A Holistic Nutritionist’s Review of Protein Bars – the good, the bad, and the downright scary.

Hey Cultivators!

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 🙂

XO, Sarah

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!


The Good!

Rx Bars

  • Spotlight: Coconut Chocolate
  • 210 calories; 9g fat; 14g sugar; 12g protein
  • Ingredients: dates, egg whites, almonds, cashews, cacao, coconut, sea salt, natural coconut flavor.
  • 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.

Rawxies Heart Bars

  • Spotlight: Mint Chocolate Chip
  • 130 calories; 6g fat; 9g sugar; 4g protein
  • Ingredients: dates, water, coconut palm sugar, vanilla, peppermint essential oil, salt, coconut, cacao powder, cacao nibs, almond meal, sunflower meal, oat flour.
  • 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! 🙂

Perfect Bars

  • Spotlight: Almond Coconut (the only flavor I recommend)
  • 290 calories; 17g fat; 20g sugar; 8g protein
  • Ingredients: organic dates, organic almond butter, organic dried cranberries, organic apple juice concentrate, organic sunflower seeds, organic dried coconut, organic hemp protein, organic cacao powder, organic chia powder, organic coconut oil, organic flax seed oil, organic sunflower seed oil, organic sesame seed oil, organic olive oil, organic pumpkin seed oil, dried organic whole food powders (kale, flax seed, rose hip, orange, lemon, papaya, tomato, apple, alfalfa, celery, kelp, dulse, carrot, spinach).
  • My Take: Check out my video at the end of this post for my take on the Perfect Bar! (PS. yay for ORGANICS!)

Primal Kitchen Grass Fed Collagen Bar

  • Spotlight: Chocolate Hazelnut
  • 230 calories; 16g fat; 3g sugar; 15g protein
  • Ingredients: pumpkin seeds, cashews, grass-fed hydrolyzed collagen, hazelnuts, prebiotic fiber (from cassava root), almonds, coconut flakes, honey, natural flavors, water, unsweetened chocolate, coconut oil, organic fair-trade cocoa powder, himalayan pink sea salt, monk fruit extract, tocopherols (vitamin E), macadamia nuts.
  • 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.

 

Rise Bars

  • Spotlight: Snickerdoodle
  • 310 calories; 15g fat; 15g sugar; 20g protein
  • Ingredients: almonds, honey, whey protein, cinnamon, vanilla extract.
  • 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.

Go Raw Organic Sprouted Grow Plant Protein Bars

  • Spotlight: Zesty Lemon
  • 240 calories; 14g fat; 11g sugar; 12g protein
  • Ingredients: sprouted watermelon seeds, dates, coconut nectar, lemon oil, lemon peal, celtic sea salt, rosemary extract.
  • 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!!)

 

Exo Protein Bars

  • Spotlight: Apple Cinnamon
  • 290 calories; 14g fat; 16g sugar; 10g protein
  • Ingredients: almonds, prunes, apple, apricots, cricket flour, chicory root fiber, coconut, flaxseeds, vanilla extract, spices, sea salt.
  • 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.

Evo Hemp Bars

  • Spotlight: Macadamia Mango
  • 200 calories; 10g fat; 11g sugar; 7g protein
  • Ingredients: organic dates, organic almonds, organic mango, organic hemp protein powder, organic hemp seeds, organic macadamia nuts, organic coconut nectar, organic coconut, organic yerba mate.
  • 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” 😉

Lara Bars

  • 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!

 


The Bad!

Kashi Chewy Granola Bars

  • Spotlight: Chocolate Almond & Sea Salt with Chia
  • 140 calories; 4.5g fat; 6g sugar; 5g protein
  • Ingredients: rolled whole grain blend (hard red wheat, oats, rye, triticale, barley), soy protein crisps (soy flour, tapioca starch, soy fiber), brown rice syrup, roasted almonds (almonds, canola oil and/or safflower oil), invert cane syrup, semisweet chocolate chips (dried cane syrup, chocolate liquor, cocoa butter, soy lecithin, vanilla beans), chocolate liquor, dried cane syrup, acacia gum, chia seeds, honey, expeller pressed canola oil, cocoa, vegetable glycerin, oat fiber, sea salt, organic skim milk, natural flavor, cornstarch, soy lecithin, rosemary extract, xanthan gum, peanut flour.
  • 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.

Kind Plus Bars

  • Spotlight: Cranberry Almond + Antioxidants
  • 190 calories; 13g fat; 11g sugar; 4g protein
  • Ingredients: almonds, dried cranberries (cranberries, sugar), macadamias, glucose syrup, crisp rice, chicory root fiber, sunflower oil.
  • 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!

Nature Valley Bars

  • Spotlight: Oats ‘N Honey
  • 190 calories; 7g fat; 11g sugar; 3g protein
  • Ingredients: whole grain oats, sugar, canola oil, rice flour, honey, salt, brown sugar syrup, baking soda, soy lecithin, natural flavor.
  • 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.

Chewy Bars

  • Spotlight: Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip
  • 100 calories; 3g fat; 7g sugar; 2g protein
  • Ingredients: granola (whole grain rolled oats, brown sugar, crisp rice (rice flour, sugar, salt, malted barley extract), whole grain rolled wheat, soybean oil, whole wheat flour, sodium bicarbonate, soy lecithin, caramel color, nonfat dry milk), corn syrup, brown rice crisp (whole grain brown rice, sugar, malted barley flour, salt), peanut butter spread (peanuts, sugar, palm oil, salt), semisweet chocolate chips (sugar, chocolate liquor, cocoa butter, soy lecithin, vanilla extract), invert sugar, peanut flavored chips (sugar, palm kernel oil, palm oil, partially defatted peanut flour, lactose, dry whey, dextrose, corn syrup solids, soy lecithin, salt, vanillin (artificial flavor), calcium carbonate, sorbitol, salt, water, natural and artificial flavors, BHT, citric acid.
  • 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).

 


The Downright Scary!

Special K Protein Snack Bars

  • Spotlight: Chocolate Cherry Nut
  • 180 calories; 6g fat; 13g sugar; 12g protein
  • Ingredients: soy protein isolate, sugar, soluble corn fiber, peanuts, fructose, palm kernel and palm oil, rolled oats, semisweet chocolate chips (sugar, chocolate, milkfat, cocoa butter, soy lecithin, natural flavor, salt), dried cherries (cherries, sugar), dextrose, dried cranberries, cocoa, glycerin, soybeans, sea salt, natural flavors, cherry juice concentrate, citric acid, soy lecithin, whey, elderberry juice concentrate, rosemary extract, xanthan gum, wheat starch.
  • 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.

 

Special K Protein Meal Bars

  • Spotlight: Chocolate Peanut Butter
  • 180 calories; 6g fat; 13g sugar; 12g protein
  • Ingredients: soy protein isolate, sugar, soluble corn fiber, vegetable oil, palm and palm kernel oil with sorbitan tristearate, soybean and palm oil with TBHQ, peanut butter, fructose, inulin, corn syrup, dextrose, cocoa, rice, whole grain wheat, water, vegetable glycerin, sorbitol, salt, wheat bran, peanut oil, natural flavors, soluble wheat fiber, whey, soy lecithin, malt flavor, sesame seed oil, BHT, almond flour, vitamins & minerals.
  • 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.

 

Fiber One Chewy Bars

  • Spotlight: Chocolate
  • 90 calories; 5g sugar; 2g fat; 1g protein
  • Ingredients: chicory root extract, rice flour, whole grain oats, sugar, corn syrup, semi-sweet chocolate chips (sugar, chocolate liquor, cocoa butter, milkfat, soy lecithin, natural flavor), puffed wheat, vegetable glycerin, palm kernel oil, honey, cocoa, canola oil, maltodextrin, soy lecithin, salt, natural flavor, barley malt extract, fructose, cellulose gum, milk, baking soda, caramel color, mixed tocopherols.
  • 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.

 

Quest Bars

  • Spotlight: Cookies & Cream
  • 190 calories, 9g fat; <1g sugar; 21g protein
  • Ingredients: protein blend (milk protein isolate, whey protein isolate, soluble corn fiber, almonds, water, cocoa butter, natural flavors, erythritol, palm oil, dextrin, cocoa, sea salt, calcium carbonate, sunflower lecithin, sucralose, coconut oil, xanthan gum, baking soda, steviol glycosides.
  • My Take: Check out my video at the end of this post to hear my take on Quest Bars.

 

Think Thin High Protein Bars

  • Spotlight: Caramel Fudge
  • 240 calories; 9g fat; 0g sugar (12g sugar alcohol); 20g protein
  • Ingredients: protein blend (soy protein isolate, whey protein isolate, calcium caseinate), maltitol, glycerin, coating (maltitol, cocoa butter, chocolate, sodium caseinate, milk fat, soy lecithin, natural flavors, salt), peanuts, water, canola oil, peanut flour, sea salt, natural flavors, soy lecithin.
  • 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…

 

Cliff Bars

  • Spotlight: Chocolate Chip
  • 250 calories; 5g fat; 22g sugar; 10g protein
  • Ingredients: organic brown rice syrup, organic rolled oats, soy protein isolate, organic cane syrup, organic roasted soybeans, rice flour, dried cane syrup, organic oat fiber, unsweetened chocolate, organic soy flour, organic sunflower oil, organic date paste, cocoa butter, molasses powder, organic soybean oil, barley malt extract, salt, vanilla extract, soy lecithin, natural flavors, cinnamon.
  • My Take: check out the video posted below for my take on Clif bars!

Luna Bars

  • Spotlight: Lemon Zest
  • 190 calories; 6g fat; 9g sugar; 8g protein
  • Ingredients: protein grain blend (soy protein isolate, organic rolled oats, organic rice flour, organic roasted soybeans, organic soy flour, organic milled flaxseed), organic brown rice syrup, organic dried cane syrup, chicory fiber syrup, organic high oleic sunflower oil, vegetable glycerin, palm kernel oil, organic palm kernel solids, organic soy flour, organic lemon juice concentrate, organic glucose syrup, natural flavors, organic natural flavors, organic soy lecithin, citric acid, sea salt, pectin, sodium bicarbonate.
  • 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.

G Whey Protein Bars

  • Spotlight: Chocolate Caramel
  • 340 calories; 10g fat; 29g sugar; 20g protein
  • Ingredients: whey crisp (whey protein concentrate, corn starch), chocolate flavored coating (sugar, palm kernel and palm oil, whey protein isolate, cocoa powder, soy lecithin, natural flavor), corn syrup, caramel (corn syrup, sugar, palm oil, skim milk, glycerin, butter [cream, salt], modified food starch, whey, salt, mono- and diglycerides, natural and artificial flavors, soy lecithin), glycerin, sugar, brown sugar, milk protein concentrate, invert sugar, palm oil, skim milk, butter (cream, salt), whey, modified food starch, salt, water, mono- and diglycerides, soy lecithin, BHT, citric acid.
  • 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.

Power Bars

  • Spotlight: Peanut Butter
  • 230 calories; 4g fat; 26g sugar; 10g protein
  • Ingredients: cane invert sugar, oat bran, soy protein isolate, maltodextrin, rice crisps (rice flour, rice bran, rosemary extract), peanut butter (peanuts, salt), fructose, brown rice flour, dextrose, partially defatted peanut flour, glycerin, salt.
  • 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!

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