A while back I did a 3-part review of the best protein powders. It took a while to find the best powders because there were so many bad ones out there. I originally intended to immediately follow up that article with one about the best protein and nutrition bars, but as I started looking at the labels, most bars were just crap.
I was disappointed so I held off for a bit. It didn’t matter if they were called protein bars, energy bars, nutrition bars or whatever, most were just glorified candy bars. Most nutrition bars have too much sugar and/or too little protein and none are better than real food. But even though a nutrition bar isn’t the best food option, a good one is still better than skipping a meal or eating crappy food.
Since nutrition bars are more convenient than shakes, and many people have trouble finding easy food options, I decided it was time to revisit the topic of the best and healthiest nutrition bars. I did some research and came up with a list of the best ones I could find based on what I think is important.
My first criteria for finding a good protein bar starts with the protein. I think a good bar needs at least around 15-20 grams of protein depending on how big the bar is. A little less is ok if everything else looks good. If it has more than 20 grams then that is even better.
My second criteria is to have very little sugar and no added sugar in the ingredients. This eliminated most bars from the conversation since most have some kind of sugar in the list of ingredients. There are a few bars that I will discuss later that have a sugar listed in the ingredients that are still pretty decent.
The third thing I wanted to avoid is soy protein. I am not a fan of soy in general because it can lead to numerous health issues. I would rather my protein come from another source like whey, beef, chicken or anywhere besides soy. This excluded a lot of vegan bars since most use soy as their protein.
The fourth criteria is I want to avoid is pro-inflammatory oils like canola, soybean or corn. This is not a common thing with bars since most use other oils, but every now and then it is something that I see so I wanted you to watch out for it as well.
So now that you know what I’m looking for let’s get into what my choices are for the top protein and nutrition bars.
The Best Protein/ Nutrition Bars
1.) Quest Bars- Are they perfect? No, but when you compare these bars with everything else on the market, in my opinion, these are the best. Each has around 20 grams of protein and very little sugars. They are also low in net carbs because most of the carbs come from fiber.
There are almost 20 different flavors to choose from. I’ve tried almost all of them. Some taste great and others are so-so. My favorites are the Mint Chocolate Chunk and the Double Chocolate Chunk. See where each flavor ranks in my Quest Bar Review.
The problems with most bars is the low fiber content, but Quest bars have around 14 grams of fiber each. They recently switched the fiber source from Isomalto-Oligosaccharides (IMOs) to soluble corn fiber and that has mixed reviews as far as the health and taste but it does make the bars softer. You can learn more about the switch on Quest’s blog.
They use Sucralose (Splenda) as a sweetener and some flavors use Stevia and/or Erythritol. The benefit of these sweeteners is that they all have almost no calories.
They have around 20 grams of protein in each and they’re low in sugar. They don’t have as many flavors as Quest bars, but Chocolate Deluxe is my favorite.
Not all their flavors are created equal though. Some do have a little sugar in the ingredients list and some have soy protein crisps (whey is still the major protein source though.) They also have a very long ingredient list and don’t have a lot of fiber.
The brand also sell different varieties which include Greek Yogurt and Fruit & Nut bars. They still have decent nutritional profiles but they do contain more sugar and have some added sugar in the ingredients.
The biggest benefit they offer over Quest bars is the price. They usually cost a little bit more than half the price of Quest bars. They also have less sodium than the other bars on the list.
3.) Epic All Natural Meat Bar – I really love the sound of these bars. They are made from anti-biotic & hormone free, humanely treated animals. With yummy-sounding flavors like Chicken Sesame BBQ and Beef Habanero Cherry, how could you go wrong? Well, all the flavors are not the same nutritionally.
There are 9 flavors and all have different ingredients and nutrition profiles. All are made with real food and no chemicals and all except one don’t have any added sugar (Bison Bacon Cranberry does have some sugar added though.) A couple of them have almost 10 grams of sugar and others have no sugar.
The protein content ranges between 8 and 15 grams. It’s a little low and makes it good for a little snack between meals. I would be careful if you want to try and eat a few at a time because the sodium content can add up.
Since I just found these while researching this article, I haven’t tried these yet but the Chicken Sriracha and Bacon look to be the best flavors nutritionally. They both have 0 grams of sugar and 15 grams of protein.
There are only 2 flavors and nutritionally they are virtually the same. They both have 20 grams of protein, 2 grams of sugar and 15 grams of fiber. The fiber source is Isomalto-Oligosaccharides (IMO,) which was what Quest used to use. Some people prefer this as their fiber source. The sweetener is Sucralose (Splemda) which is the same as Quest bars.
The question mark on the ingredient list is vegetable oil. It doesn’t specify what vegetable the oil comes from. It could be from any vegetable or a blend of different oils. The 3 most common are soybean, canola and corn which are not good if you want to reduce inflammation.
Even with the vegetable oil ambiguity, it is still a better bar than most and is priced very similar to Quest bars.
Just Missed the Cut
Even though I only included 4 in my final cut, there are a few other nutrition bars out there that are also pretty good but for some reason or another didn’t make the top tier. Some had too little protein and other had too much sugar, but they are all good options if you don’t like, or can’t find the bars listed above.
Oatmega Bars- A protein bar that has omega-3s? Awesome. Nutritionally these are great. They have natural ingredients and 14 grams of protein. It’s a little low but not bad. This bar has a lot of great stuff going for it and should be on the top tier list. In some ways it’s better than some of the top tier bars, but I didn’t include it because they add sugar in the form of Brown Rice Syrup (and as an ingredient in the chocolate of some flavors.) Even with that additional sugar the total sugar is still low and this bar gets my thumbs up. There are 8 flavors and I haven’t tried them yet, but Chocolate Mint Crisp and Chocolate Coconut Crisp will be the first 2 I’ll eat. Click here for a Oatmega variety pack.
Health Warrior Chia Protein Bar– I really wanted to include a non-soy vegan option and this is the best one I found. The issue is that the protein is low, the sugars are high and there are added sugars in the ingredient list. I guess these are a few sacrifices you need to make if you are vegan. There are currently 4 flavors and all of them have 10 grams of plant protein and around 5 grams of fiber. Even though the sugar content is less than most bars they still all have around 10 grams of sugar, which is higher than some of the other bars on the list. Click here for a Health Warrior Bar Variety Pack.
Caveman Primal Bar – I was really on the fence about including this bar. When the main source of protein is chicken that is a huge plus in my book. There are no chemical additives and mostly real food listed in the ingredient list. The reason I didn’t include it was because of the added sugar (honey.) At the time of writing, there are only 3 Primal Bar flavors but the grams of sugar per bar are 4, 7 and 9, respectively. The last one seems a bit high for a small 150 calorie bar, but it’s still better than a lot of the other bars out there. I haven’t tried any of the flavors so I can’t comment on taste, but the Smoked Jalapeno flavor looks like the best nutritionally with 18 grams of protein and only 4 grams of sugar. Click here for a box of the Smoked Jalapeno flavor.
Simply Protein Bar- This is another good looking bar. It’s low in sugar and doesn’t of chemical filler ingredients. The protein is a bit low but the bars are small so that’s not that big of an issue. There are very few ingredients in this bar which is a big positive. This is a good option if you’re looking for a vegan bar, but the reason it didn’t make my list is that soy is the main source of protein. If you’re in to soy protein, click here to try a 15 pack.
MusclePharm Combat Crunch Bars, OhYeah! Victory Bars & Chef Robert Irvine’s FIT Crunch Bars- To me all 3 of these bars are pretty similar. The Nutritional Info looks pretty good for all 3. They have a good amount of protein, some fiber and relatively low sugar. The issue with all of these is the ingredients list and the added sugar.
It’s not that big of an issue since the total sugar on the Nutritional Data is still low, but why even add the extra sugar? Not necessary in my opinion and for that I did not want to include them with the top-tier bars.
I’ve tried a few of the flavors and they taste is pretty good. They have some crunch which is good because a lot of other bars are just soft and chewy. The downside is that I don’t like things tasting too sweet and they do seem sweeter than Quest bars.
All these bars are great, with the top tier being a little better than the others base on what I think is important.
Bars come in handy when you’re in the car or can’t escape your desk at work. They can make good snacks or be a small meal if you are in a pinch but remember you shouldn’t eat any of these bars as your sole source of nutrition. Real fresh food will always trump pre-packaged products as far as health goes.