Protein bars are not as healthy as people think and are quite high in saturated fat, according to a new report by safefood.

The food safety and nutrition body looked at the nutritional contents of 83 high-protein snack foods and drinks available for sale on the island of Ireland as part of research for the report.

Dr Catherine Conlon, Director of Human Health and Nutrition at safefood, says the number of high-protein products on the market in Ireland in recent years has gone up by about 500%.

Speaking on RTÉ's Morning Ireland, she said that in recent years there has been a trend toward diets that are high in protein and the perception that these diets lead to weight loss and the building up of muscles.

The research by safefood found that of the 39 protein bars surveyed, 38% listed chocolate as their main ingredient, while 77% were high in saturated fat and 79% were a source of salt.

The research also found that more than one-in-three people surveyed think protein bars are "healthy".

Dr Conlon says that a lot of salt, additives, chocolate and sweeteners are added to the bars, and that the calorie content is on average to a standard chocolate bar of 200 calories.

Safefood says that when comparing current protein intakes among adults with what is recommended, both men and women are already consuming more protein than they need from their diet.

"The bottom line is to get protein from a plate, not from a packet. So get a natural source such as chicken, nuts, lentils and chickpeas," Dr Conlon said.

"The simple message is people take these bars because they think they are a healthy alternative, and they are just not healthy

"The evidence we found showed that there maybe some short term weight loss and muscle gain from high protein diet, but no consistent evidence that this is maintained in the long term. In fact a very high protein diet may be associated with liver disease, kidney disease and vascular disease.

"So for the vast majority of people, these bars and snacks are just a waste of money and should be avoided."