The Problem with Protein Bars (and other low carb treats) in Dubai

Protein bars are plentiful in Dubai but most which of the many touted as ‘low-carb’ are actually safe for anyone either following a ketogenic diet or watching their blood sugar? In this article we share some pro tips to make sure you don’t fall into a keto trap 🙂

30-Jan 2018, by Bronwyn MacRitchie

Two hidden ingredients found in high numbers of protein bars and sugar free candy in Dubai and worldwide may be compromising your diet strategy, stalling your weight loss and keeping you out of that all important state of ketosis.

They are everywhere.  Dubai and the UAE are no exception.  Especially in the muscle, protein scene which has exploded in the UAE… Claiming to be a healthy snacking option.  Claiming to help you get built and lean. And, if you’re into your workouts and are trying to reach your protein target for the day, adding one of these into your daily calorie count is an attractive option, as they deliver a relatively low calorie option for a high protein count.  But how many people are actually taking into account the chemicals and inflammation inducing ingredients they are waffling down along with their all important protein?

We can’t examine the entire scene today and all the ingredients that are a whole lot less than healthy, because that would be a novel, and ain’t nobody got time for that!

But – to our keto, paleo and generally low carb lifestylers, here are 4 Pro Tips to engage when shopping for protein bars and low-carb/sugar-free candy in Dubai, or anywhere in the world,that should help you weed through some of the worst of them and at least ensure your bar isn’t going to knock you out of ketosis or throw your carb target out the window for the day.

And to those of you who aren’t keto or paleo but would just like to be a little more knowledgeable about what is sneaking into your body when you unwrap one of those awesome sounding bars, keep reading!

Firstly, you need a little lesson in net carbs, though… if this is old news to you, feel free to skip straight to the two ingredients under scrutiny today.

What are Net Carbs?

Net carbs are the carbs that remain once you have subtracted the fibre and the sugar alcohols (also called polyols)  in the product from the total carbohydrate count (for a guide on how to calculate net carbs on labels from Europe vs labels from the US click here).  Fibre is deducted because it is not digested by our bodies (1).  

While the bacteria in our guts will break some down, our digestive enzymes are not able to process it and so it does not have any impact on our glucose index (GI).  Most sugar alcohols behave in much the same way, they mostly pass directly through the body, some being digested by our gut bacteria, and having little to no impact on our GI.

While both of these elements are technically parts of the carbohydrate portion of the food, they do not behave in the same manner as digestible carbohydrates in our body, which means we can subtract them from the carb count if we are counting net carbs rather than total carbs (2).

And Why?

Many keto and low carb dieters choose to count net carbs rather than total carbs for a few reasons.  Firstly it allows a higher vegetable and salad intake, as, if we counted the total carbs on those, we would probably descend into a state of malnutrition very rapidly.  

Next it also allows some wiggle room in terms of treats.  And for a lot of people that’s what makes the difference between this way of life being sustainable or a fad diet.  No matter what the purists say about needing to avoid sweet tastes altogether, for some people that is just too much to ask.  Especially at the very beginning of a journey that may well save them from metabolic syndrome and the rapid aging and untimely death it often serves.

So What’s the Problem?

Not all fibres are actually fibres and not all sugar alcohols have a zero GI impact.  And this is the piece of knowledge many keto dieters, low carbers and diabetics miss. So not all sugar alcohols and fibres should be fully subtracted.


Of course it is the fibres and sugar alcohols that behave in taste and texture that most like regular carbs and sugars that are not zero GI impact foods.  And so they are the ones that make products taste the best with the least investment in time and experimentation from the manufacturer.


These companies know you don’t know that.  

Why would they work to create a product that doesn’t use these ingredients when the vast majority of their customers will not know the difference, will still think they are eating an extremely low carb food, and will keep coming back for more because it tastes almost exactly like sugar!


Here at ingfit, we got you!  

We have identified the two most frequently used ingredients (particularly in protein bars but also in low carb and sugar-free candies) that should NOT be subtracted from the total carb count if you are serious about staying in ketosis, healing insulin resistance, or reaping the genetic benefits of a low carb lifestyle.

Pro Tip 1 – Maltitol is NEVER your friend.

How is Maltitol made?

This sugar alcohol is made through the hydrogenation of the corn-syrup byproduct, maltose (3), the sheer origin and the process through which it is made is enough to have my hackles up.  According to the Primal Blueprint, our genetics require that we avoid poisonous things. And the product of hydrogenation of a byproduct of corn syrup should simply not be hiding in a bar claiming to be a healthy choice.

Why Maltitol is so frequently used

Since it functions much like sugar in cooking and processing it is the preferred sweetener in a frightening range of ‘low carb and diabetic’ products, almost all sugar free chocolate contains this evil ingredient, and a shocking number of protein bars too(4,5,6).  

While some companies are slowly starting to wake up to the fact that truly educated and health conscious customers do not want maltitol in the products they choose, many of the biggest ‘healthy candy’ lines continue to use it.  

Take Atkins for example.  Products any low carb dieter should be sure they can trust, I mean it was the name that brought the concept to millions… No such luck!  The bulk of their range all contain maltitol, but they have recently released a few, more expensive, maltitol-free options (none of which are available in the Dubai marketplace yet at the time of writing.  

This shows us they are fully aware of the problems with their overall sweetener of choice, but simply continue to use it because consumers (for the most part) don’t know any better.  It’s time to educate and empower ourselves, we can’t simply eat things because the packaging claims health!

Why Maltitol is Not the Best Sweetener to Use

Maltitol has a GI index of 35, while choices like erythritol, monk fruit and stevia boast a 0 GI index (7,8).  But be careful, don’t confuse it with Mannitol, which has a 0 GI index too.  With all these similar and confusing names which have such dramatically different effects on our bodies and could mean the difference between whether you are burning fat or carbs over the next few hours or even days, depending on your body and your level of insulin resistance.

Why Target Maltitol, it has the same GI index as Coconut Sugar!

If you have seen our cheat sheet you will know this to be true.  However, the reason maltitol is the one to watch out for is that it is the wolf in sheep’s clothing of the sweeteners when it comes to a ketosis, low carb or diabetes!  

Maltitol is a sugar alcohol. It is listed as such on the nutrition label.  That means when we calculate the net carbs on a product, we subtract the sugar alcohols as we assume they do not cause a GI response and therefore do not act like carbohydrates in the body (9).  However, in maltitol’s case, the GI response IS happening and it’s higher than fructose!

So on a ‘sugar-free’ chocolate where we are subtracting 18g polyols (sugar alcohols), in the form of maltitol, from a total carb count of 22, we assume we are only having 4g net carb while in fact it’s probably closer to around 13!  

More than half of your daily carb allowance if you’re strict keto!  And a significant whack if you aren’t!

Coconut sugar DOES have the same GI impact as maltitol, but it is listed as such on the nutritional content.  So, if you choose to eat a product containing coconut sugar, (and we do from time to time) your carb calculation is accurate and you make an informed decision about how many carbs you put in your body.  No problem. It’s the deception that is not ok.

Pro Tip 2: Beware the ‘Sweetened With Stevia’ Trick

The big brands are waking up and realising that people are waking up to the fact that not all low carb sweeteners are what they claim to be, and one of the pieces of knowledge that has managed to reach most consumers is that Stevia is a healthy choice.  So… These companies simply add a little stevia to their mix!

They don’t actually REMOVE the maltitol that gives the bar the taste and texture almost identical to sugar.  And so the GI impact of the product remains the same.  And the consumer who considers themself quite clued up for knowing they should choose stevia if they want to make healthy choices, falls into the same trap.

All of these STILL contain Maltitol.

Pro Tip 3 – Keep a Sweetener Cheat Sheet on Your Phone

We highly recommend that while you are still learning your way around the sweetener scene you keep a sweetener cheat sheet saved in your photos folder on your phone.  When I was searching for one to keep I couldn’t find one, and so we created our own (for purely personal reasons). I have had it on my phone ever since, and I even still have to refer to it from time to time. 

Find or make your own or if you would like to download and use ours, here you go!!

Pro Tip 4: LEARN THIS WORD! Isomalto Oligosaccharides – (IMOs)

We say learn this word because they are ultimately referred to as IMOs… but never listed in ingredients lists as IMOs… and so, even if you are schooled and versed in the dangers of IMOs, they could still be sneaking by you, cleverly disguised as their full title: Isomalto Oligosaccharides.  And they are ALL OVER the Dubai Protein bar scene, in MOST of the protein bars posing as low carb.

How did they rise to fame?

These bad boys were shot to fame with the Quest lawsuit in 2012/13 (10).  Quest were taken to court for mislabelling their bars as having a lower net carb count because the used Isomalto Oligosaccharides as their fibre source, meaning this would be deducted from the total carbs, giving a low net carb count (Not dissimilar to what is happening with companies using Maltitol, anyone care to file?).

When the bars were tested they were found to have a profound impact on blood sugar in test subjects, not in line with the low net carb claim (11).  Upon further examination, the culprit was found to be IMOs… which are actually digested by the human body far more easily than previously assumed (12, 13, 14), making them an active carbohydrate rather than a fibre which passes through the body.

Some companies have tried to keep their fibre ingredient of choice safe on their ingredient lists by stating that the production of the IMO affects the outcome of it’s GI impact (15).  However the peer-reviewed literature on their actual effect on glucose levels in the body is mounting.  A 2018 study found that IMOs were digested in the body equally to a control carbohydrate source of the same measurement, so definitely NOT a fibre (16).

So Why is ingfit Stocking Quest Bars?

The lawsuit was dropped in 2013, but Quest changed their fibre source in 2014 to the soluble corn fibre we find in their bars today (17).  Soluble corn fibre has repeatedly been found to be indigestible by the body (18), meaning we can trust their net carb count and know that they are being DOUBLY careful over any claims they make.

In fact, their Hero Bars use an exciting new player on the sweetener scene, allulose!  To see how it ranks on the low carb sweetener cheat sheet, click here!

So, If the Change was made, What’s the Problem?

Sadly, other bars haven’t seemed to follow suit, especially the other bars available here in Dubai and the UAE!  While they may not claim the net carb count on the packaging, all us ketoers, low carbers and paleoers out here are calculating it for ourselves by subtracting the fiber.  The fibre which the company is counting as coming from the IMOs, which are not actually fiber…

And so we are consuming way more carbs than we intend to just because these companies are counting on our lack of knowledge!

And If you can’t be bothered with any of these Pro Tips?


We check the ingredients so you don’t have to!

To take some of the confusion out of your hands, we have carefully examined every bar we are prepared to stock and sell to our customers… which doesn’t leave us with the widest range, admittedly, BUT you can be sure that any bar you get from us has been thoroughly vetted and found to be keto approved (meaning it probably won’t knock you out of ketosis) and net carb accurate!

Check out all of our ingfit approved healthy snacks here!! Happy snacking!



Image sources:

Protein bars, Net carbs 1 & 2, Maltitol, Atkins bars 1 & 2, IMOs, Grenade, Carb Smart, Quest, Quest Hero, Duke and Mandarin, Canderel.

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