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Protein bars are goooood. But are they actually good *for* you?
The answer: It depends on the bar. Nutritional values vary among the many brands and types of protein bars available in stores. It also depends on your personal nutrition needs.
In general, if a protein bar is made with whole foods, has limited processed ingredients, and contains an acceptable amount of sugar per serving, it’s good for you. (The American Heart Association recommends that men limit added sugar to 36 grams per day and women limit it to 25 grams per day.)
We know that’s a lot of ifs, so here’s a look at the general pros and cons of these filling snacks.
The nutritional composition of protein bars can be significantly different across brands and flavors, due to their wide variety of ingredients.
Many protein bars are made of ingredients such as dates, dried fruit, nuts, seeds, and whole grains like oats and quinoa. The average protein bar contains 5 to 10 grams of fat, 25 to 35 grams of carbs, and 5 to 10 grams of fiber.
Many are also good sources of micronutrients like calcium, B vitamins, potassium, and iron — all good things for your body!
In rare cases, you may see the phrase “proprietary blend” on protein bar packaging. This is usually found on the labels of dietary supplements, not FDA-regulated foods, and simply means the ingredients in the blend are not disclosed on the packaging. It’s something to consider if you want to keep tabs on your protein bar’s ingredients.
Another label item to watch out for: Many bars contain high amounts of added sugar or sweeteners like high fructose corn syrup. According to research from 2009, added sugars like these can increase your risk of fatty liver disease, obesity, and diabetes when consumed in large amounts.
Protein bars generally contain anywhere from 150 to 400 calories and 10 to 20 grams of protein (a pretty wide range), but some contain closer to 30 grams of protein per serving.
The protein sources used in the bars vary and may include ingredients such as yogurt powder, milk, and dairy proteins like casein and whey. Vegan protein bars often use plant-based protein sources like soy, pea, or brown rice.
Some bars may use egg whites, nuts, and seeds. Others use more highly concentrated sources, like whey or soy protein isolate, instead of less-processed whole-food proteins.
Protein and carbs actually work really well together. Research from 2004 suggests that this duo can boost energy for exercise and help with muscle repair.
Some protein bars are also good sources of dietary fiber, which is essential for digestive health and could help prevent overeating between meals.
Protein bars with high amounts of protein could potentially help with weight loss, since research suggests that high protein diets can support weight loss more than low protein diets.
All that protein can also contribute to muscle gain. The American College of Sports Medicine recommends that endurance athletes and strength-trained athletes eat 0.54 to 0.77 grams of protein per pound (1.2 to 1.7 grams per kg) of body weight per day.
Some protein bars are really high in calories and added sugar, so much so that they’re almost no different from a candy bar. Added sweeteners might make them taste great but can end up doing more harm than good.
And while some protein bars get their fats from whole-food ingredients like nuts and seeds, others use highly processed plant oils like palm, canola, peanut, or soybean oil.
We don’t yet know a ton about the long-term effects of eating a high protein diet. Experts note that these diets are generally safe for otherwise healthy people, but more research is needed.
Lastly, while protein bars are convenient, they’re usually not cheap. Many protein bars are costly and may not be worth the money.
Basically, your specific nutritional needs and goals will determine if protein bars are a good addition to your diet.
When looking for the healthiest protein bars, always read the ingredient lists and nutritional values. In general, look for bars that are low in sugar and have a good balance of healthy fats, fiber, and protein. Focus on whole-food ingredients rather than processed ingredients.
Ultimately, the best protein bar for you is one that helps you meet your nutrition or fitness goals. Here are some that are on the healthier side.
1. RXBar Chocolate Sea Salt
210 calories, 9 g fat, 240 mg sodium, 24 g carbs, 5 g fiber, 13 g sugar, 12 g protein
A straightforward ingredient list and low calories make this a great choice.
2. GoMacro Macrobar Protein Paradise, Cashew Caramel
260 calories, 11 g fat, 35 mg sodium, 30 g carbs, 1 g fiber, 10 g sugar, 11 g protein
With lots of protein and healthy fats, this is a great vegan option.
3. Primal Kitchen Almond Spice
200 calories, 16 g fat, 115 mg sodium, 9 g carbs, 2 g fiber, 2 g sugar, 8 g protein
This bar is low in calories and, even better, very low in sugar.
4. Aloha Organic Plant Based Protein Bar, Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip
240 calories, 12 g fat, 85 mg sodium, 24 g carb, 13 g fiber, 4 g sugar, 14 g protein
Vegan, low carb, high protein, and USDA organic, this one also tastes good to boot.
5. KIND Protein from Real Foods Bar, Dark Chocolate Nut
250 calories, 17 g fat, 125 mg sodium, 17 g carbs, 5 g fiber, 6 g sugar, 12 g protein
It looks and tastes like a granola bar, but it’s high in protein and low in sugar.
6. think! Protein & Superfruit Bar
230 calories, 9 g fat, 140 mg sodium, 30 g carbs, 10 g fiber, 8 g sugar, 10 g protein
This bar is gluten-free and loaded with antioxidants and omega-3 fatty acids.
7. Zing Bar, Dark Chocolate Coconut
210 calories, 11 g fat, 55 mg sodium, 24 g carbs, 7 g fiber, 9 g sugar, 10 g protein
This plant-based protein bar tastes like candy and is packed with fiber to keep you full.
8. ONE Protein Bar, Maple Glazed Doughnut
220 calories, 8 g fat, 150 mg sodium, 23 g carbs, 10 g fiber, 1 g sugar, 20 g protein
This one has a ton of protein and almost no sugar and comes in irresistible flavors.
9. Perfect Bar Original Refrigerated Protein Bar, Dark Chocolate Almond
310 calories, 19 g fat, 40 mg sodium, 25 g carbs, 5 g fiber, 17 g sugar, 12 g protein
This bar has to be refrigerated, but it’s got whole-food ingredients, lots of protein, and even veggies.
10. Epic Bar, Smoked Maple Bacon
150 calories, 10 g fat, 590 mg sodium, 7 g carbs, <1 g fiber, 5 g sugar, 8 g protein
Paleo-friendly and gluten-free, this one’s pretty much just made of pork, which isn’t a bad thing for meat eaters.
11. Oatmega, Chocolate Peanut
200 calories, 7 g fat, 120 mg sodium, 22 g carbs, 7 g fiber, 5 g sugar, 14 g protein
This bar is made with grass-fed whey protein and has lots of omega-3 fatty acids and little sugar.
Protein bars can be great sources of protein, fiber, healthy fats, and micronutrients. But many protein bars are high in sugar and fats and may not provide enough of some essential nutrients.
Depending on the ingredients, protein bars may satisfy your hunger, help with muscle gain or weight loss, and be good sources of fiber and protein.
There’s a wide variety of protein bars available. To find the best ones, read the ingredient list and decide whether the bar’s ingredients will contribute to your fitness and nutritional goals.