The new series of RTE's What Are You Eating? cuts through the noise of the hype surrounding the current food trends.
Protein bars have soared in popularity over the last 12 months. They're displayed in the most prominent shelves in our local shops and supermarkets now and it's not just weight-lifters and body-builders who are filling their baskets with them, anyone who's looking for a healthy snack seems to be convinced that protein bars are a sound choice. But are they really that healthy?
Philip Boucher-Hayes spoke to one of Ireland's top nutritionists, Dr Sharon Madigan, in the first episode of his new series What Are You Eating? on RTE1 to find out if we really need these protein bars or if they're just another marketing fad.
Dr Madigan explains that eating for health started off at a respectable level of research, designed for athletes and competitors who were looking to increase their muscle mass and improve their physique but over time clever marketeers realised that they could take a niche concept - eating for maximum fitness - and aim it at regular people.
Dr Madigan, performance nutritionist for the Irish Olympic boxing team, explained hat protein bars are useful for a “subset of athletes” but you can get just as much protein from three eggs, at a much lower cost.
"You can buy twelve eggs probably for less than one of these bars. Three eggs will give you 18 grams of protein. For most of us 18-20 grams of protein is enough. For some of the athletes that require 4- and 5,000 calories a day, they are particularly useful... I think we are even talking about a certain subset of athletes as well."
She added: "It is definitely filling the void. At the end of the day, they are a bar. When you go out to buy one of these, what I would suggest to you is you really look at what you are buying. You need to really check your labels.
"Where the message maybe is that it’s reduced sugar or lower in sugar, polyols take that place – xylitol, sorbitol, mannitol, which are the common ones that you would see. They are generally lower in calories than your usual sugars. They are also very, very sweet in taste so, actually, you don’t need to use as much of them, so, that is where their benefit lies."
When artist Katarzyna Gajewska was pregnant with her son, Antoni, her first child, she was living in Dublin, married to an Irishman, but decided she wanted to go home to Warsaw for the birth and have an elective Caesarean in a private clinic there. "Because it was my first pregnancy, and I felt paranoid and worried," she says when I ask why. "But everyone said 'why? You're young, healthy, you don't need to do this'. Eventually I stepped back; I softened, I thought, 'OK, the hospital here is good...' But I had a feeling something would happen. Now, I try to follow my intuition."