Raising the (nutrition) Bar: Guide to Choosing Healthy Protein and Snack Bars
Ahhhh, nutrition bars. We love them for their convenience, which they are but they can be deceiving little suckers if you aren’t careful.
What I mean by deceiving is that some granola bars have as much, if not more, sugar than a candy bar. Which can be really confusing and annoying if you’re trying to make healthier choices and there’s nothing more discouraging than thinking you’re making a good choice and it turns out it was no better than a Snickers.
Not only that, but the bar aisle in the supermarket is pretty overwhelming. A friend actually reached out to me recently asking me to tell her what the best kind of bars were to buy because she’s been to look a few times and there are just way too many choices. Which I totally agree. Kroger legit has a whole aisle.
Just a picture of it stresses me out.
Personally, protein and snack bars are a go-to for me and in college- quite literally a staple in my diet so in order to balance convenience with trying to maintain a healthy lifestyle and eat things that were going to fuel my body properly… I’ve done a good bit of research on this topic.
So to debunk some of the confusion, I’ve narrowed down some tips on what to look for on a nutrition label while you’re standing in the aisle so you know what you are doing and don’t stand there for 20 minutes getting overwhelmed.
I break it up into 3 categories of bars and give you my 3 personal favorites for each category! So if nothing else hopefully you can leave this post having some good options to try next time you try to up that bar game! (also thoroughly enjoying the “bar” puns over here)
Soooooooo let’s get started!
What type of bar are you looking for? A meal replacement bar, snack bar, or protein bar?
There're three main categories of bars - meal bars, snack bars, and protein bars.
Meal bars are to do just that, replace a meal. These are the bars with 300 - 400+ calories and have a pretty even balance of macronutrients: protein, carbs and fat (if you don’t know what those are, I have another post all about them here). Some of these bars include PRO BARS, MET- RX bars and Cliff builder bars just to name a few.
Calories 390, Total Fat 22g, Saturated Fat 4.5, Carbs 43g, Fiber 6g, Sugar 21g, Protein 11g
Calories: 320, Carb 25g, Fiber 3g, Sugar 18g, Protein 15g
MET-RX Super Cookie Crunch:
Calories: 410; Carbohydrates: 41g; Fat: 14g Protein:32g Sugar: 26g Saturated Fat: 6g
Snack-type bars are still going to be balanced in macronutrients however ranging from 140-300 calories These are usually the most popular choices. Really good for that mid-afternoon hunger strike to keep you satisfied until dinner. You’re looking for these bars to be at least 5-12g grams of protein and about 5-10g of sugar. The problem that a lot of people run into with these bars are the carbohydrate/fat/protein ratio. Like I said at the beginning of the post- many brands marketing to carry a “snack bar” could honestly just rename them candy bars because honestly there’s a ton on the market that have more sugar than a candy bar…. That’s BOGUS. And honestly just sneaky ya know?? Like you thinking you’re making a good, healthy choice for yourself with this “granola bar” but turns out you could have had the candy bar for the same health benefits and MUCH better taste. So ya, let’s not do that. Here are some that I personally love, and I know a lot of others really enjoy: RX bars, KIND bars, and Lara Bars.
Larabar’s Dark Chocolate Almond Nut & Seed Bar:
Calories 200, Carbs 15g, Sugar 7g, Fiber 4g, Protein 5g
Calories 200, Carbs 15g, Fiber 7g, Protein 6g, Sugar 5g
Rx bars label tells the whole story: Dates, Egg whites, almonds, cashews, NO B.S.
YES. Exactly what a bar should be. Not a lot of ingredients and all the flavor. These are my personal favorite right now. They come in SO many flavors and you can get them at practically any grocery store these days. Do they have more sugar than the range I gave? Yes, BUT you can see on the label, there’s no added sugar. Which is key. Added sugars are any type of sugar or sugar-containing ingredients that are added during a food’s processing to sweeten it. These are different from natural sugars, which are naturally occurring in the product’s ingredients, such as the sugar found in dates. So, you can be flexible with the nutrient ranges I gave, especially when you know its natural sources!
Calories: 210 Fiber 5g, Protein 12g, Sugar 13g, Carbs 24g
Lastly, we have Protein bars.
Protein bars can be helpful for many reasons. Protein can help keep you fuller longer, reduces hunger, and build muscle. These types of bars are good for recovery after exercise and just like the snack bars can hold you over between meals.
In general, when selecting the best protein bars, the more protein, the better but only if that protein is good quality.
Here are a few things to keep in mind: Protein: Look for more than 10g of protein and personally, I try to stay close to 20g of protein. Look for a TYPE Protein: Look for ingredients like whey and pea proteins. Fiber: Look for bars with 3 grams or more fiber per serving, also for feeling purposes. Fats:A good bar shouldn’t have any trans fats and should be low in saturated fats (less than three grams per serving). Sugar: Look for less than 20 grams of carbohydrates per bar and MORE then aim for bars less than 10g of added sugar. If sugar, sucrose or high fructose corn syrup is the main ingredient, don’t buy it. You’ll also see sugar alcohols like xylitol, sorbitol and maltitol on the ingredients list/nutrition label and these are ingredients that don’t have any caloric value but make these bars sweeter. These aren’t inherently bad but can cause bloating and gas and have a laxative effect. They effect people differently, so you have to see how much you can tolerate.
A few of my favorite ones:
Quest bars- Cookies & Cream:
200 calories: 21g Carbs – 15g Fiber – 2g Erythritol = 4g Net Carbs, 21g Protein, 1g Sugar, 15g Fiber
ONE Bars- Blueberry Cobbler:
220 calories: 20g Protein, 24g Carbs- 4g Sugar alcohols- 10g Fiber- 1g Sugar= 10g Carbs
Vegetarian Option-- GoMacro Macro Bar Protein Paradise Bar:
260 calories, 11 g fat (2 g saturated fat), 35 mg sodium, 30 g carbs (1 g fiber, 10 g sugar), 11 g protein
So now that you have the basics, try to become more comfortable with choosing your own bars that you enjoy, that are also healthy for you. I want this to be a guiding light, but I hope the bars I listed aren’t the only bars you ever try. That’s no fun or realistic. Investigate the ingredients lists for yourself, look for ones on sale, that taste good, look for ingredients you recognize (i.e. soy protein isolate), look for added sugars, is there 75 ingredients listed or is there just a few simple, natural ingredients?
Bars probably shouldn’t be the only thing you ever eat however, they can be very helpful additions to a whole food-based diet. I hope this article gives you some initial guiding nutrition education that can help you make informed choices on your own next time you find yourself in the nutrition bar aisle!
Have a good day loves!