snacking is a contradictio in termines. It simply does not exist. Snacking is something you do in between meals. As a treat, an extra, maybe even a reward. But, snacking  shouldn’t be necessary if you have a well balanced diet with minimally processed food (How artificial is your food?), that provides your body with all the nutrients it needs. That also means not being hungry or in need of a snack. (How bad is cheating on your diet?)

A few years ago, snacking suddenly became healthy. It is reframed by food companies and the media to something that sounds and feels healthy. By using terms as ‘natural sugar’, ‘glutenfree’ or ‘low carb’ (Low carb kills ya!) and by having fit girls and boys promote the snacks, the illusion of a healthy product has been created. It’s the same thing as the well known marketing trick of placing an apple next to the cookie, to make you unconsciously think the cookie is a healthy product. (Superfoods aren't that super)

Furthermore, there is enormous exaggerated focus on high protein foods, as if we would all need that. That is definately not the case but food companies very successfully convince us to believe that. It matches up perfectly with trends in health and fitness and simply sells great.

We all tend to go along in this process of reframing. We’re being overwhelmed on social media by all sorts of statements about food. That makes it hard to distinguish false information from proven facts. Who and what to believe? In most cases, the one with the most fancy and appealing marketing, is the winner. Furthermore, people love snacking by nature (A healthy alternative for sugar and fat). We’ve always been looking for ways to snack without having to deal with the negative consequences. We’re just made that way.

Healthy snacking sounds great. It convinces us we really need that snack after one hour at the gym. And we feel good and strong after eating it. When in fact, there is no such thing as healthy snacking. In most cases you might as well eat a Dutch oliebol and a sausage roll.


To demonstrate how healthy some protein snacks actually are, let's have a look at the nutritional value of these homemade gluten and sugar free high protein oatmeal balls. For 20 balls you need the following ingredients. The nutritional value is shown.

Too much sugar and unhealthy fat

Keep in mind that a normal serving of 3 balls is just a little snack in between your meals. As you can see, one serving contains approximately 20% of your daily calorie- intake. That’s a  lot. One serving contains over 13 grams of sugar, better known as 3 teaspoons. The World Health Organization advices a maximum of 25 grams of sugar per day. On an average we consume 122 grams of  sugar per day, mostly well hidden in our regular meals. A regular breakfast with a portion of low fat yoghurt and plain muesli already contains more than 30 grams of sugar. Those healthy balls add a lot to your daily sugar intake. The Dutch Health Council advices a maximum of 22 grams of saturated fat per day. Three healthy balls contain 2,4 gram, which is  already 10% of that maximum daily intake.

On the other hand, one serving of those delicious balls contain 14 grams of protein. As mentioned, there is an exaggerated focus on high protein foods. Ofcourse, you need protein but for most of us, we already eat more than enough protein in our regular meals.  Plus, more doesn’t mean better. If you eat too much protein your body will store it as fat and you’ll gain weight.

What would you choose: 3 high protein oatmeal balls or a Dutch oliebol and a sausage roll?

Let’s compare the serving of 3 balls with a Dutch ‘oliebol’ and a sausage roll. Now, would you eat several portions of oliebol and sausage roll per week? Probably not. So why would you do that with those so called healthy snacks?

More sensible alternatives

As mentioned you need a well balanced eating pattern, that feeds your body with all the nutrients it needs. More sensible alternatives are a slice of whole grain bread with 2 boiled eggs, some brown rice with chicken breast and some veggies, or some low fat cottage cheese with fruit and a handfull of plain nuts.

Stop pretending or go full swing

Let's be clear: there is nothing wrong with snacking every once in a while. But stop pretending it’s a healthy thing. It’s not. All those so called healthy snacks aren’t necessarily better than a cookie. Because marketing convinces us it is healthy and we need it, we easily tend to eat too much of it without even feeling guilty.

So if you want to minimize your snacking for real, go for the real deal: go for that cookie or oliebol. In that way, your feelings of guilt might work with you and prevent you from snacking too much. Or you can choose that high protein bar, as long as you're real about the fact that it is a cookie in disguise.

Create your own health!©