Protein bars are a convenient source of protein pre or post-workout or as a healthy snack.
They have come a long way in the last few years. They’re now widely available, involve zero preparation, and taste good enough to seem like a treat and provide significant great health benefits. Protein bars can vary enormously in essential factors like calories, fat, sugars, additives, and other ingredients.
In this article, we’ve put together some of the healthiest bars on the market, as well as what to look out for in your healthy protein bar.
Here are five of our favorite healthy protein bars for 2020.
210 calories, 9 g fat, 24 g carbs (5 g fiber, 13 g sugar), 12 g protein
RX bars taste great, but they are so much more than just their flavors. Each bar contains what is essentially three egg whites, six almonds, four cashews, and two dates for 210 calories. There’s no added sugar, artificial flavors, preservatives, or fillers. And the bars are dairy-, gluten-, and soy-free.
200 calories, 15g fat, 16g carbs (7g fiber, 5g sugar), 8g protein
Kind bars may not pack a massive amount of protein, but they make the perfect healthy snack. They are filled with whole ingredients and get their heart-healthy fats from plenty of nuts and seeds. Lots of fruit and chocolate give this bar an excellent, sweet flavor.
200 calories, 8g fat, 24g carbohydrate, 1g sugar, 14g fiber, 21g protein
Quest bars come in a range of great flavors like Chocolate Sprinkled Donut and Cookie Dough to curb your cravings and satisfy your sweet tooth. These bars are great for a snack between meals, coming in at only 200 calories and packed with protein and fiber to make you feel full. With only 1g of sugar, these are not a treat to be missed.
Garden of Life bars
200 calories, 7g fat, 27g carbohydrate (13g fiber, 1g sugar), 14g protein
This sweet-tasting bar tastes too good to be healthy, and yet it is. 14g of protein and 13g of fiber help keep you full between meals while the great taste won’t make you feel like you’re giving up the foods you love. They’re vegan, gluten-free, dairy-free, and soy-free, so that you can eat them during any diet, no matter how restrictive.
MET-RX Big 100 bars
400 calories, 10g fat, 48g carbohydrate, 29g sugar, 2g fiber, 31g protein
The MET-RX bars are perfect as a meal replacement. Coming in with 400 calories, they provide as much energy as a full meal, and they contain 17 vitamins and minerals, including Vitamin A, Vitamin C, Calcium & Zinc. The high protein content helps keep you full until your next meal, and the lack of trans-fats means this bar is heart-healthy.
What to look for in your healthy protein bar
If you’re trying to increase your protein intake using protein bars, be it for exercise, or incorporate more protein in your diet, look at the protein amount in comparison to the calories in the bar. As the calorie count increases, so should the level of protein.
It’s also important to know the reason you need your protein bar to determine the protein-carb-fat ratio. For example, if you’re eating your bar as a snack between meals, you will want to choose high protein and lower carb content to provide a filling snack. If you are using it during endurance activities or re-energizing after a workout, you will want to look for an increased carb count.
What difference does the type of protein make?
Different protein bars contain a variety of different types of protein. Some bars feature yogurt powder, milk, or dairy proteins like casein and whey, while others use plant-based sources like soy, pea, or brown rice. Some contain egg whites, while others rely on nuts and seeds as a primary protein source. So, how do you know which one is for you?
Your goals and lifestyle will determine the type of protein you will want in your protein bar. 1
Whey isolate protein is the most common protein source and helps promote weight loss. However, whey contains dairy so vegans and those with lactose intolerances will want to choose bars whose protein source is derived from plant sources such as pea, soy, rice, and hemp. 2 For those looking to eat clean or organically, whole ingredient protein bars are becoming increasingly popular. These use eggs and nuts as their protein source.
Do you need to be wary of calories in protein bars?
Like all food, protein bars contain calories. Calories are just a measure of the energy content in food. As long as you can fit your protein bar into your daily calorie allowance, you can eat it. If you eat a protein bar as a snack, you should look for a bar around the 200 calorie mark. When replacing a meal with a protein bar, you should look for a bar around 400 calories that includes added vitamins and minerals. 3
Other things to look out for in your healthy protein bar
Fiber: Fiber aids in digestion and helps keep your gut healthy, so try to choose a protein bar with a decent amount of fiber per serving. 4
Fats: Healthy, unsaturated fats can help with nutrient absorption, and promote a healthy heart. Unsaturated fats come from sources such as nuts, nut butters, and seeds.
Sugar alcohols: Although they add a nice, sweet flavor to a protein bar and help keep sugar content low, these alcohols, when eaten in large quantities, can lead to bloating and digestion problems. 5
Protein to carb ratio: If you’re working out and exercising, you will want a bar higher in carbohydrates to fuel your muscles after they have depleted their glycogen stores through exercise. If eating a bar as a snack, choose one with higher protein content to help keep you full.
1 Hoffman JR, Falvo MJ. Protein – Which is Best?. J Sports Sci Med. 2004;3(3):118-130. Published 2004 Sep 1.
2 Marsh KA, Munn EA, Baines SK. Protein and vegetarian diets. Med J Aust. 2013;199(S4):S7-S10.
3 Monika Potter, Antonis Vlassopoulos, Undine Lehmann, Snacking Recommendations Worldwide: A Scoping Review, Advances in Nutrition, Volume 9, Issue 2, March 2018, Pages 86–98, https://doi.org/10.1093/advances/nmx003
4 Lattimer JM, Haub MD. Effects of dietary fiber and its components on metabolic health. Nutrients. 2010;2(12):1266-1289. doi:10.3390/nu2121266
5 Mäkinen KK. Gastrointestinal Disturbances Associated with the Consumption of Sugar Alcohols with Special Consideration of Xylitol: Scientific Review and Instructions for Dentists and Other Health-Care Professionals. Int J Dent. 2016;2016:5967907. doi:10.1155/2016/5967907