There are very appropriate times for protein bars, but those probably occur less than you think. Protein bars are great to those of us who lift weights — it’s hard to get all the muscle-repairing nutrients without eating steaks upon steaks. For those who are looking for a post-workout meal on the way to work. And for those that are replacing that rare meal after being caught in meetings or traffic — because a bar is better than fast food any day.
And that’s about it. Why? This is not any nutritionist’s idea of a healthy snack.
“I understand nowadays, everyone is always short on time and rushing from one commitment to the next, but I think people rely on protein bars too often,” says Jennifer Silverman, a New York-based nutritionist.
“Depending on the bar, they might be upwards to 250-300 calories and packed with added sugar. I see a lot of issues with this. First, a snack should be 100-200 calories at most. Secondly, it’s important to savor and enjoy our food, not scarf it down.”
Another issue with protein bars: many of them are packed with fillers. Silverman says you should avoid added and fake sugars (sucralose, erythritol, and aspartame in particular. “Instead look for bars that have ingredients you can pronounce and natural sugars,” she recommends.
What’s the ideal protein bar?
According to Silverman, the maximum level of sugar a protein bar should have is 14 grams per serving. It should also fiber, which helps you digest it slowly and release its energy evenly. If you are looking to shed weight, the maximum calories a bar should have is 200. If muscle gain is your goal, a bar should have at least 20 grams of protein.
Silverman’s general dietary advice is simple: “Focus on eating real food. The healthiest foods out there have no nutrition facts label or ingredients list at all, meaning fruits and vegetables. If you prefer a bar, you can make them at home very easily. All you need is rolled oats, your favorite nut butter, your seed of choice (chia, flax or hemp) and some dried fruit. Most of the time you won’t even need to bake them,” she says.
But if you don’t have time to make your own bars, there are some solid options on the market. Here are some of our favorites.
A bar that proudly lists its main ingredients on the front, so you know exactly what you're getting.
Pros: There are no artificial colors, flavors, preservatives, or fillers, plus most of the bars are gluten-free with no soy or dairy. Its 12 grams of protein come largely from egg whites, an ingredient offered by precious few other bars.
Cons: Most of these flavors contain nuts, so beware if you have allergies. And they’re very chewy.
From a mother and daughter-run company, these protein bars are made from plant-based ingredients that will fill you up.
Pros: These protein bars are organic, gluten-free, vegan, and soy-free. They have 12 grams of protein that comes from peas and brown rice. All of the ingredients are sustainably grown, and you can choose from 14 flavors.
Cons: At 230 calories with 12 grams of sugar, they aren’t great for guys trying to shed some pounds.
A great-tasting bar that has 20 grams of protein that will fill up in the short term until your next meal.
Pros: There are only four grams of sugar in each bar. With six grams of fiber per protein bar, it should keep you feeling full for hours after eating.
Cons: Well, given the amount of fiber in it, it helps to be near a bathroom when you eat one.
From a trusted name in the nutritional bar world, this bar has got 20 grams of protein and you get selection of great flavors.
Pros: You won’t get more than 10 grams of fat per bar. The protein bars are also vegan-friendly, something that can be hard to find, and they taste pretty great.
Cons: They have been known to melt inside their packaging, so best to not take anywhere hot.
Pros: They are gluten-free and have only one gram of sugar. Each bar is only 130 calories, so you can add mass while protecting your waistline.
Cons: The sweet cream flavor is an acquired taste, to say the least.
If you're a fan of peanut butter, these are for you.
Pros: Each protein bar has 20 grams of protein, and the low glycemic index means your sugar levels won’t spike and drop all over the place.
Cons: Every protein bar has 240 calories, so it’s not a great option for weight loss. They also only have three grams of fiber.
This bar has three, yes three, ingredients in it. Easy and simple.
Pros: It’s clean eating on the go. You get three ingredients and they are almonds, honey, and whey protein isolate. So there’s no need to get a chemistry degree before buying this protein bar. And you get 20 grams of protein per bar.
Cons: They don’t have much of what makes food taste good, so we don’t recommend buying these for the taste.
A low-sugar bar that comes in a bunch of crazy flavors, like maple glazed doughnut and almond bliss.
Pros: Each bar has just one gram of sugar and just over 200 calories, so they’re not a bad choice for those trying to lose weight.
Cons: What they lack in sugar, they make up for in sugar alcohols, which Silverman says you should try to avoid.
This bar tastes delicious, has nine grams of sugar, and three grams of fiber. It has 28 grams of carbs and six grams of fat.
Pros: For nine grams of sugar, which is on the reasonable side, you get a protein bar packed with flavor. It really, really tastes good. And it has a solid eight grams of protein.
Cons: This bar is low on fiber.
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