How to Pick a Quality Protein Bar
By Britni Vincent, RD, LD
March 15, 2019
Protein bars have become very popular. When you go to the store there is now an entire wall filled with them. It’s a bit overwhelming, and I’m sure many of you have thought, “How do I know which one is actually healthy for me?” The reality is that many of them (such as Atkin’s bars and Cliff bars) are full of sugar and other undesirable ingredients, but are marketed as a great “healthy” option. We’d suggest you think of them as basically a candy bar.
That said, there are good options! If you can find a high quality protein bar with the criteria below, it can be a good emergency snack or handy option when traveling.
- Protein: at least 7 grams per bar
- Carbohydrate: less than 30 grams per bar
- Sugar: less than 18 grams per bar (Limit the amount of added sugar. Natural sugar coming from dates or fruit is better. Less than 12 grams is optimal for many people.)
- Fat: at least 8 grams per bar
- Look for: quality proteins like whey (unless you have a severe dairy sensitivity), beef, egg white, meat, pea and rice protein.
- Avoid: soy. Be warned, when a product that is not typically high in protein advertises that is has high amounts of protein, it likely contains soy. Soy protein is a cheap protein source, and one we don’t recommend; listen to more about that here.
- Look for: stevia, monk fruit extract, honey, organic cane sugar, organic cane syrup, brown rice syrup and *sugar alcohols (anything ending in an –itol, ie: xylitol, eyrithritol) *Sugar alcohols can create digestive symptoms such as: gas, diarrhea and cramping in some individuals. They should be avoided for those individuals.
- Avoid: artificial sweeteners (aspartame, sucralose, acesulfame potassium) and high fructose corn syrup.
- Look for: coconut oil, MCT oil, nuts, seeds and nut butter.
- Avoid: refined oils (canola, soybean, corn and vegetable).
Lastly, if you’re gluten sensitive please make sure the packaging says gluten-free before purchasing. Additionally, if you’re sensitive to dairy you may still tolerate whey as the protein source. If you don’t tolerate whey, bars that have beef, egg white, pea, rice or meat as its protein source would all be good alternatives.
Whew, that’s a lot of information, but an important topic we always get questions about. Consider printing this blog post for a reference the next time you’re out shopping or take a screen shot for easy reference.
* Maltitol and erythritol are examples of sugar alcohols