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 sugar is 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
EPIC Chicken Sesame BBQ
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.
$22 for a box of 12, amazon.com
Oatmega Chocolate Coconut Crisp
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.
$20 for a variety pack of 12, amazon.com
Clif Whole Lotta
Clif bars were made for endurance exercise, so they can be a bit sweet. These bars, from Clif’s new Whole Lotta line, do pack a bit more sugar than the other protein bars on this list, but it’s all from dates. You’ll also score 10g of protein from organic pea protein.
$24 for 12, amazon.com
Primal Kitchen Dark Chocolate Almond
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.
$26 for a pack of 12, amazon.com
GoMacro Protein Purity
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.
$28 for a pack of 12, amazon.com