What are the Best All Natural Protein Bars? Here are my Tips on How to Choose A Healthy Protein Bar That Isn’t Candy.
They’re everywhere! Bars, bars, and more bars. They’re in the cereal aisle, in the form of breakfast bars and granola bars. They’re in the diet section as meal replacement bars, and they’re in the sports section as “power” bars. But a lot of these so-called nutrition bars can harbor stealth ingredients like hydrogenated oils, saturated fat, and sugar or sugar alcohols. Some even have more calories than a brick of chocolate.
With hundreds on the market, are bars even good for you? If so, which ones are?
I am a believer in eating a clean, whole food diet and balanced meals. But sometimes a quality protein bar can serve a purpose. When you’re on the run, faced with limited choices, traveling, or simply craving more snack variety, a quality bar can help you curb hunger and maintain energy. It is a much better choice than reaching for a quick fix or going so long without eating that you stuff your face the next chance you get (hello damaged metabolism and angry digestion!).
Nutrition bars can be a healthy choice if you know what to look for on the label. And thanks in part to a new generation of plant-based protein bars, eating healthy — anywhere and anytime — has never been easier. Made with natural ingredients like seeds, fruit, nut butters and various vegan-friendly protein powders, these revamped bars are easy on your digestive tract and better for your body and weight loss goals than their chemical-filled ancestors. Use this cheat sheet to help yourself choose bars that live up to their promises and fuel you with health.
How to Choose a Healthy Protein Bar:
- Think about why you are eating it. Are you eating the bar as a meal replacement or as a snack? If you are eating it as a meal replacement, look for a product that has at least 300 calories and 10 grams of protein per bar. It’s not the most ideal complete meal but it’s better than nothing and will provide enough calories, carbohydrates, and protein to help maintain energy and blood sugar levels. If the bar is a snack, look for 200 calories or less, at least 2 grams of fiber, and 3 grams of protein.
- Look at the ingredients. If it’s not REAL FOOD don’t eat it. Manufacturers often add extra fat, sugar, and other chemicals to make the bar look or taste healthy, even when it’s not. Look for products with short, recognizable ingredient lists and whole food ingredients. Nuts, seeds, whole grains, and fruits should be the first ingredients, rather than protein powders or sugar alcohols.
- Look for at least 3g of fiber
- Watch for less than 12g of sugar (the lower, the better!) from natural sources like fruit.
- Less than 300mg of sodium
- Aim for less than 3g of saturated fats
- 6–8g of protein for a snack bar, 10–15g of protein for a meal bar
So which products should you reach for when you get to the store? Grab one of the suggested bars below. They all have at least 10 grams of muscle-building protein and no more than 15 grams of sugar. I update this list regularly with new favorite products as they come out. I have not been paid to review any of these products. All opinions are my own. These are bars I have tried and enjoyed. You’re welcome!
Best All Natural Protein Bars:
This bar is loaded with clean, plant-based ingredients and superfoods like chia seeds, making it a well balanced and nutritious choice (plus the sweet crunchiness totally hits the spot).
1 bar, calories: 200; Protein: 10g; Sugar: 11g
Made with whey protein from grass-fed cows and a little stealthy fish oil (you won’t taste) to add essential fats, this tasty non-GMO bar is power packed with nutritional benefits.
1 bar, Calories: 190; Protein: 14g; Sugar: 5g
Aloha, one of the newest supplement companies to take the health food world by storm, makes convenient snacks with quality ingredients. Whole food ingredients like almonds, pumpkin seeds, pumpkin seed protein and pea protein make up the bulk of their Vanilla Almond Crunch bar, while quinoa, sea salt, vanilla extract and monk fruit extract lend texture and flavor.
I am an ALOHA affiliate and believe in the brand’s message to fuel health with all natural ingredients. I am in love with their superfood chocolate and use the Greens powders in my protein smoothies. They recently brought samples of their Vanilla Almond crunch protein bar to my corporate wellness workshop at Sephora and also hosted a healthy snack break at my corporate wellness workshop for Kirkland & Ellis. I was so impressed. Currently they only retail online at : https://aloha.com/home . You can use the code “carolinejordanfitness” for a discount on all of their yummy products (superfood chocolate included)
1 bar, 290 calories, 16 g fat, 2 g saturated fat, 100 mg sodium, 23 g carbs, 6 g fiber, 10 g sugar, 18 g protein
Filled with heart-healthy fats, fiber and the natural energy of nuts and fruits, this bar makes a great mid-afternoon snack or fuels your workout without leaving you with the dreaded sugar crash.
1 bar, 200 calories, 14 g fat, 2 g saturated, 65 mg sodium, 13 g carbs, 2.5 g fiber, 7 g sugars, 10 g protein
Created to “offer power to the vegan athlete,” these non-GMO bars are a little higher in sugar but the amino acids in them are considered performance and endurance-enhancing nutrients that offer benefits on their own. The chocolate coconut and chocolate mint flavors are my personal favorite.
1 bar, Calories: 260; Protein: 15g; Sugar: 16g
This gluten-free, vegan protein bar is packed with flat-belly super foods like oats and coconut oil, a source of cancer-fighting conjugated linoleic acid. And with 11 grams of protein and 11 grams of healthy, satiating fat, it is sure to tide you over until you can sit down to a full meal.
1 bar, 230 calories, 11 g fat, 9 g saturated fat, 30 mg sodium, 21 g carbs, 2 g fiber, 13 g sugar, 11 g protein
Made with just four whole food ingredients including sunflower butter, coconut nectar, pea protein, cinnamon, and vanilla extract, this sweet and salty bar is a winner. The calories are on the higher side, mainly because of the seed butter, but it’s also a larger, dense bar that takes longer to consume. Enjoy this bar along with an apple or a pear for a fast and filling on-the-go breakfast.
1 bar, 280 calories, 15 g fat, 1.5 g saturated, 15 mg sodium, 21 g carbs, 2 g fiber, 12 g sugars, 15 g protein
Dates, almonds, and pea protein make up the bulk of this dense and delicious bar. Lemon juice and vanilla extract lend a splash of lemony sweet zing that’s sure to satisfy your taste buds.
1 bar, 210 calories, 9 g fat, 1 g saturated, 10 mg sodium, 23 g carbs, 3 g fiber, 14 g sugars, 10 g protein
This bar not only fills you up but also satisfies your craving for crunch while keeping the sugar content low and the protein high.
1 bar, 40 g, 150 calories, 5 g fat, 1 g saturated, 180 mg sodium, 16 g carbs, 7 g fiber, 1 g sugars, 15 g protein
Made with just four clean Paleo-friendly ingredients: pea protein, cashew butter, agave and lemon oil, you can’t go wrong with this low-carb snack. And if you dont love the flavor of this bar, YouBar allows customers to make custom energy bars on their website. You can even give your snack it’s own creative name. Its a build your own bar buffet!
1 bar, 210 calories, 11 g fat, 2.5 g saturated, 160 mg sodium, 13 g carbs, 1 g fiber, 7g sugars, 16 g protein
Greens Plus Energy Bar Chocolate
Packed with a green superfood and protein blend of organic peanut butter and whey protein, this energy bar racks up the protein count making it ideal for an on-the-go meal or a post-workout snack.
1 bar, Calories: 260; Protein: 15g; Sugar: 19g
Packed with 20 grams of plant protein and an impressive 5 grams of satiating fiber, this is might be the best meal-replacement bar of the bunch.
1 bar, 290 calories, 10g fat, 5 g saturated, 400 mg sodium, 32 g carbs, 5 g fiber, 15 g sugars, 20 g protein
This bar is filled with pumpkin seeds which are a top source of magnesium, a mineral that strengthens bones. Sunflower seed butter and various plant proteins, ranging from rice to hemp, play a supporting role and help make this bar as filling as it is delicious.
1 bar, 50 g, 250 calories, 16 g fat, 2 g saturated, 15 mg sodium, 18 g carbs, 5 g fiber, 9 g sugars, 11 g protein
I recently tried this bar after a Fitbit local workout event and was really impressed! Though this is one of the higher calorie bars on this list, it manages it keep its sugar count respectably low, which is a plus.
1 bar, 260 calories, 12 g fat, 3.5 g saturated, 10 mg sodium, 37 g carbs, 2g fiber, 10g sugars, 12 g protein
Is your mouth watering yet? Just remember: nutrition bars are meant to be a supplement to your healthy diet; they are not meant as a replacement for a healthy diet. Your body needs fruits, veggies, whole grains, healthy fats, and lean protein in their most natural, healthful forms. If you are looking for a product to help you fill the nutritional gap, bars can meet that need. Keep the ingredients simple, and read the label to help you make better choices. Eating these bars in addition to a healthy diet, can help you keep going strong all day long.
If you were in the middle of a crazy busy work day, with no chance of a real sit down meal in sight, which bar would you reach for? Leave your favorite protein bar product as a comment below. I’d love to hear from you!
Eat Well and Be Well,
Originally published at www.carolinejordanfitness.com on April 17, 2016.