It’s been awhile since I’ve done a food face off! I was inspired for this post on our hike in the Adirondacks a few weeks ago. After a night with little food we arrived back at the car and devoured the Cliff bars Elliott had packed for the morning. They were delicious but after following a low carb, low sugar diet, I definitely thought they were super sweet. Upon reading the ingredients list I found sugar was the first ingredient (it also found its way on the ingredients list by multiple names).
Protein bars or meal replacement bars have mixed reps. Some are pretty much glorified candy bars, some are super high in calories (which is unwanted for some), some are vegan, some loaded with fake sugars. So if you’re just grabbing any old bar and assuming it’s “healthy” you may be wrong. I wanted to share some information to help you decide what’s best for your diet!
What To Look For.
Ideally your bar will have high quality protein & fiber, minimum sugar, and pronounceable ingredients. You want it to keep you fuller longer, with minimal blood sugar spikes (caused by sugar and makes you tired and hungry and hour later). Obviously it’s best to avoid anything with added chemicals, colors, ect.
- A minimum of 8 grams quality protein. Protein keeps you full because it takes longer to digest, simple as that. If you’re an athlete or hit the gym regularly your body needs protein to repair muscles & keep you strong. Another cool thing to note is protein has fat burning qualities: 30% of the calories you take in through protein go straight towards the digestion process, since it takes a lot of energy to break down.
*Your bar should list the type of protein: look for milk or whey, soy protein can upset some peoples stomachs & cause bloating.
- Your carb count should be less than 20 grams & always lower than the protein amount. Your bar should never have more carbs than protein, unless you want an energy crash in your future. Carbs break down easily meaning your blood sugar rises rapidly making you feel energized (like your first cup of coffee), however it also drops rapidly … and when it does it actually falls below your average level, almost like a carb hangover. It’s science folks! Protein will offset carbs effects if in the right ratio: ideally you’d want a 3:1 protein to carb ratio.
- Look out for sneaky sugar sources. Sugar has a lot of names: sucralose, fructose, agave, brown sugar, dextrose, maltodextrin, corn syrup, corn sweetener, fruit juice, maple syrup, molasse. Before picking out your next bar scan the ingredients list… you might be surprised to find 5 or more of these on the label! Aim for a maximum of 8-10 grams sugar per bar, and make sure any of the above sweeteners aren’t in the first 5 spots on the ingredients list (they go by amount so the first ingredient you see is the highest used in the bar).
- Lower Calories. If you’re looking for a snack bar women should have 140-200 calories, men should have 170-300. If you’ve had a heavy workout your body can handle extra calories and no matter your gender you can have a bar around 300+. Just make sure not to overeat to avoid weight gain.
- Look for natural ingredients. If you can pronounce the majority of it’s ingredients you’re in the clear, if not put it back. The best bars are made up of nuts-a healthy source of fat and fiber- and a bit of fruit -not too much to avoid sugar. If the whole list is made of chemicals and artificial sweeteners that someone created in a laboratory it’s not the bar for you. Lets not become a lab experiment today.
- Look for high fiber, medium fat. If you haven’t heard fat is good for you… and fiber is better! The key is to have healthy fats such as omega 3, and omega 6 polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fat as they will keep you full. Avoid trans fats completely, they do not belong in your food. Just keep in mind fats can be high in calories. Fiber, is your #1 friend to keeping full and healthy. Studies have shown that people who eat more fiber also are the slimmest. Aim for 6 grams of fiber or more, and around 6 grams of fat also.
Top Healthy Protein Bar Picks.
- Health Warrior Lemon Goldenberry Protein Bar.
It’s plant based & uses chia seeds, oats, quinoa and peas to give you 190 calories, 10g protein, 10g sugar and 6g fiber. Chia seeds keep you full longer by expanding in your stomach to create a full feeling. They’re also high in fiber, protein, antioxidants, calcium, and omega 3 fatty acids. A great snack bar.
- Primal Kitchen Coconut Cashew Bars.
It’s filled with whole ingredients like pumpkin seeds, cashews, chia seeds, coconut flakes, coconut oil, and honey. It ranks in at 220 calories, 15 grams protein, 15 grams carbs, 9 grams fiber, 14 grams fat, and 2 grams sugar. This one is best for after a workout!
- Evo Hemp Cashew Cacao.
The first three ingredients are whole foods: dates, cashews, and apricots. It also uses high quality protein and hemp seeds to keep you full and focused. Hemp seeds contain omega 3’s which boost brain function and lower cholesterol. It has 185 calories, 3g fiber, 7g protein, and 10g sugar. It’s great as a snack bar but keep in mind the fruits up the sugar factor so I wouldn’t eat it every day.
- Shanti Mulberry Protein Bar.
This one has all natural organic ingredients like dates, sunflower seeds, almonds, figs, and cinnamon. All of the ingredients are raw. It has a total of 250 calories, 17g protein, 21 grams carbs, 5g fiber, 11 grams fat, and 11 grams sugar. While the carb and sugar content are a little high it makes up for it with a whooping 17 grams protein an11 grams fat, and 5 grams fiber. Great as a snack or meal replacement bar.
- RXBar in Mint Chocolate.
It’s only got 7 ingredients total and it’s grain free! Impressive! These bars are in general a little higher in sugar, and therefore make a great pre workout snack if you’re anticipating a hard workout. 1 bar is 210 calories, 12 grams protein, 24 grams carbs, 3 grams fiber, 9 grams fat, and 14 grams sugar.
- Kind Bar in Madagascar Vanilla Almond.
Kind bars are great because they can be found just about everywhere, and are less processed than other bars, but many flavors can be high in sugar. This one however has 210 calories, 6 grams fiber, 7 grams protein, and only 4 grams sugar. It does however contain 3 types of sugar and soy, which can be irritating for some people with digestive troubles.
And A Few To Avoid.
- Balance Bars.
They’re generally low in fiber and have a long list of ingredients that are not pronounceable.
- Green Superfood Bars.
Words like “green” and “superfood” sound great.. except this bar has 25 grams of sugar, and only 5 grams of protein!
- Quaker Protein Baked Bars.
Don’t let the oatmeal base fool you, it’s filled with sugar and unhealthy ingredients.
- Nutrigrain Cereal Bars.
Minimal whole foods, tons of sugar, and lots of chemicals. Just say no.
- Fiber One Bars.
High in a variety of sugars, artificial color and flavor, and.. antifreeze?
That’s all for now my loves,