While protein bars can be a wholesome snack, there are some that more closely resemble a candy bar. Figuring out what's what can be tricky if you don't know what you're looking for. There's a lot to take into consideration depending on what your goals are.
Are you looking for a bar that's keto-approved? One with whole-food ingredients? One that's high in fiber? Lower in calories?
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The good news is there's something for everyone and knowing what to look for will serve you well the next time you're at the supermarket staring at endless shelves of protein bars.
How We Chose
We spoke to registered dietitians for their top picks and had the LIVESTRONG.com team taste-test some of these protein bars. We then chose the best protein bars based on the following criteria:
- Protein content
- Fiber content
- Added sugar content
- Additives and ingredient quality
6 Healthy Protein Bars
1. 88 Acres Protein Bar
Per serving (Banana Bread): 260 calories, 19 grams fat (3.5 grams saturated fat), 140 milligrams sodium, 15 grams carbohydrates (3 grams fiber, 7 grams sugar, 4 grams added sugar), 12 grams protein
Pumpkin seeds are the protein source in these bars, providing about 12 grams per serving. Maple syrup is used instead of honey, keeping them 100 percent vegan and there are only 4 to 5 grams of added sugar per bar. They're also loaded with iron — a bar meets 20 percent of your daily needs — which is especially important if you're following a plant-based diet.
Buy it: Amazon.com; Price: $28.99 per 12-pack
2. Aloha Bars
Per serving (Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough): 230 calories, 10 grams fat (2.5 grams saturated fat), 80 milligrams sodium, 25 grams carbohydrates (10 grams fiber, 5 grams sugar, 5 grams added sugars), 14 grams protein
Made with brown rice protein and tapioca fiber, this vegan protein bar is chock-full of nutrients from whole foods that keep you full in between meals. You'll also get 10 grams of satiating fats from cashew butter and sunflower seeds.
Aloha bars are USDA-Certified Organic and come in delicious flavors, including Chocolate Fudge Brownie, Lemon Cashew and Chocolate Espresso Protein + Caffeine.
Buy it: Amazon.com; Price: $25.99 per 12-pack
3. Quest Bars
Per serving (Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough): 190 calories, 9 grams fat (2.5 grams saturated fat), 220 milligrams sodium, 22 grams carbohydrates (12 grams fiber, 1 gram sugar, 0 grams added sugars), 21 grams protein
Quest bars are high in protein and fiber — two satiating nutrients — while being low in sugar.
If you're comfortable with artificial sweeteners and sugar alcohols (which can cause GI distress when consumed in excess or if you have a sensitive stomach), then they're a solid choice for a low-sugar, high-protein option. Quest bars come in a variety of different dessert-inspired flavors, but our favorites are Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough and S'mores.
Buy it: Amazon.com; Price: $23.27 per 12-pack
4. Hungry Buddha Keto Bar
Per serving (Coconut Cocoa): 180 calories, 11 grams fat (6 grams saturated fat), 70 milligrams sodium, 16 grams carbohydrates (12 grams fiber, 2 grams sugar, 0 grams added sugar), 9 grams protein
These bars are unique in that they are keto-approved (if that's your thing), plant-based, free of artificial sweeteners or sugar alcohols and palm oil-free, too. Their nutrition profile is perfect for a snack with around 180 calories, 9 grams of protein and 12 grams of fiber.
The Hungry Buddha bars are sweetened with monk fruit, which is a zero-calorie sweetener extracted from a melon grown in Southeast Asia.
Buy it: Amazon.com; Price: $46 per 12-pack
5. Sans Meal Bar
Per serving (Coconut Almond Butter): 380 calories, 22 grams fat (4.5 grams saturated fat), 240 milligrams sodium, 34 grams carbohydrates (8 grams fiber, 22 grams sugar, 0 grams added sugar), 17 grams protein
The Sans bar is higher in calories — around 380, depending on the flavor — so for many, this would be a good fit as part of a meal replacement when you need something quick or you're on the go. They're called "Sans" because they are sans, aka "without," questionable ingredients. Instead, you'll find ingredients like almonds, egg whites, oats, dates, coconut, flaxseed and spinach powder. They are higher in sugar, but it comes from low-glycemic dates.
Buy it: Amazon.com; Price: $45 per 12-pack
6. Kize Bars
Per serving (Peanut Butter Cookie): 200 calories, 15 grams fat (7 grams saturated fat), 210 milligrams sodium, 11 grams carbohydrates (5 grams fiber, 4 grams sugar, 0 grams added sugar), 8 grams protein
"These bars are perfect for an afternoon snack and are made with whole-food ingredients like peanut butter, honey, oats and dates, with a protein boost from egg whites (some contain grass-fed whey)," says sports dietitian Kelly Jones, RD, CSSD.
Buy it: Amazon.com; Price: $29.99 per 10-pack
2 Protein Bars to Avoid
1. Met-Rx Bars
Per serving (Birthday Cake): 420 calories, 13 grams fat (8 grams saturated fat), 260 milligrams sodium, 47 grams carbohydrates (0 grams fiber, 25 grams sugar, 24 grams added sugars), 30 grams protein
Sure, this bar has a high 30 grams of protein but it's also stuffed with too much added sugar and saturated fat, which isn't good for your heart health.
The American Heart Association (AHA) recommends getting no more than 25 to 36 grams of added sugar per day, and this bar contains almost a full day's worth. The AHA also recommends getting no more than 5 to 6 percent of your daily calories from saturated fat (that's about 13 grams on a 2,000-calorie eating plan), and the 8 grams in this bar comes quite close.
Not to mention, the Met-Rx bar contains 420 calories, acting more as a meal replacement than a snack. A nutritious snack should contain some fiber to keep you full, and this bar contains none.
2. Balance Bars
Per serving (Yogurt Honey Peanut): 200 calories, 6 grams fat (3 grams saturated fat), 170 milligrams sodium, 22 grams carbohydrates (1 gram fiber, 18 grams sugar, 17 grams added sugar), 15 grams protein
Balance Bars are low in fiber and contain a lengthy ingredient list devoid of whole foods. For example, the first six ingredients are protein blend, fructose, glucose syrup, partially defatted peanut flour, peanut butter and sugar. There are three types of sugar in the first few ingredients alone, which make up the high 18 grams of total sugar.
These bars may appear uber-healthy because they're fortified with almost every single vitamin and mineral — but if that's what you're after, you're better off taking a multivitamin.
What to Look for When Choosing a Protein Bar
When shopping for protein bars, check the following:
- The ingredient list: Ideally, the ingredient list will include mostly whole foods like nuts, fruit and egg whites. While avoiding any ingredient you can't pronounce isn't sound advice, you do want to have a sense of what it is that you're eating.
- Caloric amount: There's no hard and fast rule here; it really depends on your needs. Is this a small snack, a big snack or are you eating a bar as part of your meal? There are bars on the market that have around 100 calories and there are others that are closer to 400. Depending on how hungry you are or what you're looking for should drive this decision.
- Grams of protein: Ideally, a bar will have about 10 grams of protein or higher. That said, if there's a bar you love that fits all of your other requirements, then, by all means, enjoy. Protein is satiating and it helps to slow digestion (along with fat), so it's helpful to include it in a snack to help tide you over, per a June 2016 paper in Annual Reviews.
- Some fiber: Fiber is another nutrient to take into consideration. A bar with 3 grams of fiber or more is perfect for a snack. Like protein, fiber helps us to feel fuller longer.
What to Avoid
There are also a few things you'll want to avoid when it comes to shopping for protein bars:
- Additives and other ingredients: There are some ingredients commonly used in protein bars that you may want to avoid like artificial sweeteners, sugar alcohols, certain gums and other additives.
- Added sugars: Because we want to try and avoid artificial sweeteners and alcohols, other sugars like honey or brown rice syrup may be added to help sweeten the bar. Keep in mind that the AHA recommends keeping added sugar intake to 36 grams or less.