There’s little doubt that we’re a quick-fix society. We want things fast, convenient and at-the-ready whenever we decide we want them. While this mentality has led to the rise of any number of fast ways to get a quick snack or meal, very few of them could probably be considered healthy and certainly no healthier than something we could make ourselves. But who has the time, right? Still, if your goal is to eat something both quick and healthy, protein bars may be your go-to treat. At their best, protein bars can be good for you, providing essentials such as fiber and, of course, protein. Some bars, however, claim they’re good for you, but actually are no better than your typical candy bars. So, how do you decide which are good and which are bad?
Blount Memorial registered dietitian Angie Tillman says the proof is on the packaging. “Nutrition or protein bars are staples in the health food aisle of nearly every grocery store, but some have lots of sugar,” Tillman said. “Before you grab a protein bar, it’s important to consider what your goal is with adding one to your diet. Are you trying to replace a meal, or are you looking for an easy, portable snack? In most cases, you get the same amount of nutrition from ‘whole foods,’ such as apple slices dipped in almond butter or a hard-boiled egg with an orange. Typically, a protein bar isn’t quite enough to replace an entire meal, but if you’re just looking for that quick snack, there are a few things you should keep in mind,” she said.
“First, you should check the ingredient list,” Tillman explained. “Look at how long the list of ingredients is. Is it short and simple, or long and complicated? Second, check how many grams of protein the bar actually contains, keeping in mind that six to seven grams or more is ideal. Also, the more fiber the bar contains the better, and anything with more than three grams of fiber is preferable. Watch out for sugar, as many bars contain more than you might expect. Anything with more than 15 grams of sugar should be avoided, unless it is coming from natural fruit sources,” she explained.
Tillman says some protein and nutrition bars are better for specific levels of activity. “Some brands of protein bars are recommended over others,” she said. “For instance, Quaker Quinoa bars may sound healthy, but can contain only two grams of protein and one gram of fiber. Similarly, Fiber One bars have a long list of ingredients, and while they have seven grams of protein and five grams of fiber, they also can contain lots of additives and preservatives that may outweigh any potential benefits. Cliff chocolate brownie bars contain nine grams of protein and five grams of fiber, which is good; however they also contain 44 grams of carbohydrate and 22 grams of sugar. These may be appropriate if you’re doing lots of heavy physical activity, but they probably wouldn’t make very healthy snacks,” Tillman said. “Power Bars, too, can be mixed bags. The chocolate and peanut butter Power Bar contains nine grams of protein, one gram of fiber, 44 grams of carbohydrate and 26 grams of sugar, again making them reasonable choices for heavy physical activity, but not very good snacks,” she added.
Tillman says there are a few brands of protein and nutrition bars that are better than others. “A few good options include KIND bars, Strong and Kind bars, and Larabars,” she said. “These brands typically are high in protein and fiber, but have lower amounts of sugar. They also have short ingredient lists, which means you know exactly what you’re getting,” she explained. “Again, as with lots of other foods, the important thing to remember when it comes to protein and nutrition bars is: check the label,” she added.