Protein bars are everywhere. They’re calling out to you from next to the cash register at every deli, cafe, and drugstore. They’re in vending machines. They’re even options on airplanes as snacks. Figuring out which protein bars are actually healthy is a more difficult chore.
In fact, most options are just plain unhealthy. They contain added sugar (often in multiple forms) and the protein is low-quality and over-processed. Not to mention they usually 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 deciphering the ingredients list and the places you’ll want to pay special attention to on the nutrition facts label and ingredients list.
- Protein should come from healthy 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 sources like protein isolates.
- Pay attention to the amount of protein in a bar. It is a protein bar after all, so it makes sense that you’d want to get good sources and a decent amount of protein from it, right? Our top picks have at least 10 grams of protein from the healthy sources listed above.
- Sugar should be far down on the ingredients list—if at all. You’ll want to avoid as much as possible added sugars such as high-fructose corn syrup, cane sugar, fruit juice concentrates, molasses and syrup. Look for the sweetness to come from more whole food ingredients like fruit such as apples or dates or goji berries to name a few.
- Steer clear of artificial sweeteners as well, 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). These can cause some unpleasant GI symptoms. A better options for a non-nutritive sweetener is monk fruit and you may be seeing allulose pop up too.
- Additional ingredients should be real foods not fillers, such as 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 have nuts and seeds to provide the healthy unsaturated fats. The ideal bar will also have at least 3 grams of fiber.
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, for when you don’t have a lunch break between meetings or need a quick protein source after an intense workout. For reference, these options are all 250 calories or less.
While some of these bars are not perfectly aligned with the recommendations above, they’re some of the best options out there. Stick to whole foods, and grab these only when you’re in a bind.
The 15 Healthiest Protein Bars
EPIC Chicken Sesame BBQ
The Ingredients: This bar is made with high-quality lean chicken and whole foods like hemp seeds, garlic, and ginger. The whole foods in this bar are antioxidant and anti-inflammatory superstars. The organosulfur compounds in garlic may help inhibit antiinflammatory enzymes and ginger acts as a natural remedy for nausea and bloating, in addition to its many other research-backed benefits and refreshing flavor.
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
Oatmega Protein Bars
The Ingredients: Oatmega’s bars have a lot going for them. The protein comes from grass-fed cows plus they have added fish oil for an omega-3 boost. Research has linked omega-3s to improved heart health and cognitive function, and they may decrease the risk of depression as well.
The Flavor: Don’t worry, it doesn’t taste fishy!
The Nutrition Facts: This bar is under 200 calories, has just 5g of sugar, and packs in 7g of fiber and 14g of protein. One note of caution—these bars contain both whey protein isolate and whey protein concentrate. Both can cause an upset stomach in some people.. And the concentrate form of whey has more lactose than milk itself, so if you’re intolerant, this one isn’t for you.
$14.32 for a variety pack of 12, amazon.com
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).
RELATED: The Essential Guide to Plant-Based Protein
$24 for 12, amazon.com
Primal Kitchen Dark Chocolate Almond
The Ingredients: The ingredient list reads like a healthy menu: almonds, pumpkin seeds, coconut oil, unsweetened chocolate etc. The sweetness in this bar comes from natural sources such as honey, cocoa and monk fruit. It doesn’t contain dairy, grains or soy, making it paleo friendly.
The Flavor: Satisfy your sweet tooth with this combination of rich dark chocolate and crunchy nuts and seeds. This bar is soft and flexible with a chewy texture.
The Nutrition Facts: Primal’s bars contain 15g of protein, 6g of fiber (hello gut health), and only 3g of sugar. They also include 7.5g of collagen from grass-fed Brazilian cows. The almonds not only provide the antioxidant vitamin E, but have been associated with improving cholesterol, aiding in blood sugar control and weight loss.
$21.99 for a pack of 12, amazon.com
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 we’re including it on the list for an important reason (see the nutrition facts below). The rest of the ingredients do mostly come from 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
RXBAR Banana Chocolate Walnut
The Ingredients: With just 8 natural ingredients, this bar is a 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
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 fan favorite. 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
Over Easy Peanut Butter Breakfast Bars
The Ingredients: Over Easy breakfast bars are made with just 8 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.
$2.19 per bar, amazon.com
$29.95 for a box of 12, overeasyfoods.com
Over Easy Banana Nut Breakfast Bars
The Ingredients: This bar may have 9 ingredients, which is 1 more than our other favorite Over Easy breakfast bar (see above), but it still makes the cut for it’s heart healthy ingredients and natural sweeteners. Oats, almonds, honey, and almond butter give this bar a varied nutrient profile.
The Flavor: Maybe you like the nutty flavor, but the Peanut Butter bar is too much for you? We recommend trying this Banana Nut flavor if you’re a fan of banana bread, for that straight-from-the-oven taste without the messy kitchen.
The Nutrition Facts: This bar provides 9g of protein, and packs in anti-oxidative nutrients such as vitamin E and flavonoids.
$2.19 per bar, amazon.com
$29.95 for a box of 12, overeasyfoods.com
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
Aloha Coconut Chocolate Almond
The Ingredients: This bar does have 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 ingredient is protein from 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 just may 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
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
RXBAR Layers Peanut Butter Chocolate
The Ingredients: Similar to other protein bars, this Peanut Butter Chocolate RX Layered Protein contains nine simple, whole-food ingredients like peanuts, egg whites, dates, and honey.
The Flavor: Hence the name, the flavor in this bar is packed into two layers full of crunchy nuts and chocolate surrounded by creamy peanut butter (plus a chewy consistency from the dates).
The Nutrition Facts: On the higher side for most of its nutrient amounts, this bar contains 250 calories, 15g of protein, 30mg of calcium and 390mg of potassium.
$2.99 per bar, amazon.com
$33.99 for a box of 12, rxbar.com
Zing Coconut Cashew Crisp
The Ingredients: Zing Bars have a significant amount of more ingredients than other bars on this list, but are included for their flavor variety and that they’re created by twobusy parents plus full-time registered dietitians who understand the need for a healthier grab and go alternative. The ingredients to highlight are the plant-based protein blend of rice protein and pea protein, cashews, organic quinoa, cashew butter and almond butter.
The Flavor: This flavor is unique and 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
Zing Dark Chocolate Cherry Almond
The Ingredients: Just from reading the name of this bar, we were excited to unpack the nutrients it provides. Dark chocolate is rich in nutrients such as magnesium, copper, potassium, iron and the flavanols epicatechin, catechin, and procyanidin. These nutrients have been linked to decreased blood pressure, decreased inflammation and lower risk of heart disease. Cherries provide the antioxidants known as anthocyanin and quercetin, and have been associated with decreased inflammation and improved cognitive function. Like the flavor above, this bar is also made with plant-based protein from rice protein and contains a mix of nuts (almonds and hazelnuts).
The Flavor: This decadent bar combines sweet and nutty flavors with creamy, smooth dark chocolate.
The Nutrition Facts: The Dark Chocolate Cherry Almond Zing Bar packs in 11g of protein, 10g of fiber, 5g monounsaturated fats and contributes to 15% of the recommended Daily Value for iron.
$24.99 for a box of 12, amazon.com