No one is marketing a carb bar or a fatty cookie. But protein sells.

Getting enough protein matters, but most Americans eat more than enough. That doesn’t stop food companies from using protein to sell cookies, bars, shakes, and other junk foods.

Here are three of the latest gimmicks…and what to eat instead.

Feed your muscles?

muscle brownie

“Filled with enough protein to feed your muscles and chase away hunger, our Cookies & Cream Muscle Brownie is the perfect meal replacement or snack,” says Lenny & Larry’s. A 250-calorie brownie should “chase away hunger,” even without its 20 grams of protein.

Since when is a brownie that’s made (mostly) of whey, glycerin, soy protein, margarine, marshmallow nuggets, and cookie pieces a “perfect meal”?

Piece of cake?

Now you can have your cake and eat it too! Think Thin Protein Cakes—they look like Girl Scout Thin Mints without the mint—have 12 grams of protein in each two-cookie package.

And they’ve got only 1 gram of sugar, thanks largely to low-calorie sweeteners (like stevia and monk fruit extract) and sugar alcohols (maltitol or erythritol).

It’s not clear how 170 calories’ worth of cookies can keep you thin. Of course, many people think that protein keeps you thin. Maybe that’s why the brand is called Think Thin.

Skinny ice cream?

“Thanks to our real, indulgent, full flavored desserts, protein never tasted so good,” says the box of Skinny Cow Protein Sandwiches made with Light Ice Cream.

Just what you needed: an excuse to indulge in a 170-calorie dessert. You’d get about the same calories in a Klondike Classic Vanilla ice cream sandwich.

How can they call that skinny? Oh, right. It’s just a name.

What to eat instead

There’s plenty of protein in a healthy diet without tossing in protein cakes, bars, brownies, or ice cream.

Here's our guide—based on the DASH diet—of what to eat if you consume 2,100 calories a day. It's got about 85 grams of protein, and about 105 grams if you choose poultry, fish, or lean meat as your “Wild Card.”


Photos (CSPI): Jennifer Urban (divided plate), Jolene Mafnas (all others).