Tips for choosing protein/snack bars

Last year during one of my rotations of my dietetic internship I had the pleasure of doing some research and grunt work to put together some tips and a list of options when it comes to choosing yogurt (link here: https://f00dventures.wordpress.com/2013/03/16/tips-for-choosing-yogurt/). I am quite proud of that post as it provides a great starting point for those that are overwhelmed by all of the choices available (including myself). Since then I have been wanting to do a similar post discussing protein/snack bars but it wasn’t until now that I finally sat down and decided to do it.

protein snack bars

I started by taking a look at the protein/snack bars I have tried and going from there. So I dug out the wrappers of the bars I have tried in the past couple years and went from there. And yes, that is a harry potter gryffindor bed spread. Anyway, back to the protein/snack bars, bear with me because I have tried a LOT:

Quest

Odwalla

Kind

Pure Protein

Pure Organic

Detour

Promax

Supreme

Power Crunch

Good n Natural

Luna

Larabar

Kashi

Muscle brownie

Nature Valley trail mix

Nature Valley protein

Fiber one

ISS oh yeah

Atkins

Powerbar

Builder’s Protein (CLIF)

 To be honest, I don’t even think that’s all of the one’s I’ve tried but these are what I remember trying. Now I’m not going to break down each protein/snack bar as that would take all day to type and all day for you to read. So I’m just going to share some guidelines for what you should look for when you’re out and about and need something quick but don’t want to break the calorie or nutrition bank.  At the end I will also provide some of my top picks.

General Guidelines

1) Calories

Decide if this bar is simply a snack to help tide you over or if the bar is your next meal. For a snack, you’ll want to keep your bars to around 150-250 calories. If it’s replacing a meal, you can bump up the calories to around 350 or even higher depending on your calorie needs.

2) Protein

Protein is digested slower than carbs and fat so the higher the protein, the more full you are going to feel. So again, this goes back to whether you want this bar to just tide you over for a little bit or if you need this bar to tide you over for a few hours.  A high protein bar should  have at least 10g protein per serving. So if you see a bar that claims to be high in protein, make sure to read the nutrition facts because I saw many bars at the store that claimed to be high in protein and only offered 4-5g of protein for the entire bar.

If you are looking for a protein bar to help with your post workout recovery, there are a few different types of proteins out there so you must be mindful of what your fitness goals are. Below I have summarized some of the various types of protein you may come across:

                – Whey protein:  found in milk, fast absorbing, in your body for a shorter period of time, most   beneficial after intense workouts

                – Casein protein: main protein in milk, slow absorbing, in the body a longer period of time, most               beneficial for meal replacements or before bed

                – Soy protein: plant based protein, as digestible as other sources of protein, known for                 antioxidant capabilities, beneficial for meal replacement

Beware of protein bars (or protein shakes) that contain more than 30 g protein. Research has shown that muscle building activity can increase as much as 50% at 30 g of protein but eating beyond that, however, has not shown to increase muscle synthesis. So eating 40, 60, 90 g protein will get you the same results as eating 30 g protein. If building muscle is your goal, it’s best to spread protein intake throughout the day.

3) Fiber

Fiber will also help you feel full. General guidelines suggest choosing products that have at least 3g of fiber per serving. Try to choose options that offer fiber from natural sources i.e. whole grains, fruit, etc. Some bars contain inulin which is added fiber and doesn’t necessarily have the same benefits as fiber from more natural sources. While it is still okay to consume this type of fiber, just be mindful of how much you are eating on a daily basis. Most people can tolerate up to 10g of added fibers without any consequences (i.e. bloating, gas, abdominal upset, etc). To learn more about added fibers like inulin, check out my post here.

4) Fat

 Beware of ingredients like palm kernel oil or chocolate coatings . These can easily bump up the fat content making your “healthy” snack into nothing more than a fat laden, candy bar.

5) Keep the ingredients natural and to a minimum  

Companies love to sneak in additives and “extras” because, well, they can. Try to choose bars that contain natural ingredients, ingredients you understand. Also, pay attention to the order in which ingredients are listed. Ingredients are listed in descending order of predominance. The ones that appear first are most important. So if sugar or some form of sugar (agave, honey, brown rice syrup, dextrose, fructose, etc) is listed first, then you may want to rethink that bar because you may as well eat a candy bar instead (please don’t do that). In addition, beware if a protein bar contains a long list of ingredients. The fewer the ingredients, the better.

6) Beware of sugar-free

Typically sugar free = chemical sh*t storm. When you take something out of a product, you have to make up for it so that it still tastes good. Usually companies do this by adding in extra additives, extra fat, or using sugar alcohols (such as sorbitol, erythritol, Glycerol (also known as glycerin or glycerine), hydrogenated starch hydrolysates, isomalt, lactitol, maltitol, mannitol, xylitol). Beware of sugar alcohols as eating too many can cause intestinal discomfort and other unpleasant side effects like diarrhea.

My Picks

Unfortunately, a majority of the bars above like fiber one, nature valley, luna, clif (just to name a few) contain a lot of “extras” like  additives and sugar so ‘my picks’ are few and far between. Same with most of the protein bars I’ve come across. Not only do they contain questionable ingredients but they taste awful due to that signature chalky protein flavor.  So having said that, my picks are:

                 Larabar

                These bars are not as high in protein (only ~3-7 g protein depending on the flavor) as I would like but they offer a wide variety of flavors, they come in at ~200-250 calories, I recognize the ingredients,  they range in fiber from 3-5 g per bar, and they are gluten/soy/dairy free as well as vegan and kosher. The following flavors are all GMO-free verified: Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip, Cashew Cookie, Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough, Peanut Butter Cookie, Peanut Butter & Jelly, Cherry Pie, Apple Pie, Pecan Pie, and Cappuccino

                Larabar ALT

                If you’re looking for something with a  bit more protein, these bars may be more up your alley. They contain around ~250 calories, 3 g fiber, 10 g protein, and again they are GMO/gluten/soy/dairy free as well as vegan and kosher. The downside is that there are currently only 4 flavors available.

                Pure Organic

                Again, these bars are not as high in protein as I would like (~7 g protein depending on the flavor) but they come in around 200 calories, 4 g fiber, I recognize the ingredients, and they are GMO/gluten free, USDA certified organic, vegan, and kosher.

                Raw Revolution

                I finally got around to trying these bars (see that post here). They contain around 230 calories, 3 g fiber, ~7g protein, I recognize the ingredients, and are also GMO/dairy/gluten free as well as organic, vegan, and kosher.

Kate’s Real food bars

                These bars are a bit higher in calories so I would recommend these for those who are active and need something to pick them up. These bars have anywhere from 270-360 calories per serving, 9 g protein, and ~6 g fiber per serving. In addition, I recognize the ingredients, most of which are organic, they have a gluten free option, and are made with GMO free ingredients. If I grab one of these bars, I typically only eat half as opposed to the whole thing.

FiberLove

Nutritionally, these bars have about 130-140 calories, 3-5g total fat, 12g fiber (8g soluble, 4g insoluble), ~10g sugar, and 3-4g protein. Although, they don’t have a lot of protein, they are still a great snack option if you’re out and need something tasty to tide you over. They are also non-gmo, all natural, kosher, and all of the bars are vegan except the blondie bar which contains whole milk powder. They also provide 8% of the DV for iron. So nutrition wise, these bars offer a great variety of nutrients. Texture wise, they are moist and soft baked. Flavor wise, they are very tasty. See my full review on these bars here.

                Quest protein bars

                Quest has two lines, one that uses sucralose (artificial sweetener) and a few select bars that are sweetened with stevia and erythritol (sugar alcohol). I’m not the biggest supporter of using stevia or sugar alcohols, however, given all that these protein bars offer; 160 calories, 17 g fiber, and 20 g protein; I’m willing to overlook some of the bad. Besides, these are the best tasting protein bars I’ve come across.

* Although I received the Raw Revolution and FiberLove bars for a product review, that did not influence my decision in including them in this post. ‘my picks’ are just that, my personal picks. I researched each brand and chose the one’s I was most impressed with based on nutrition, ingredients, and flavor.

INbars – diabetic friendly

I recently discovered these bars earlier this year and really came to love them. Nutritionally they offer 140 calories with 7g total fat (1g saturated), 10g fiber, 4g sugar (about 1 tsp sugar), and 10g protein. They are low enough in sugar that they won’t cause blood sugar spikes and the high fiber and protein will also help slow down the digestion of the sugars so these bars are perfect for those with diabetes. Even though these bars have 7g fat, most of it comes from sunflower seed butter which is a great source of vitamin e (antioxidant and anti-inflammatory action, anyone?) and heart healthy fats. In addition, these bars are also gluten, soy, egg, corn, dairy, and nut free so just about anyone and everyone can enjoy them.

Advertisements

8 thoughts on “Tips for choosing protein/snack bars

  1. lovely post! I like the breakdown – wish you had ranked the bars so I could see which is your overall favorite but the tips will come in handy for later 🙂

    • aw thank you! i was really nervous about uploading this post for some reason. there are just so many opinions out there lol i actually was going to rank them but i wasn’t sure how to. if i had to choose, i think my top picks are larabar alt because of the higher protein content and they are gmo free and the pure organic because they are both gmo free and organic. if i were out and about, they are probably the first ones i would look for when looking for a quick snack.

  2. Pingback: Product review and giveaway extravaganza: DAY 3 – Larabar ALT | f00dventures

  3. Pingback: Product review: Raw Revolution | f00dventures

  4. I love trying new bars, I had my first QuestBar yesterday and really enjoyed it! I can’t wait to try new brands and flavors!

  5. Thanks for clearing up the protein differences! Now that I just starting using protein powders and shakes, it’s nice to know what kind of protein does what so I can find ones that fit to my needs! And agreed, even though quest bars have sucralose, it’s less than 2%, and they are amazing! But you already know my obsession!

Share your thoughts :)

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s