Protein Bars: the good, the bad, and the fattening

Upon starting my blog, I’ve had a few requests of things to post about (yay! keep them coming!). One of those things was protein bars. The general question was, “What is your favorite, best tasting, healthy protein bar?” I’m actually not a big protein/energy bar eater, as I opt for other snacks throughout the day, but protein bars are a great on-the-go snack if you’re constantly running from one place to the next. They’re portable, and CAN be much more healthy than a vending machine snack. And, for women, it could be a good protein booster, since we typically consume less protein than men. However, there are plenty of bars out there that might as well be a candy bar with their saturated fat and sugar content. And, some just plain don’t taste good. Also remember, these should be used in moderation (I love that word!). Don’t get too caught up in the name of protein bars — there are other good sources of proteins that don’t necessarily carry all of the unneeded fat. If you’re just looking for something to fill you up a bit before exercising, try a piece of fruit or some yogurt. If you’re looking to replenish energy and glucose levels, try a bagel or string cheese.

Back to protein bars. I decided to do a little taste test comparing eight different protein bar brands. I’ll give feedback on each, as well as track the calories, fat, protein, and all that fun stuff that we’d rather not look at on the labels πŸ™‚ I tried to vary it as much as possible, so if you like fruity bars over chocolate-y bars, there are options for you, too. When looking for bars, I considered:

  • Calories: Since I track my daily calories, this is a factor for me. If you’re not into calorie tracking, perhaps focus in on different aspects of the label, such as carbs, fiber, or sugars.
  • Fat: Look for a bar low in fat (less than 5 grams is a good goal). If you go much more than that, you might as well grab a Snickers. It provides energy and protein, also, and probably tastes a whole lot better!
  • Non-Meal Replacement Bar: Since we are using these bars for snack purposes, don’t opt for a meal-replacement bar. These typically have more calories, fat, and carbs and are meant to replace a full meal rather than give you some energy to push through a workout. And you’re better off eating an actual meal rather than substituting it for a bar…although fewer calories, bars often lack all the good nutrients you find in real food.
  • Protein: It’s called a protein bar for a reason. Make sure it’s providing what it says!

Note, I chose these mostly at random. I was given a few suggestions, and otherwise, I tried to vary my pics as much as possible. Also, one thing that I noticed on almost all of the bars was that they claimed to be “All Natural,” but still had a laundry list of random ingredients. If you’re ever in doubt of what actually goes into your protein bars, try making some yourself! See below for a great link to some protein bar recipes. Alright, here it goes…My bars, counting down from worst to best:

8. Soyjoy – Fruit: I can only imagine that this is what fruitcake tastes like. Well, cardboard fruitcake. I chose the berry flavor, and I can see now why they gave such a vague flavor name…it didn’t taste like any sort of berry I’ve ever had. This bar was lacking in protein and high in sugar, and based on its taste alone, I wouldn’t recommend it for a preworkout snack unless you love fruitcake-flavor items.

  • Calories: 130; Fat Calories: 40; Protein: 4g; Fat: 4.5g; Sugars: 12g; Carbs: 17g
7. Kashi Go Lean Crunch – Chocolate Caramel: I’ll admit, I’ve tried Kashi bars before and I was hoping this time would be different. No such luck. I love the brand for other food items, but their bars are not something that taste particularly good. However, if you don’t mind taste, their overall calories and protein content is pretty decent. However, this bar tastes like it’s been sitting in your cupboard a bit too long. Ever had stale cereal? If that was the attempted flavor of this bar, then they were spot on.
  • Calories: 150; Fat Calories: 25; Protein: 8g; Fat: 3g; Sugars: 14g; Carbs: 28g
6. Think Thin – Brownie Crunch: When I think of protein bars, this is what I envision. This bar is your typical, powdery chocolate bar. Not a terrible taste, but nothing I would seek out to buy. If you’re looking for high protein but aren’t as concerned about calories, this is a good bar for you.
  • Calories: 230; Fat Calories: 70; Protein: 20g; Fat: 8g; Sugars: 0g; Carbs: 25g
5. Clifbar – Chocolate Chip: This bar is typically used as a meal replacement rather than a quick snack, but it’s a good brand, so I figured I’d include it. I actually enjoy the taste of these bars, and have had a few different flavors to confirm that most are pretty decent. However, I wouldn’t recommend this for a regular snack. It’s great if you’re going out for a big bike ride or a day of hiking, because it has good sugar, protein, and calories to sustain you throughout your day and give you energy, while still staying relatively low in fat. But for a midday snack before an afternoon workout? I’d look for something a bit lower in calories.
  • Calories: 240; Fat Calories: 40; Protein: 10g; Fat: 4.5g; Sugars: 23g; Carbs: 44g

4. Oh Yeah! – Almond Fudge Brownie: This bar is about as close to a candy bar as you can get. It has a great chocolatey flavor, but it comes at a price — the fat content. High in both fat calories and total fat, this bar is another one that should be used with caution. Here or there it’s a good choice, plus, you’ll enjoy eating it, but try not to overindulge on these ones…

  • Calories: 190; Fat Calories: 80; Protein: 14g; Fat: 9g; Sugars: 4g; Carbs: 18g
3. PowerBar – Cranberry Oatmeal Cookie: A common name in the protein-bar world, I was surprised that this bar didn’t taste half bad. It tasted a bit dry, but then again, I did choose an oatmeal-flavor bar, and oatmeal usually is on the drier side. The cranberries had a good flavor, and the overall density was rather enjoyable. It was a small bar, though, so if you’re starving, this may not fill you up. And if you’re looking to get a lot of protein, it’s pretty low in that regard. Overall, though, this was a pretty good little bar!
  • Calories: 130; Fat Calories: 25; Protein: 5g; Fat: 2.5g; Sugars: 10g; Carbs: 23g
2. Fruitified Zone PerfectΒ – Blueberry: I usually tend to favor chocolate bars to fruit bars, as I think it’s harder to make a good-tasting protein bar that has fruit in it, but this one I would definitely buy again. It had a good, sweet flavor, and though it was a little dry, the vanilla drizzle helped moisten the bar. This bar is also high in protein while staying relatively low in fat, which has been tough to come by with some of the other bars. For a fruity bar, this one ranks #1 for me.
  • Calories: 190; Fat Calories: 35; Protein: 14g; Fat: 4g; Sugars: 14g; Carbs: 25g
1. Luna – S’mores: And the winner is! Made by Clif Bar, Luna had good flavor, was low in fat and calories, and had a decent amount of protein. This bar was a decent size, too, so for those of you that need a significant snack before hitting the gym, this could be your bar! This flavor definitely tasted of marshmallow, so if that’s not your thing, there were plenty of other flavors out there. It wasn’t too dry, but wasn’t too dense and hard to choke down, either. Yay, Luna!
  • Calories: 180; Fat Calories: 45; Protein: 9g; Fat: 5g; Sugars: 13g; Carbs: 27g

Remember, this was completely based on personal opinion. You may love some of the bars I disliked, so the only way you’ll know is to try some yourself and see what works for you. And again, these don’t replace the vitamins and nutrients you find in real foods, so when possible, snack on things that provide ample nutrients. And when in doubt, make your own!

Homemade Protein Bars: There’s no better way of knowing what is actually in your protein bars than if you make them yourself! And this way, you can personalize them to your specific taste preferences. Check out Lift for Life for some fun protein bar recipes. I know I’ll be making some in the near future!

What is your favorite protein bar?

N

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9 thoughts on “Protein Bars: the good, the bad, and the fattening

      • Love the blog! My favorite Protein Bar is Detour – Lower Sugar flavor Caramel Peanut. 170 calories per bar, 45 from fat, 15g Protein. I buy them a Sam’s. 24 bars to a box for less then $20. I will give you one to try.

  1. I’m excited to try the zone bar. I am absolutely hooked on luna bars. I love the s’more one, the chocolate peppermint, zesty lemon and a new blueberry that I can’t find everywhere yet. might be the perfect mix of your top 2!

  2. Thanks, Amy. I appreciate the feedback πŸ™‚

    Let me know what you think, Alisa!

    And you’re welcome, Jo! I only took little nibble, so I’m looking forward to actually having the whole bar πŸ™‚

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