Protein bars are everywhere. They’re calling your name from next to the cash register at every deli, cafe, and drugstore. They’re in vending machines and layered on gas station and grocery store shelves. They’re even offered as snacks on airplanes.
Because they’re a dime a dozen, it is easy to grab the most convenient option thinking it is a “healthy snack” without realizing that you’re actually choosing a glorified candy bar. Figuring out the healthiest protein bars is a difficult chore and we’re here to make it a little easier.
What Makes a Protein Bar Healthy?
Most protein bar options are just plain unhealthy. Many contain added sugar (often in multiple forms) and the protein is often low-quality and highly processed. They may also contain additives like artificial flavors and unhealthy preservatives.
So, how can you tell if a protein bar is actually worth the convenience? Below are our top tips for determining the healthiest protein bars, deciphering the ingredients list and the things to look for as you scan nutrition labels.
Tips to Help You Pick the Healthiest Protein Bar
- Protein should come from minimally processed sources such as egg whites, nuts and seeds, brown rice protein, fava bean protein, pea protein, hemp protein, almond butter, peanut butter and grass-fed meats. We recommend steering clear of protein bars that contain protein isolates which may contain unnecessary (and downright unhealthy) additives. The total amount of protein also matters.
- Make sure sugar is far down on the ingredients list—if at all. Do your best to avoid added sugars such as high-fructose corn syrup, cane sugar, fruit juice concentrates, molasses and syrups. Look for the sweetness to come from whole food ingredients like apples, dates, goji berries or other fruits.
- Steer clear of artificial sweeteners such as aspartame and sucralose. Sugar alcohols such as erythritol, sorbitol, mannitol and xylitol (if an ingredient ends in an -ol, it’s probably best to ditch the bar) can cause some unpleasant GI symptoms so we recommend avoiding them. Better options for non-nutritive sweeteners are monk fruit and allulose.
- Additional ingredients should be real foods, not fillers. Watch out for ingredients like carrageenan, butylated hydroxytoluene (BHT) and color additives.
- Along with protein, aim for a good balance of healthy fats and fiber. Look for bars that are low in hydrogenated oils and trans fat, and contain nuts and seeds to provide healthy unsaturated fats. The ideal bar will also have at least 3 grams of fiber.
- Although we are not calorie counters it is still important to be conscious of calories. Ensure the overall calorie count of your protein bar doesn’t exceed 250-300 calories.
That’s a lot of information to *digest*, so to help you figure out which to reach for, we unwrapped dozens of the most popular brands and evaluated the ingredients, nutrition facts, and, of course, flavor.
Important: Think of the options below as mini-meals if you don’t have a lunch break between meetings or need a quick protein source after an intense workout.
A few of the options below are not perfectly aligned with the recommendations we shared, they’re still some of the healthiest protein bar options out there for when you are in a pinch. So, we recommend sticking to whole foods as much as possible and only grabbing these when you’re in a bind.
The 15 Healthiest Protein Bars
1. Aloha Coconut Chocolate Almond
The Ingredients: This bar has a longer list of ingredients, and while we’re not big fans of vegetable glycerin, there are some great ingredients found in this plant-based protein bar. The first ingredients are brown rice protein and pumpkin seed protein, which makes it stand out from other bars on this list. Pumpkin seeds are a great source of healthy fats and nutrients like iron, calcium and beta-carotene.
The Flavor: The coconut flavor will add a tropical twist to your day!
The Nutrition Facts: The Aloha Coconut Chocolate Almond bar will give you 14g of protein, 4g of heart healthy monounsaturated fats, 32mg of calcium and 2mg of iron.
$29.99 for a box of 12, amazon.com
2. Clif Whole Lotta
The Ingredients: These bars do pack a bit more sugar (from dates!) than the other bars on this list. The source of protein is organic pea protein, which is typically less processed than the soy protein alternative. The variety of nuts and seeds pack this bar with phytonutrients and micronutrients including magnesium, copper, zinc, iron and manganese, to name a few.
The Flavor: Clif bars were made for endurance exercise, so they can be a bit sweet. This line of bars comes in an assortment of flavors to satisfy these sweet cravings including Tart Cherry Almond and Roasted Peanut Chocolate.
The Nutrition Facts: You’ll score 10g of plant-based protein, around 10g of unsaturated fats and around 4g of fiber in 240 calories (depending on which flavor calls your name).
$24.00 for a box of 12, amazon.com
3. EPIC Chicken Sesame BBQ
The Ingredients: This healthy protein bar is made with high-quality lean chicken and whole foods like hemp seeds, garlic, and ginger. These foods are antioxidant and anti-inflammatory superstars. The organosulfur compounds in garlic may help inhibit anti-inflammatory enzymes and ginger acts as a natural remedy for nausea and bloating.
The Flavor: EPIC is reclaiming the traditional beef jerky category with this line of jerky-inspired meat bars. Thumbs up for when you’re craving something savory versus sweet.
The Nutrition Facts: This superstar bar packs 15g of protein in just 120 calories and contains only 3g of sugar.
$28.99 for a box of 12, amazon.com
4. EPIC Peanut Butter
The Ingredients: We’re sticking with EPIC brand for one more rec. If you’re not into the whole meat bar thing, this alternative option is a great (and delicious) solution made with only five ingredients: Dates, peanuts, egg whites, peanut oil, and sea salt.
The Flavor: Peanut butter, need we say more? These bars boast a great, chewy texture and the richness of a true-to-your-childhood-sandwhich peanut butter taste. And, if you want to combine peanut butter with it’s one true love, check out their Peanut Butter Chocolate flavor.
The Nutrition Facts: With 12g of protein, 3g of fiber, no added sugars and 400g of potassium, these bars are a no-brainer when you need a quick snack.
$6.48 for a pack of 4, walmart.com
5. Fudge Brownie BulletProof Collagen Protein Bars
The Ingredients: The main protein source, collagen, provides support to bone, joints, skin, hair and nails. These bars are gluten-free, dairy-free and non-GMO. Healthy fats from cashew butter and MCT oil provide sustained energy making this a great go-to option when you’re in a pinch and need something to stave hunger and keep you moving.
The Flavor: Real vanilla combines with cashew butter to provide a rich chocolate taste and shortbread-like texture making this bar a great go-to to curb a sweet craving. Not into vanilla? Check out BulletProof’s other collagen protein bar flavors: Chocolate Brownie, Lemon Cookie, and Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough.
The Nutrition Facts: This bar contains 11g of protein (say that again!), only 2g of sugar, no added sugar and 140mg of potassium.
6. GoMacro Protein Purity
The Ingredients: We really don’t like that a form of sugar (brown rice syrup) is the first ingredient in this bar, but the rest of the ingredients come from mostly healthy whole foods, like sunflower seed butter, sprouted brown rice protein, cinnamon, and vanilla. These ingredients provide a myriad of nutrients, including manganese, phosphorus, calcium, vitamin E, B vitamins, and more.
The Flavor: This bar has a soft, chewy texture and sweet taste which comes from the sunflower butter, chocolate, and vanilla.
The Nutrition Facts: It’s one of the only protein bars with a decent nutrient balance (10g protein to 9g sugar in 260 calories) that is also allergen-free. So, it works for vegans and those who need to avoid nuts, soy, gluten, eggs, and dairy for dietary or personal reasons.
$30 for a pack of 12, amazon.com
7. Health Warrior Pumpkin Seed Bars
The Ingredients: The protein in these plant-powered bars comes from pumpkin seeds for a magnesium-rich boost. Magnesium plays a key role in energy production and helps to control your body’s stress response. Pumpkin seeds are also excellent sources of iron, zinc and antioxidants.
The Flavor: These bars come in decadent flavors like Dark Chocolate Peanut Butter and Dark Chocolate Coconut Almond.
The Nutrition Facts: This healthy protein bar is under 200 calories, has just 6g of sugar, and packs in 2g of fiber and 8g of protein. Plus, they are USDA Certified Organic, Non-GMO Project Verified and Gluten-Free.
$16.49 for a variety pack of 12, amazon.com
8. Lärabar Protein Lemon Blueberry Muffin
The Ingredients: The ingredients list contains no sound-it-out, sciency words meant to confuse you. Think: fruits, veggies and natural fruit extracts. Combine the whole fruit ingredients with the plant-based protein (thanks, pea protein!) and you have a recipe for a gluten-free, soy-free, dairy-free, vegan and kosher protein bar option.
The Flavor: Dates, almonds, apples, blueberries and lemon extract combine to give this bar a muffin-like taste. Breakfast on the go, anyone?
The Nutrition Facts: 11g of protein? Yes please! Combine that with no added sugars and 78mg of calcium and you have yourself a delicious, healthy choice.
$22.49 for a box of 16, amazon.com
9. Mighty Organic Cranberry & Sunflower Seed Meat Bar
The Ingredients: If you loved our EPIC Bar suggestion and want to switch up your meat-based protein bar, look no further. Mighty Orgnic Protein Bars are gluten free and made with 100% Grassfed beef raised with no antibiotics, no pesticides, and no hormones.
The Flavor: These bars have a full, sweet flavor due to the cherries which also contribute a smooth, chewy texture.
The Nutrition Facts:This bar contains 70 calories, 8g of protein, 4g of carbohydrates and 3.5g of fat.
$30.95 for a box of 12, walmart.com
10. Over Easy Peanut Butter Breakfast Bars
The Ingredients: Over Easy breakfast bars are made with just eight simple ingredients that pack a variety of nutrients and benefits. Organic oats are the first ingredient, providing antioxidants such as vitamin E and avenanthramides (say that three times fast). These antioxidative compounds are unique to oats, and have been shown to have anti-inflammatory properties.
The Flavor: If you’re a peanut butter lover, this bar is the one for you. A plus? It doesn’t get crumby like other oat bars do.
The Nutrition Facts: In just 220 calories, the Peanut Butter Breakfast Bar provides 11g of protein, 220mg of potassium, 6g of fiber and healthy unsaturated fats.
11. Primal Kitchen Coconut Lime Protein Bar
The Ingredients: This bar is loaded with real-food ingredients and natural sweeteners. Flaxseed comes in at number six on the ingredients list, providing protein, iron, calcium and alpha-linolenic acids. The natural sweeteners are similar to other bars on the list (honey and organic monk fruit extract) and this bar also has organic rosemary extract. These ingredients will satisfy the keto and paleo audiences as well.
The Flavor: This bar is another favorite for when you’re looking for a tropical treat.
The Nutrition Facts: At 210 calories, this bar provides 6g of fiber, 8g of protein and 47mg of calcium.
$28.99 for a box of 12, amazon.com
12. RXBAR Banana Chocolate Walnut
The Ingredients: With just eight natural ingredients, this bar is a fan favorite. Some of the star ingredients are dates which provide natural sweetness and help hold the ingredients together, egg whites which provide protein, and cashews and walnuts which provide magnesium, heart healthy fats, and antioxidants.
The Flavor: The dates give this bar a chewy consistency, complementing the crunchiness of the nuts and the sweetness of the banana and chocolate.
The Nutrition Facts: The Banana Chocolate Walnut RXBAR is packed with 12g of protein and healthy unsaturated fats, and provides 3g of fiber per bar all in just 210 calories.
$37.80 for a box of 24, amazon.com
13. Sakara Dark Chocolate Energy Bars
The Ingredients: The first ingredient? One of our preferred plant-based proteins:organic raw hemp protein. Combined with dates, almonds, cassava root fiber, chicory root fiber and raw dark cacao, the ingredients in this bar are nutrition superstars. Dates give this bar natural sweetness and a chewy consistency. They’re also associated with a decrease in inflammatory markers seen in neurodegenerative diseases. Cacao is packed with calcium and antioxidants such as theobromine which has been shown to have anti-inflammatory and cardioprotective properties.
The Flavor: A smooth, dark chocolate consistency with an added crunch, these bars are sure to satisfy your sweet tooth.
The Nutrition Facts: This bar has 10g of plant-based protein, 12g of fiber, 3.4mg of iron, 50mg of calcium, 290mg of potassium and 3mcg vitamin B12 in 190 calories.
$29 for a box of six , sakara.com
14. Super Pop Snacks Peanut Butter Chocolate
The Ingredients: This Super Pop Nut Butter Bar is made with all natural, organic and non-GMO ingredients such as peanut butter, honey, quinoa and brown rice crisps, pea protein, and flax meal. The chocolate in this bar is dairy free, making it an allergen-friendly option.
The Flavor: The flavor profile of this bar is a match made in heaven. Who doesn’t love chocolate and peanut butter? The sweet tooth satisfying flavor coupled with the softness of the bar and the added crunchiness of the organic quinoa and brown rice crisps check a lot of boxes.
The Nutrition Facts: For a total of 260 calories, this bar provides 10g of plant-based protein, 4g of fiber, and heart-healthy unsaturated fats.
$34.99 for a box of 12, amazon.com
15. Zing Coconut Cashew Crisp
The Ingredients: Zing Bars have significantly more ingredients than other bars on this list, but are included for their flavor variety and because they’re created by two busy parents and full-time registered dietitians. They understand the need for a healthier grab and go alternative. A plant-based protein blend of rice protein and pea protein, cashews, organic quinoa, cashew butter and almond butter are all ingredients to boast about in these delicious, healthy protein bars.
The Flavor: This flavor is unique and provides the perfect blend of sweet and creamy meets nutty and crunchy.
The Nutrition Facts: These bars contain 10g of protein, 5g of fiber and contribute to 10% of the recommended Daily Value for iron.
$26.40 for a box of 12, amazon.com
What Healthy Protein Bar are You Going to Try?
Remember, when it comes to the healthiest protein bar choices, reading the nutrition label and keeping an eye out for sneaky ingredients is key. We also recommend sticking to protein bars when you’re busy, or in a pinch and it is the healthiest option around. Otherwise, we always suggest filling your plate (and your stomach) with whole foods first.
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