Health & Fitness

By Jennifer Christman, LDN, RDN

Protein bars were once used only by bodybuilders and fitness enthusiasts. Times have changed, however, and now this once niche market is targeting everyone from moms on the go to business executives with no time to eat to the general public simply trying to control and maintain their weight.

Many are recognizing the convenience of using protein bars to meet their daily nutrition needs and realizing that protein can help to increase satiety and control calorie intake. Therefore, if you are trying to lose weight, you may benefit from consuming protein-rich foods while on a low-calorie diet.
In a perfect world, we would all meet our protein needs from whole foods, but in reality most people benefit from the ease and value of protein bars. It is more cost-effective to meet protein needs through a concentrated source such as a bar. Protein bars are easy to eat on the go, so they fit into busy lifestyles. Protein bars also aid in portion control as they are packaged in single-size servings. While the benefits of protein bars are clear, the quality of the numerous products available is not.

Here is what sets these bars apart and what standards to look for.

Photo Credit http://www.medifast1.com

3 Bars that Passed Our Bar Exam:

1. Medifast Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Chewy Bar – At only 110 calories, this bar not only provides 11 grams of protein, but also 20% of the daily value for 24 vitamins and minerals including vitamin D and calcium. The 5 grams of fiber combined with the protein increases satiety and promotes stable blood sugar. This bar contains only 3 grams of fat (1.5 saturated) and 6 grams of sugar. The source of protein is heart-healthy soy, which is equally as digestible as other protein sources and offers additional benefits such as lowing cholesterol levels. This bar is ideal for a meal replacement for weight loss or for fuel before or after exercise.

Photo Credit http://www.questproteinbar.com

2. Quest White Chocolate Raspberry Bar – While this bar is higher in calories at 190, it contains an impressive 20 grams of protein. It’s also an excellent source of fiber at 17 grams. This bar contains only 1 gram of sugar and 1 gram of sugar alcohols and is gluten-free. This bar is a great snack option; however it lacks sufficient vitamins and minerals to be used as a meal replacement.

Photo Credit: http://www.naturevalley.com

3. Nature Valley Peanut Butter Dark Chocolate Protein Bar – This protein bar is available at grocery retailers as opposed to specialty or health food stores. Since this bar has 190 calories and 10 grams of protein, it may not seem as competitive as the others. However, this bar contains no sugar alcohols and provides a sweet taste with only 6 grams of sugar. It also provides 5 grams of fiber and 7 grams of polyunsaturated fat for optimal heart health.

3 Bars to Avoid:

1. PowerBar Protein Plus 30g Chocolate Brownie – Although this bar packs 30 grams of protein, that’s only 33% of the 360 calories it provides. Where are the rest of the calories coming from? You guessed it – sugar and fat. This bar has more sugar than a Snickers bar at 30 grams and 11 grams of fat (4.5 grams saturated).

2. Think Thin Chocolate Fudge Protein Bar – This bar has a calorie content similar to most meal replacement bars at 240, however it is deficient in essential nutrients such as vitamin A and vitamin C, and only contains 1 gram of fiber. Although it contains no sugar, it contains 12 grams of sugar alcohols, which can cause digestive upset when consumed in excess.

3. ProBar Core Mint Chocolate – This bar provides 20 grams of protein and 4 grams of fiber. Although it touts being natural, a closer look at the ingredient list reveals a litany of sweeteners that contribute to the 17 grams of sugar, as well as plant gums and starches. This bar shows that just because something is vegan, it doesn’t mean it’s healthy, as it contains 9 grams of fat (4 grams saturated) and 430 milligrams of sodium. At 280 calories, this bar should be a meal replacement, but is lacking the necessary vitamins and minerals.

Originally published September 2013
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