Protein bars are everywhere, calling out to you from next to the cash register at every deli, cafe, and drugstore. The healthiest protein bars, however, are much harder to find.
In fact, most options are just plain bad for your body. They contain more sugar (in multiple forms!) than protein, and the protein is low-quality and over-processed. Not to mention additives like artificial flavors and preservatives.
To help you figure out which to reach for, we unwrapped dozens of the most popular brands and evaluated the ingredients, nutrition facts, and flavor. Our top picks all contain at least 10 grams of protein and less than 10 grams of sugar (in most cases, less than five, and sugar is also far down on the ingredient list). They’re all made with healthy sources of protein (that come in bar form, that is) and the additional ingredients are real, clean food, not fillers.
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Important: We cut off the calories at around 250, but all of these are basically mini-meals, for when you’ve got no lunch break between meetings or need fast protein after an intense workout. (We’ll share our favorite lower-calorie snack bars, later!)
Many of these are still not perfect, but they’re the best of what’s available now. Stick to whole foods, and grab these only when you’re in a bind.
The 5 Healthiest Protein Bars
Traditional beef jerky is all cheap meat, sugar, and nitrates from the curing process. EPIC is one of the companies reclaiming the category, with its line of jerky-inspired meat bars. This superstar bar packs 15g of protein into just 120 calories and contains only 3g of sugar. It’s made with high-quality lean chicken and other healthy whole foods like hemp seeds and antioxidant-rich garlic, onion, and ginger.
Oatmega’s bars have a lot going for them. This chocolatey one has 14g of whey protein from grass-fed cows and just 5g of sugar, plus added fish oil for an omega-3 boost. (Don’t worry, it doesn’t taste fishy.) Bonus: it’s under 200 calories and also provides 7g of fiber. One note of caution on whey protein: These bars contain both whey protein isolate and whey protein concentrate. Both can upset digestion in some people, depending on your sensitivity. And the concentrate form has more lactose, so if you’re intolerant, this one isn’t for you.
KIND bars are a little bit of a mixed bag. They generally contain mostly whole food ingredients (points!), but some include non-organic soy lecithin or are a little high in sugar. This one from the new Strong & KIND line is pretty great, with 10g of protein from nuts and pea protein isolate and only 5g of sugar. It’s a great pick for vegetarians (but is technically not vegan because of the honey) and also contains healthy spices like turmeric and paprika.
Primal’s bars contain 15g of protein and only 3g of sugar, and the ingredient list reads like a healthy menu: almonds, pumpkin seeds, coconut oil, dark chocolate, etc. They also include collagen from happy, grass-fed Brazilian cows and 6g of fiber, so you may get some gut health benefits, too.
We really don’t like that a form of sugar (brown rice syrup) is the first ingredient in this bar, but we’re including them on the list for an important reason. It’s the only protein bar with a decent nutrient balance (10g protein to 9g sugar in 260 calories) that is also totally allergen-free. So, it works for those who need to avoid nuts, soy, gluten, eggs, and dairy. And the ingredients it does contain mostly come from healthy whole foods, like sunflower seed butter, sprouted brown rice protein, cinnamon, and vanilla.
(Top Photo: Instagram/primalkitchenfoods)