How to Choose the Best Protein Bar Every Time
By Alyssa Kessel, RDN, LD, Expert Dietitian
We’ve all been there before, standing in the nutrition bar aisle overwhelmed with hundreds of options and wondering which is the best one. Protein bars are a very convenient option, whether you are looking for a meal replacement or an on-the-go snack to hold you over between meals. But they are not all created equal.
Many “protein bars” aren’t actually a healthy option at all when you look at the nutrition facts. So how do you know if you’re making the right choice? It’s simple: start by looking at the nutrition label and compare these to your goals.
I’ve created a guide to help you spot the healthiest options for you the next time you need to stock up!
Choose a protein bar with at least 10 grams of protein per serving. You’ll be surprised how many “protein” bars fall short of actually having enough protein. Protein is essential for recovery after exercise and for building muscle. Plus, it helps keep you fuller between meals and reduce cravings!
When selecting the best protein bars, the simple rule is the more protein, the better. We do, however, want to choose bars that have higher quality protein. Stick with a dairy-based protein source, such as hydrolyzed whey or whey isolates.
A protein bar with less than 25 grams of carbs and at least 5 grams of fiber would be a great pick! Excess amounts of carbs are easily converted to fat in our bodies, and can lead to more carb cravings. Plus, if you are trying to lose weight, high amounts of carbs in your diet can slow down the process.
And don’t forget about fiber. You should aim for at least 5 grams of fiber per bar. Fiber is a slow digesting carbohydrate that helps you feel full longer, improves digestion, and stabilizes your blood sugar.
Aim for no more than 6-8 grams of sugar per bar. To make protein bars taste better, manufacturers will often add artificial sweeteners and sugar alcohols to mask the taste of protein. Be aware of the side effects of these added sugars.
While not technically sweeter than sugar, sugar alcohols (erythritol, xylitol, mannitol, sorbitol, maltitol) do have fewer calories than sugar, making them a popular substitute. But these sugar alcohols are known to cause gastrointestinal problems and should be avoided in large consumption.
An easy way to avoid bad sugars is to take a look at the ingredients list and ask yourself, “Can I pronounce them”? If you can’t, avoid them. Plus, you should shy away from refined sugars such as sucrose, corn syrup, and high fructose corn syrup.
Choose protein bars that healthy fats but are low in saturated fats (less than 3 grams) and are free from trans fats. Better fats in protein bars will be found in nuts and nut butter, coconut oil, or seeds like chia. Check the ingredients list to avoid consuming trans fat which is often listed as partially hydrogenated oil.
Last but not least, you must consider the calorie content of the protein bar. For women, a great choice would be a bar with 140-200 calories. Men should aim for between 170-250 calories a bar.
Choosing the best protein bar might not always be easy, but now you know exactly what a dietitian looks for when choosing them. There are many benefits of using nutrition bars in your diet, and it is your personal choice of which ones you feel will help you achieve your weight and fitness goals. Just remember to always look at the nutritional labels and be aware of the ingredients in your food!
If you are looking for an easy recommendation, these are the top 3 I recommend to our patients who are in maintenance:
- Quest Bars
- RX Bars
- SimplyProtein Bars
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