In today’s fast-paced world, it’s no surprise that protein bars have become a popular choice for a quick and convenient snack. But how do you choose the best protein bars for your needs?
As a dietitian, I love protein bars. They are an easy way to get in protein when you’re on the go, short on time, or not particularly hungry but you know that you need to eat. Healthy protein bars come in a variety of different forms; plant-based, vegan, animal-based and all sorts of different kinds of protein powders.
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Whether you’re an athlete in need of post-workout nourishment, a busy professional looking for an on-the-go energy boost or simply someone trying to maintain a balanced diet, protein bars seem like the perfect solution. So many different individuals can benefit from adding them into their diet.
Protein bars are time savers when you don’t have time to make a high-protein dinner, and they even make for great road trip snacks. However, with a variety of options available on the market, not all protein bars are created equal. It’s essential to know what to look for when choosing a healthy protein bar that aligns with your dietary and nutritional goals.
Key factors to consider when selecting a protein bar
Determining what makes a healthy protein bar can depend on your specific health goals and dietary preferences. Here are some factors to consider when choosing the best protein bar.
The primary reason you’re reaching for a protein bar is to boost your protein intake. However, more protein doesn’t always mean better. What truly matters is the quality of the protein source.
Look for bars that contain high-quality protein sources such as whey, casein or plant-based options like pea or hemp protein. These sources are rich in essential amino acids and are easily digestible, ensuring your body can effectively utilize the protein for muscle repair and growth.
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Sugar and sweeteners
One common pitfall with many protein bars is their sugar content. Some bars can contain as much sugar as a candy bar, which can negate the health benefits of the added protein.
Opt for bars with minimal added sugars and avoid those with high-fructose corn syrup, corn syrup and maltodextrin. Natural sweeteners like honey, dates or stevia are preferable for digestibility.
Fiber is an often-overlooked component in protein bars, but it helps with digestive health and helps keep you feeling full and satisfied. Seek bars with at least 3 to 5 grams of fiber. Fiber also helps negate spikes in blood sugar levels by slowing down digestion.
Fats are an essential part of a balanced diet, and they can be found in many protein bars. Look for bars that contain healthy fats, such as nuts, seeds or coconut oil. These fats provide sustained energy and are a great source of fat-soluble vitamins.
The best protein bars
When it comes to choosing healthy protein bars, taste and personal preference whether it contains animal products or not is a huge determining factor. Below you will find a mix of animal-based, vegetarian and vegan protein bars.
Pemmican bars are free from additives, making them stand out from the crowd of conventional protein bars loaded with preservatives and artificial ingredients. They can be found in specialty stores or online platforms dedicated to traditional foods. Choosing pemmican is an easy upgrade.
“In my opinion, pemmican stands as the ultimate protein bar because it embodies simplicity and purity, combining lean meat, rendered fat and sometimes berries in a natural, nutrient-dense package.”— Jessica Haggard, Primal Edge Health
Jonesbar is a great protein bar if you’re looking for one that is organic. It’s also gluten-free, kosher parve and with no added sugar.
“I’m always looking for a whole foods protein bar with simple ingredients and balanced macronutrients. Lately, I’ve been loving the brand, Jonesbar. They have fun flavors, like peanut butter and jelly. Every bar has five ingredients or less, and they’re certified organic. When I don’t have time to make my own, they’re my go-to.”— Gina Matsoukas, Running to the Kitchen
RXBAR is a great protein bar that you can find at many gas stations, supermarkets and online. They’re a great source of both fiber and protein, containing 5 grams of fiber and 12 grams of protein per bar.
“I love RXBARs because they’re made from whole foods and have a straightforward ingredient list. Many protein bars are highly processed and are low in fiber. With minimal ingredients, RX bars stand out on top.”— Justine Chan, MHSc, RD, CDE, Your Diabetes Dietitian
If you’re looking for a delicious organic vegan protein bar, GoMacro MacroBar is for you. It’s also non-GMO and gluten-free.
“While many protein bars use ingredients like sugar alcohols or inulin to keep carbohydrates low and/or add fiber, these can lead to gastrointestinal discomfort for some. GoMacro bars avoid these ingredients, making them easier to digest, especially for those with IBS.”— Kristin Draayer, MS, RDN, Nutrition by Kristin
Clif Builders protein bars are a gluten-free, low glycemic bar that has 20 grams of plant-based. These protein bars are delicious and come in a variety of flavors.
“Clif Builders Protein bars offer 20 grams of protein for repairing muscle along with enough carbohydrates for replenishing energy stores after a vigorous workout. What sets this protein bar apart from others is they are sustainably made using wholesome ingredients such as oats, almonds, cocoa, nuts and dried fruit like dates.”— Cheryl Mussatto, MS, RD, LD author of The Nourished Brain
Kize energy bars have six to eight ingredients, contain simple and real foods, are non-GMO, gluten-free, soy-free, dairy-free and are made in the USA. They have 10 grams of protein and have a keto variety as well.
KIND protein bars aren’t your traditional protein bars. These bars have 12 grams of protein and pack a crunch from the nuts and legumes.
“I’m a huge fan of KIND protein bars because they offer a delicious natural crunch made from wholesome ingredients like nuts and honey. Unlike other bars in the market, they are free from sugar alcohols and contain low added sugars, making them a suitable choice for those who struggle with gastrointestinal discomfort from sugar alcohols. With 12 grams of plant protein and 5 to 6 grams of fiber, they are a satisfying protein bar option.”— Jillian Sampaio, RDN
Aloha protein bars are not only vegan, but they are low carb and paleo. They don’t contain stevia, which many individuals tend to find taste bitter.
“Each bar packs in 14 grams of plant-based protein and is made with nutrient-dense ingredients. Not only are these bars organic, but they’re also non-GMO and free from gluten, dairy, and soy. This makes them an excellent choice for individuals with specific dietary preferences or restrictions.”— Julie Balsamo, MS, RDN, Nutrition by Julie
When looking for a healthy protein bar, remember that no single bar will meet everyone’s needs perfectly. Your choice should align with your specific dietary preferences, fitness goals and any dietary restrictions you may have.
By prioritizing high-quality protein sources, keeping an eye on sugar content, seeking fiber-rich options and embracing healthy fats, you can make an informed choice that enhances your overall well-being. The next time you’re on the hunt for a convenient snack, you’re ready with the knowledge to choose a protein bar that not only tastes good but also supports your health and fitness journey. Your body will thank you for it.
Lara is a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist and Personal Trainer. She is also a photographer and recipe developer and has a food and travel blog Lara Clevenger. She shares easy recipes that are mostly low-carb, along with some bowling and travel adventures. Whether you’re cooking with an air fryer, Blackstone or Instant Pot, she has you covered with healthy recipes.