Protein bars. Such a great invention – a life saver when you’re hungry and stuck on the road, between meetings, or traveling and need a healthy snack. Then again, sometimes they’re really nothing more than a candy bar masked as a protein treat or “energy bar”.
So, should you eat them? And if so, which are the best tasting and healthiest options?
I’ve tried many, many protein bars and also happen to be a very picky eater when it comes to great-tasting food that also meets my health standards. I’ve narrowed down what I think are the best over the past few years of tasting and trying and using regularly, and will share those picks with you.
But a few quick notes beforehand…
Protein bars are still a processed food. For that reason, I recommend using them sparingly. A few times a week, maybe, when you just don’t have better options on hand. I tend to use them as snacks at work when I need something that is quick and easy and doesn’t add one more piece of Tupperware into my already packed bag of meals. They’re great for having as a back-up if I end up in traffic longer than expected, or only have five minutes between clients to shove something in my mouth when my stomach is rumbling.
Since they do make life a lot easier, I don’t want to be putting a bunch of junk into my body regularly. So here is my criteria for picking protein bars:
HOW I PICK A PROTEIN BAR
1) Great Taste. I don’t want to eat things that taste overwhelmingly like artificial sweeteners, or so bland they’re hard to swallow. Granted, they’re still protein bars so don’t expect candy, but these days there are some pretty tasty options. Please note that in my list I haven’t included many all-natural bars, many of which taste really good. This is only because they’re lower on protein and high on sugar, so I usually only have them on rare occasions. There are also many not listed that taste really amazing, but usually because they have a lot of fake ingredients and are higher sugar.
2) High Protein, Low Sugar. If you’re going to call it a protein bar, it better have more than 8-10 grams of protein, since most meals should contain about 20 grams of protein. As far as sugar, it’s basically enemy number one when it comes to weight loss, and simply feeling good. Even when a bar contains natural sugar (dates, raisins, etc), it’s still sugar and 15-20 grams is just too much at once. The exception to this would be immediately post-workout when your body can use those sugars to repair muscle. Otherwise, I typically won’t buy a bar if it’s over 5 grams of sugar.
3) High Fiber. These days bars with carbs that mostly come from fiber are more popular and easy to find. It’s a convenient way to get more fiber in your diet.
4) Familiar Ingredients. If a bar is full of a long list of ingredients you can’t pronounce and have no idea what they mean, probably best to avoid it. Keep it as natural as possible.
MY FAVORITE PROTEIN BARS
(these are in no particular order)
- Quest – These bars are mostly under 200 calories, have high fiber, low sugar and taste AMAZING! Try warming one up for about 20 seconds in the microwave for even better taste. Many of them have chunks of chocolate or other flavors in them that makes them very non-typical protein bars. I enjoy these anytime, but will often eat a few bites as dessert or as a fix for my sweet tooth. These are gluten free.
2. No Cow Bar – The vegan version of Quest. These have almost the exact same calories and macronutrient/fiber amounts, but are made without whey protein and use more natural ingredients and sweeteners. They don’t taste quite as good, but they’re super soft and easier on the stomach. Also gluten free.
3. Oh Yeah One– Basically another version of Quest (and I always mention Quest because the other bars came out after them). Really yummy in a more typical protein bar kind of way. Similar nutrients as the previous two, with a few different flavors and really soft texture. These are also gluten free and non-GMO!
Best Flavors: Birthday Cake (not the chocolate one), Cinnamon Roll, Lemon Cake (but I haven’t tried them all)
4. Think Thin Protein & Fiber Bars – Previously I’d only eaten the High Protein Bars, and didn’t like them much. But the protein and fiber bars taste really good and are only 150 calories. Only 10 grams of protein and 5 grams of fiber and sugar, but every once in a while I like these because they have pretty natural ingredients and are gluten free.
Best flavors: I’ve actually only tried a few, but Cupcake Batter and Pumpkin Spice are my faves.
All-Natural Protein Bars
5. Kind Bars – These are really nice when you don’t want something too processed. On one hand, these do taste great. On the other, all they really are is nuts and berries stuck together with honey. Therefore, they’re high sugar and low protein. And in reality, you’d be better off with a handful of almonds and raisins. But, sometimes they’re just darn convenient.
6. RX Bar – These bars are some of the only that I’ve seen containing egg whites, and the rest is all natural like nuts and dates. Like Kind bars, they taste great, but are high on sugar. Good for anyone who doesn’t want to eat whey or more processed bars. But they’re high in calories, so watch how much you consume! Great for post-workout, though.
Want more info? Check out my video on this subject!
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