Shopping for protein bars can be daunting. There are so many options, and depending on what you're looking for, you have to consider a host of factors. Meal replacement or snack? Plant proteins or animal proteins? Sweet or savory?
"They can be really convenient and a lifesaver when traveling or while on the go without access to fresh food," says Lauren Harris-Pincus, RDN, a registered dietitian and author of The Protein-Packed Breakfast Club.
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"However, some are essentially glorified candy bars so it's important to know what you are choosing."
What to Look for in a Low-Calorie Protein Bar
To avoid buying that glorified candy bar when shopping for protein bars, check the following:
- Protein content: "As an RD who specializes in weight management and prediabetes, I always look for bars that have at least 10 grams — but, ideally, closer to 15 grams — of protein. That's appropriate for most unless you're trying to sustain a prolonged athletic event like a multi-hour hike," Harris-Pincus says.
- Calories: If you're looking for a lower-calorie bar because you're having a snack or are trying to lose weight, choose a bar with fewer than 250 calories.
- Added sugars: "Watch the added sugars — the American Heart Association recommends limiting added sugars to 25 grams per day for women and 36 grams for men. I also prefer bars with at least 5 grams of fiber (20 percent of the recommended daily intake for most women)," Harris-Pincus says.
- Ingredient list: If it's important that your bar is vegan or vegetarian, be on the lookout for ingredients like gelatin, which is made from animal products. If you have a sensitive stomach or are prone to GI issues, you may also want to avoid artificial sweeteners, per Harvard Health Publishing.
7 Healthy Protein Bars Under 220 Calories
1. Unite Bars
Per Churro: 190 calories, 9 grams fat (1 gram saturated fat), 150 milligrams sodium,19 grams carbohydrates (6 grams fiber, 9 grams sugar, 4 grams added sugar), 10 grams protein
We love these bars for their unique flavors: Churro, PB&J and Mexican Hot Chocolate. They provide outstanding nutritional offerings — 190 calories, 6 grams of fiber and 10 grams of protein — that are perfect for a snack.
Almond butter is the first ingredient (except for the PB&J flavor, where peanut butter is the first ingredient) and they're sweetened with date paste and brown rice syrup. While they contain toffee pieces, the added sugars in these bars fall under 4 grams, and they're free of artificial sweeteners.
Buy it: Walmart; Price: $29.00 per 12-pack
2. NuGo Egg White Protein Bars
Per Peanut Butter Bar: 200 calories, 8 grams fat (1.5 grams saturated fat), 250 milligrams sodium, 19 grams carbohydrates (2 grams fiber, 14 grams sugar, 0 grams added sugar), 14 grams protein
Egg whites are the source of protein here, and they're what make this bar high in protein but remain fairly low in calories. The ingredients are very simple, too: dates, egg whites, peanuts, cashews, almonds, natural flavor and sea salt.
These bars are on the lower end of the fiber range — 2 grams per bar — but they get the job done as a snack high in protein along with a healthy balance of carbs and fat. They're available in Peanut Butter, Blueberry, Maple Pecan and Dark Chocolate Sea Salt.
Buy it: VitaCoast.com; Price: $20.99 per 12-pack
3. Built Bars
Per Coconut Almond: 180 calories, 7 grams fat (3.5 grams saturated fat), 45 milligrams sodium, 19 grams carbohydrates (7 grams fiber, 5 grams sugar, 5 grams added sugar), 18 grams protein
"These newly reformulated bars are covered in real dark chocolate, which is rare for a bar, and have a texture similar to a nougat candy bar. I also like the ingredients with whey protein as a base and no artificial sweeteners or flavors," Harris-Pincus says. "The nut-containing varieties are slightly higher in calories but still fit the criteria for a great bar. I love them in the freezer!"
These bars do contain gelatin, so they're not considered vegetarian. They also have erythritol, a sugar alcohol that can cause GI distress in some.
Buy it: Walmart.com; Price: $38.95 per 18-pack
4. RX BARS
Per serving: 210 calories, 8 grams fat (1 gram saturated fat), 210 milligrams sodium, 24 grams carbohydrates (3 grams fiber, 18 grams sugar, 0 grams added sugar), 12 grams protein
These bars are a favorite for their simple ingredient list (most contain just seven ingredients) and balanced nutritional profiles. Each RXBAR has 12 grams of protein and just 210 calories — a perfect snack for that 3 p.m. slump. There's also a miniature option if you're looking for a smaller bite. The bars also contain 10 percent of the daily value for both iron and potassium.
Buy it: Amazon.com; Price: $23.36 per 12-pack
5. Raw Rev Glo Bars
Per Creamy Peanut Butter and Sea Salt: 180 calories, 11 grams fat (2 grams saturated fat), 110 milligrams sodium, 17 grams carbohydrates (14 grams fiber, 2 grams sugar, 0 grams added sugar), 15 grams protein
"The creamy peanut butter and sea salt bar is 100 percent vegan, gluten-free, non-GMO, kosher and free from preservatives, soy protein isolates, whey, grains and sugar alcohols," Harris-Pincus says. "This flavor has the most protein in the line with 15 grams of protein per bar,"
"It's pretty rare to find a low-carb vegan bar, so this is a great option for those looking to up plant-based protein in snacks." Harris-Pincus also mentions that this product is being reformulated after the FDA declared that fiber from IMO (Isomalto-Oligosaccharides) no longer qualifies as dietary fiber for food-labeling purposes, so keep an eye out for that.
Buy it: Amazon.com; Price: $22.99 per 12-pack
6. Epic Beef, Sea Salt + Pepper Bar
Per Beef, Sea Salt + Pepper: 130 calories, 8 grams fat (4 grams saturated fat), 590 milligrams sodium, 24 grams carbohydrates (3 grams fiber, 18 grams sugar, 0 grams added sugar), 12 grams protein
Epic is different from most in that the bars are savory, not sweet, as they use beef, bison, chicken, turkey, venison, wild boar, bacon and lamb as the base, sweetening with cranberries, cherries, apples and sweet potatoes. The protein content ranges from 7 to 13 grams per bar. Keep an eye on your sodium intake when you snack on these, as they tend to have higher amounts than other bars.
Buy it: Amazon.com; Price: $47.17 per 12-pack
7. Protein One Bars
Per Mint Chocolate Cookie: 90 calories, 2 grams fat (2 grams saturated fat), 125 milligrams sodium, 10 grams carbohydrates (2 grams fiber, 1 gram sugar), 10 grams protein
"Mint Chocolate Cookie is one of my favorites because it's an easy-to-find, budget-friendly protein bar that's smaller and lower in calories than most other bars," Harris-Pincus says. "While a little short on my fiber requirements, this bar is easy to find in the supermarket, affordable [less than one dollar per bar] and about half the calories of most bars, making it appropriate for a small snack."
All protein bars are processed, but if you're looking for one with a minimal ingredient list, this may not be the pick for you. It contains sugar alcohols and isolated fibers, which some people experience bloating and gas from.
Buy it: Walmart.com; Price: $6.98 per 10-pack
- Walmart: "Unite Food High-Protein Bar Nutrition Content"
- VitaCoast: "NuGo Nutrition Slim Bars"
- Walmart: "Built Bar 18-pack Nutrition Info"
- Amazon: "RXBAR Protein Bars Nutrition Info"
- Amazon: "Raw Rev Vegan High-Protein Bars Nutrition Info"
- Amazon: "Epic Beef Sea Salt + Pepper Nutrition Info"
- Walmart: "Protein One 90 Calorie Keto Nutrition Info"
- American Heart Association: "Added Sugars"
- Harvard Health Publishing: "Is something in your diet causing diarrhea?"