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What’s the difference between a protein bar and a candy bar? Some of the best tasting protein bars are so yummy that it is hard to tell whether you are eating a healthy snack or indulging in a decadent treat. Don’t get me wrong – both have their purposes and their places. One is associated with “work”, the other with “reward”.
Despite the stats on how often we choose one over the other and in what order (no judgement!), it is good to know that when we choose one, that we are not getting the other unknowingly or unintentionally. The main difference between these two kinds of bars, ideally, is their purpose and nutritional value. The best protein bars combine these two elements to offer a healthy (and tasty) snack that helps us achieve our fitness goals.
So, if protein bars are not candy bars, are not simply a “healthy” dessert, what are protein bars for then? The best protein bars are designed to support an active metabolism, stabilize blood sugar levels and promote muscle building and endurance. Are protein bars good for you, then? Are clif bars healthy? Well, that depends. Some of the top rated protein bars are good for us. Others? Not so much.
What are the Benefits of Protein Bars?
Many bars, many benefits. Protein bars offer concentrated nutrition. They’re fast and convenient. They can help you meet your workout, weight loss and nutritional needs or simply get through a busy day when your schedule doesn’t allow for lunch.
- Muscle-Building – these bars are often made with whey (milk protein) and promote the development of muscle and/or the conversion of fat to muscle.
- Sport/Performance/Endurance – these bars may be higher in carbs and the “good fats” and are geared to provide energy over a sustained period of time.
- Weight Loss – for those seeking weight management support, a protein bar may be used as a means to balance blood sugar throughout the day, curb cravings and/or stimulate metabolic activity.
- Nutritional Supplement – for folks who have special dietary and health needs, protein bars may help maintain stable blood sugar levels and/or increase nutrient intake.
What Types of Protein Bars are out There?
Protein bars come in many forms, from plant-based and vegan to paleo, from those made primarily from milk protein, nuts and grains, to dairy-free, nut and gluten-free products. This article will focus on some of the best plant-based protein bars currently on the market.
What’s the Best Protein Bar?
The one that fits your needs. The best bar for you, might not be the best one for someone else. So it’s useful not to simply look for the best protein bars for men or the best bars for women, the best bars for weight loss or those recommended for endurance, it’s important to understand your own, unique health profile, in addition to your fitness goals, in order to choose the best protein bar for you.
Consider Your Needs: Checklist
- Do you need to watch your sugar/carb intake?.
- Are you gluten-sensitive or intolerant?
- Do you avoid dairy?
- Are you allergic to nuts or soy?
- What are your health/fitness goals?
- What nutrients support those goals?
- Are you using protein bars as a workout supplement, an energy boost or as a snack on the go?
Knowing your needs, goals and habits will help you make the best choice.
Nutrition is Key
Becoming a label reader will also help you make informed and wise decisions. It’s important to know not only the amounts of sugars, carbs, fats and fiber a bar contains, but what are their sources? What vitamins and nutrients are derived from the ingredients and how are they produced?
Nutrients work together in the body and for maximum absorption are best derived from whole foods.You’ll notice that when a bar is lower in one area, sugar for example, it may be higher in another, like fat. You may find the opposite to be true as well. A balance of sugars, carbs, fats and fiber are optimal.
Be wary of ingredients with vague names, too. For example, the nebulous “natural flavors” listed in some food product ingredient labels may not be harmful, but then again, they might not be in your body’s best interests to ingest either. Only the manufacturer knows what these natural flavors actually are. Makes one wonder what they aren’t telling us, which is why it’s important to do your own research and know what your body needs.
12 Best Protein Bars to Fit Your Lifestyle
Now you’ve come to our review section of some popular- as well as some lesser known plant-based protein bars. They are categorized by one of their main attributes to make it easy for you to navigate. Take a look at all the best protein bars and see which ones might work for you!
Author’s Choice: Best “All-Around” Protein Bars
With 20 grams of protein, 10 grams of soluble fiber and 20% of the Daily Value (DV) of iron, the Sport Organic Performance Protein Bar by Garden of Life is a complete nutrition bar, offered in four classic flavors: Peanut Butter Chocolate, Chocolate Fudge, Chocolate Mint and Sea Salt Caramel.
With 33 grams of carbs and 8 grams of sugar, these bars will give you the energy you need without the allergens (dairy, soy, gluten-free) or ethical compromise (organic, vegan, non-GMO). As its name implies, this bar is made for those engaging in rigorous physical activity with high energy and endurance demands.
Vega’s “Chocolate Coconut Cashew” Bar has it all. This bar is a nutrient powerhouse with at least 20% of the Daily Value (DV) of 17 vitamins and minerals. Twelve grams of complete proteins come from sprouted, organic brown rice and peas. Full of antioxidants, probiotics and omegas, sprouted grains make these nutrients more easily absorbed by the body, and thus, available for use as fuel. Vega One is clean protein made by folks who embrace a sustainable approach to wellness through nutrition.
Best Gluten Free Bars
Made by Two Moms, these nut bars offer “accelerated” nutrition. In lay terms, that means that the “sprouted” nuts, grains and seeds in these bars increases the body’s enzyme activity as well as the body’s ability to absorb nutrients. Founded by a woman seeking to heal her own body, you can be sure that these products are backed by integrity and put health and wellness first. Available in fun-to-say flavors like Blueberry Burst and Cranberry Crush.
Not only are Lara Bars gluten-free, they are also soy and dairy-free as well as non GMO, Kosher and Vegan! Made from whole foods, the two ingredients Lara’s “Cashew Cookie” contains (dates and almonds) add up to 48 grams of de-lish with significant amounts of magnesium and copper (20% and 25% DV respectively). Lower on the carb spectrum at 23 grams, these bars are higher on the fats/sugars (13g/18g), though derived entirely from plant sources.
In addition to the wide variety of sweet, soy and dairy-free bars made by Kind, the Strong and Kind line offers savory protein bars that are low carb/low sugar (15g/6g) and high in protein/good fats (10g/16g). A nice alternative to the over-abundance of sweet protein bars on the market, these low-sodium, no-MSG salty treats come in creative flavors like Thai Sweet Chili, Honey Mustard, and Roasted Jalapeno.
Best Dairy Free Protein Bars
The “Lemon Coconut” Fermented Vegan Protein Bar is a well-balanced nutritional supplement (14g protein, 9 g fat, 10g fiber) with 100% complete protein from sources like quinoa, alfalfa and brown rice. Low in sugar, these protein bars provide immune support in addition to strengthening gut health and aiding digestion. Delicately sweet and soft in texture, these bars are healthy and do a body good.
The “Pure Food Organic Vegan Greens” Protein Bar has 15 grams of protein in addition to a ton of antioxidant and “superfood” nutrients from ingredients like spirulina and chia. 80% raw and made by solar power, this product certainly has one-upped the other organic, non-GMO certified protein bars and is not only dairy, but gluten-free to boot.
Best Protein Bar for Weight Loss
High in protein (30% DV) and dietary fiber (52% DV), the Organic Fit Weight Loss Bar is an excellent choice to support individuals with their weight loss goals. With only 1 gram of sugar, 26 grams of carbs and 7 grams of fat, these treats are designed to help you feel satisfied while working on your weight management and fitness goals. Offered in the same yummy flavors as the Sport Organic Performance Protein Bar mentioned above, this is one of the best low-sugar protein bars on the market, too.
Honorable Mention: a Great Tasting, Abundantly Available Protein Bar
Clif is a household name in the world of protein bars. Available in large grocery stores, small convenience stores and even in some health food stores, Clif has an interesting story and a ton of diversity in its product line.
Made with organic rolled oats, the original “Chocolate Chip” Clif bar is packed with vitamins and minerals, including impressive amounts of calcium, phosphorus and magnesium. In addition to 10 grams of protein, 4 grams of dietary fiber are delivered in this classic energy bar. Rainforest Alliance and non-GMO Certified, Clif offers a variety of creative flavor combinations, from the extravagant “Peanut Butter Banana with Dark Chocolate” and “White Chocolate Macadamia” to the simple “Nuts and Seeds”.
Bars contain nuts and soy along with a hefty dose of carbs (45 grams per bar). Keep this in mind when tempted to gobble down more than one of these delicious bars at a time and not going for an endurance hike, run, or ride.
For the sugar concerned, the Nut Butter Filled line of Clif Bars is certified USDA Organic, and has the same amount of protein with less than half the sugar of the classic Clif Energy bars (9 grams). A good choice for those focused on muscle-building, the Clif Builder’s bar contains a whopping 20 grams of complete protein. For those looking for simplicity, Kit’s Organic is Clif’s version of the Lara bar. Fewer ingredients, cleaner fuel.
Also made by Clif, the Luna Bar offers 35% of the DV of calcium, making this bar appealing for women. Luna Bars contain soy, but are 100% gluten-free. Lower in fat and sugars than other brands, Luna bars may be a good option for weight management support as well.
Do take note that “natural” flavors are present in all of these bars.
Worth Mentioning: a Popular Low Sugar Protein Bar
With no added sugar, soy and gluten-free, the Quest “Mixed Berry Bliss” Bar packs a punch with 20 grams of protein,14 grams of dietary fiber and a mere 2 grams of sugar (21 carbs). At 60 grams per serving (190 calories), this bar also offers a significant amount of calcium (20%) in a sizeable treat. Testimonials by the likes of Olympian Gabby Douglas compare the flavor of these bars, yes, to the candy bar.
However, Quest has been shrouded in controversy of late for the questionable health benefits of its bars according to this indictment by the breakfast criminals’ nutrition experts citing highly processed ingredients and nutrient isolates.
Worth Mentioning: a Popular High Protein Low Carb Bar
The Dark Chocolate Bar by Pure Protein has equal parts protein and carbs at 19 grams each. With high amounts of vitamins ABC and E, this bar also has significant amounts of the vital trace minerals zinc and copper. Similar to Quest, Pure Protein are popular and widely available, which is why it slides in at the end of our best protein bars list.
However, consumers should do their research before choosing a bar with ingredients like protein isolates, palm oil and “natural” flavors.
Cevia Yellin is a writer and teacher. She enjoys exploring both the inner and outer worlds and appreciates the written word in all of its forms.