A Holistic Nutritionist’s Review of Protein Bars – the good, the bad, and the downright scary.
Over the next couple of weeks I will be breaking down for YOU the “good”, the “bad”, and the “downright scary” sports bars, drinks, and powders lining the shelves of grocery stores and vitamin shops alike.
I’m really excited about this series because I know how difficult and overwhelming picking out a good protein bar, energy drink, or protein powder can be, and I want to make sure you don’t fall into the same traps I fell into back before illness stole my ability to lead an active lifestyle.
Overall, growing up I was a very active kiddo, involved in many competitive sports as well as ballet. During this time, I relied on the “usual” American sports products—Gatorade, Power Bars, and even Ensure when cross country running kept me underweight. At the time, I had ZERO knowledge of nutrition and chose products based on their popularity rather than their purity…
When chronic illness finally got the best of me, however, I was left with no choice but to walk away from sports for about 4-5 years. During this time, I moved in and out of periods of bed riddance and experienced a constant state of exercise intolerance. It wasn’t until I changed my diet dramatically after cancer that I regained my health, strength, and ability to move freely again.
When I did, I was surprised (and appalled) to realize the scary nature of the ingredients making up many of my favorite, old & reliable sports products. So, armed with my new holistic nutrition knowledge, I went on a mission to discover products which met my new activity needs without bringing harm to my body.
Upon starting (about 4 years ago), I must admit, the pickings were slim—especially in regards to protein bars. Today, however, I’m thrilled to share with you a fairly long list of “good” bars I both recommend and use myself. I hope you benefit from the information shared below and walk away with a better understanding of how to holistically care for your body as an active human 🙂
Don’t forget to check out the video included at the end of this post where I walk through the troubling ingredients included in the “bad” and “downright scary” bars. You don’t want to grocery shop without this knowledge!
My Take: These are my “go-to” post workout bars…I’m seriously in love. My only reservation is that the ingredients are not organic (although they are non-GMO). For a full look into the Rx bar, check out my video at the end of this post.
My Take: These heart-shaped bars are basically a cross between a cookie and a protein bar and I’m seriously obsessed. While they’re not the most protein-rich on this list, they’re small and cute and, in my opinion, the perfect bar to slide into your purse, backpack, workout duffle, desk drawer, glove compartment, or wherever else a “snack-attack” may sneak up on you. They’re also the BEST way to kill a sweet-tooth craving quickly and guilt-free. Oh, did I mention they’re dehydrated? Meaning they’re–you guesses it–RAW! 🙂
Spotlight: Almond Coconut (the only flavor I recommend)
My Take: A great choice for those of us watching our sugar intake (pretty much all of us these days, amirite?) but who also aren’t into pumping our bodies full of artificial sweeteners (looking at your Quest Bars). That being said, I will be honest and say the texture on these bars is weird. They’re hard to bite into, hard to chew, and the collagen powder sticks to my teeth like GLUE. The monk fruit extract also gives them a similar sweetness to stevia (you know, that bitter-sweet taste that almost resembles an artificial sweetener…) Overall though, the ingredients check out and I still buy these bars from time to time. They’re far from “gross”, they just aren’t particularly delicious in my opinion either.
My Take: My #1 meal replacement choice…I never travel without a few Rise Bars in my backpack! That being said, my two complaints are that there’s no indication the whey used is 100% grass fed…or that the ingredients in general are organic. Check out my video at the end of this post for my full take on Rise Bars.
My Take: A perf pre/post workout snack for those who are sensitive or intolerant to eggs and thus must pass on the Rx bar. These bars are a bit harder to find at the grocery store, and thus I buy them on Thrive Market instead. Great protein content–not too much or too little for a substantial snack-attack (12g!)–and it’s made with recognizable, REAL food ingredients (woo hoo!!)
My Take: THREE CHEERS FOR CRICKET FLOUR! Seriously, I have been waiting for YEARS for this buggy protein source to pop up on grocery store shelves, and the day is finally here. Another great example of how not-hard it actually is to make a delicious protein bar without all the additives, fillers, and inflammatory ingredients included in the bars on the “bad” and “downright scary” lists… Real food is the way to real health.
My Take: Another “real food” protein bar with all-organic ingredients! My intestines are smiling 🙂 What really excites me about these bars though is the addition of yerba mate to the ingredients list… Great way to pump up the volume on my workouts naturally, you know, instead of downing a chemically energy drink or something…
Go Macro Bars
Spotlight: Cashew Carmel
26o calories; 11g fat; 1og sugar; 11g protein
Ingredients: organic brown rice syrup, organic cashew butter, organic protein blend (organic sprouted brown rice protein, organic pea protein), organic cashews, organic coconut sugar, organic puffed brown rice, organic sprouted flax, organic mesquite, organic coconut oil, organic cinnamon.
My Take: Disclaimer…I’ve never actually tasted a “Go Macro” bar before. I honestly expected them to be on the “bad” list, and was pleasantly surprised when I read over the ingredients list and realized it’s actually another winner! I do wish brown rice syrup wasn’t the first ingredient on the list, but the commitment to organic ingredients balances out this small reservation of mine. Overall, next time I’m at the store I’m totally “Going Macro” 😉
Spotlight: Blueberry Muffin
190 calories; 8g fat; 17g sugar; 4g protein
Ingredients: dates, cashews, unsweetened blueberries, blueberry juice concentrate, vanilla extract.
My Take: Check out the video at the end of this post to get my take on the Lara Bar!
My Take: There was a day when Kashi was the king of health foods (or so it seemed–I was still a Doritos-chompin’ pre-teen at the time), but since being bought out by Kellogg, their products have entered my “PASS” list at the grocery store. These bars are right on the line separating “bad” from “downright scary”, but I s’pose I was feeling generous (I think the “with chia” added to the title clouded my judgement a bit #omega3s!). Veggie oils, refined sugars, milk, soy flour, gluten products, and more… Don’t be fooled by the Kashi label…these bars are far from making it to BFF status with your body.
My Take: Kind Bars…seemingly such a safe and friendly choice on the outside, but on the inside we’re finding refined sugar and damaging fats (sunflower oil). I pass on the kind bar, but wish I didn’t have to! Macadamias and cranberries sounds like a delish combo!
My Take: Not the scariest bars on the shelf, but not something I’d add to my cart either… Sugar, canola oil, and brown sugar are the ingredients I find troublesome here, but also, I don’t see anything especially nutritious included.
My Take: Growing up I used to eat at least 1 or 2 of these bars a day, and while I’m sure the formula has changed a bit since the 90s (for the “better”, I’d imagine), I’m kinda terrified by what I’d been feeding my body for so long… Brown sugar, vegetable oils, corn syrup, palm kernel oil, lactose, BHT, sorbitol, and more….YIKES. Also, at 2g of protein per bar, these hardly qualify as a protein bar… Just a bar full of troubling ingredients which happen to taste like heaven (to a 7 year old anyway).
My Take: So…be prepared. Now that we’re on the “downright scary” list, I’m about to sound like a broken record. Soy protein isolate is the protein source used in almost all of these bars, and it is not an ingredient you want to see on the label of ANY of your food products. Additionally, palm kernel oil is a common culprit in these bars…and again…it’s a definite “no-go” ingredient. In these specific bars, we’re seeing both of these ingredients in addition to milk, peanuts, fructose, and MORE.
My Take: Another Special K example, because these bars are too popular not to warn against twice. In addition to the troublesome ingredients in the snack bar variety, these meal bars also include wheat, veggie oils, peanuts, BHT, and more. Overall, this is another bar where I don’t see a single ingredient that “excites” me #sadness.
My Take: At 1g of protein, Fiber One bars hardly qualify as “protein bars” (my bad). That being said, they do qualify as a fiber supplement (specifically for those experiencing digestive issues), and therefore, I had to review them. Looking at the ingredients list actually makes me feel queasy though… I seriously cannot imagine a more troubling ingredients list for someone with gut issues… Corn syrup, sugar, milk, wheat, palm kernel oil, canola oil, fructose…? YIKES. Stay away. There are plenty of natural ways to boost your fiber intake, like boosting your fruit and veggie consumption.
My Take: What don’t I like about these bars? Hmm…maybe the question is what do I like (yikes!) We’re seeing soy protein isolate again, milk, peanuts, and even canola oil… Think Thin? Maybe “Think Inflammation” is more appropriate…
My Take: Soy, soy, and more SOY. It’s at least organic though, right? Sure. Except for the soy isolate, which is a big ol’ no-go ingredient (check out my video at the end of this post to learn why). Additionally, we’re seeing high oleic sunflower oil in these bars (hello inflammation!), palm kernel oil (and solids!), and overall, very few ingredients I’d nod my head to… Skip the Luna bar, and maybe pick up the Lara bar instead.
My Take: 29 grams of sugar is the first indication that these bars are bad-news-bears, but look further and the ingredients themselves are just as troubling… Palm kernel oil, corn syrup, milk, modified food starch…and the list goes on! Stay away from these bars friends…you’re body deserves so much more.
My Take: WOAH sugar. 26 grams is over the daily recommended value for TOTAL sugar intake (from all meals) and it’s coming from refined sugar sources in these bars…the worst kind. Additionally, the protein source used here is soy isolate, which, again, if you watch my video below, you’ll understand is a big time “no-go”
Learn the Reasons Why!
In this video I’m walking through some of the most troubling ingredients found in many of the most popular protein bars lining the shelves of our supermarkets, and which healthier-choice bars you may consider purchasing instead.
Learn the dangers of ingredients such as soy protein isolate, sucralose, palm kernel oil, corn syrup, barley malt extract, propylene glycol, and MORE.
Don’t forget to subscribe to the Cultivate: Holistic Living YouTube channel for more videos like this one!