Protein bars - good or bad? (updated)
One of the most common questions I get from my clients is, whether protein bars are good for you and which ones are the best.
The quickest answer I can provide is as follows:
1) Protein bars are dietary supplements just like vitamins, fish oils, minerals, etc.
2) They are not suppose to replace meals comprised of unprocessed, nutritious foods - they should serve an addition to a balanced diet when protein insufficiency has been identified.
If your diet is comprised of mostly unprocessed, nutritious foods, but for whatever reason, does not provide you with enough protein, then protein bars are a good option to add to your diet.
However, like with any other dietary supplement, there are number of things worth considering before purchasing and consuming protein bars. Let's look at the pro's first.
Protein bars - pros:
1) Convenience - great on the go snack, emergency food, fits in your pocket, doesn't have to be reheated.
2) Good substitution for unhealthy, nutritionless choices, such as, donuts, cakes, cupcakes, etc.
3) For the most people they satisfy their sweet tooth cravings, without the insulin spike, other sweet foods can cause.
4) They are quite filling and come in variety of flavors and textures.
5) 20g protein bars are an equivalent of consuming roughly 3 eggs therefore they offer a decent amount of protein in a small serving.
Protein bars - cons:
1) Very calorie dense - you can have a plate full of vegetables with a side of protein for the equivalent amount of calories of a 3 inch bar;
2) Most of them are highly processed, with most ingredients created in labs not kitchens;
3) Claims they make on the packages are nor evaluated or regulated by the FDA;
4) Most of them will have at least one controversial ingredient (artificial sweeteners, sugar alcohols, natural flavors, GMO ingredients, etc.);
5) If consumed often they can cause upset stomach, bloating, diarrhea and even cause development of food insensitivities;
Having all of the above in mind, there are no amazing products out there that will be super healthy for you. If you can get protein from whole foods sources, do it. If you can't, you need to take the protein bars for what they are, and consume them in moderation. I would also recommend to try different ones, and rotate them, to ensure that your stomach responds well.
Below I share some of my favorite power bars (with nutrition info), pros and cons and my personal experiences with them.
1. Garden of Life Sport Organic Plant-Based Protein Bar - MY TOP PICK
Pros: This is by fat the cleanest bar I've found. Tastes great too. Not too chewy or too hard. It's soft with little crunchy bits. It's organic, vegan, gluten free, and plant based. Haven't heard about any digestive issues while consuming this bar from any of my clients. Large bar so can easily be divided in two. My favorite flavor is the Salted Caramel Sea Salt.
Cons: Calorie dense. Although sugar alcohol content is not listed, erythritol is an ingredient in the coating of the chocolate bars so I would avoid chocolate flavors if you ever have any bloating issues.
2. RX BAR
Pros: Whole-foods based, minimal ingredients, naturally sweetened. I would recommend using this bar post-workout only (especially after endurance ordiented activities) due to higher sugar content. If you had a strength training session I would eat this bar with a protein shake (plain powder with water). Blueberry flavor is really yummy.
Cons: Very chewy. Calorie dense yet seems very small. Only 12 g protein.
3. Think Thin - High Protein Bar (Gluten free)
Pros: I like the fudgy texture and all of the flavors I've tried were good. 20 g protein, gluten free, low glycemic index. They don't give me upset stomach however I most often consume 1/2 a bar at a time.
Cons: Highly processed (see ingredients list below).
4. Quest bars
Pros: most of my clients love them, variety of flavors
Cons: highly processed, sugar alcohols, artificial sweeteners, palm oil. I used to love them, but after having one pretty much every day, I developed an insensitivity and can no longer have them.
Buy here on Amazon.
5. Kind bar NUTS & SPICES (4-5g sugar variety ONLY) - not really a protein bar however, it is currently the least processed, lowest in sugar, snack bar that I've found so it's worth mentioning. High in fat so keep that in mind.
Buy here on Amazon.
Any comments? Feedback?
Please share your favorite protein bars. I'm always on the lookout of new products.