Protein bars. There are a LOT of them out there. While all of them contain protein, others are high in fiber, gluten free, non-GMO, vegan, and organic. Which one is best? Better yet, which one is best for you? I think the idea of which one is best goes beyond how much protein they contain. I also think all those fancy claims on the wrappers (gluten free, no trans fat, etc.) make understanding which bar is best for you difficult because it diverts your attention from the how much fat, saturated fat, sugar, etc. it has. So, let me try to cut through the hype and impressive-sounding food label claims. The protein bar table below focuses on what you should be paying attention to-calories, fat, saturated fat, fiber and sugar. My hope is this review will help you more easily decide which protein bar is best for you.
How Did I Pick The Bars?
My criteria for which bars to include in the table below is pretty straight forward. If the front of the wrapper makes a specific reference about how much protein it contains (like “15g” or “high protein,” etc.) I call it a protein bar. This allows me to cast the widest net possible.
For example, the original Cliff Bar is not listed in the table because it does no prominently reference protein on the front of the wrapper, but the Cliff Builders Bar is listed because it does.
Let me know if you come across of any protein bars not listed below, and I'll update this review.
How To Read The Table
In the table below, here are a some things to take notice of:
What does the “H” mean? When you see “H” in a cell of the table, it means the bar is high in the nutrient in question. For example, if you see “H” in the saturated fat box, it means the bar is high in saturated fat. I base this on the FDA guidelines for understanding daily values. When you see 5% or less, it's “low” and 20% or more means “high.”
See the next point about “%” for more information.
What does the “%” mean? When you see a percentage (%), it refers to the Percent of Daily Value. This refers to the percentage of a nutrient that we are allowed to have per day. For example, if you see 30% in parentheses for saturated fat, it means the bar provides 30% of our daily value (daily allowance) for saturated fat.
When it comes to the Daily Values, you want low numbers for, saturated fat and sodium and high numbers for fiber.
For more on the Percent Daily Values, see this page of the FDA website.
The percent Daily Values are based on eating 2000 calories per day. If you eat more or less than this, the % DV may be different for you.
What About Sugars? I've listed sugars in the table so you can compare how much each bar has to the others. According to the American Heart Association, men should consume no more than 36 grams of added sugars per day. Women should consume no more than 24 grams of added sugars per day.
Sugar contributes to heart disease and people, generally, eat way too much sugar.
Trans fat. The table does not include trans fat because most bars list “zero trans fat” on their Nutrition Facts Labels. Information on trans fat and other nutrients is listed in the additional information section below.
What's up with the grams? In the table below, I've told you how much each protein bar weighs in grams (50g, 60g, etc.) so that you can compare how much each weights to the amounts of protein, calories, saturated fat, etc. Because not everybody likes the metric system, just remember that 23 grams = 1 ounce. So if a bar, weighs 60g, that is about 2 ounces.
What about vitamins? In this review, I've decided not to list the amounts of vitamins and minerals in the protein bars and the reason because is most people are not lacking in vitamins or minerals. Also, extra vitamins do not improve exercise performance in those who already get them in the diet. Those who are indeed deficient in vitamins and minerals should get them from food or a simple multi-vitamin supplement and not rely on protein bars.
Protein Bar Comparison
The table below lists Nutrition Facts information for the various protein bars. To make the table easier to read, it contains information on calories, total fat, saturated fat, sugar, fiber, as well as protein. This is the important stuff most people need to know. Below the table, is additional information on sugar alcohols, potassium etc., for those who want to know more.
For greater insights, dont forget to read the ingredients lists too. While I did not cover all the ingredients in this review, scanning the ingredients of a product you are interested in can often provide useful information.
If you discover a protein bar that is not listed, leave a comment below so I can try to locate it and update this review.
|Name||Calories||Total Fat||Sat Fat||Sugars||Fiber||Protein|
|22 Days (walnut fudge brownie) 1 bar (75g)||290||11g (17%)||1.5g(8%)||12g||13g (52%)||20g|
|Arnold Muscle Bar (Muscle Pharm) (chocolate brownie). 1 bar (90g)||370||16g (25%) H||9g (45%) H||7g||2g (8%)||30g|
|Best Protein Bar (BPI Sports). Apple crunch cake. 1 bar (65g)||220||6g (9%)||1g (5%)||2g||17g(68%) H||20g|
|BHU Fit. Primal Protein 1 bar (45g)||200||13g (20%) H||5g (25%) H||1g||8g (32%) H||14g|
|Cliff Bar: Builders Bar (chocolate peanut butter). 1 bar (68g)||280||10g (15%)||5g (27%) H||21g||2g (8%)||20g|
|Combat Crunch (Muscle Pharm). Chocolate chip cookie dough. 1 bar (63g)||210||7g (11%)||4g (20%) H||5g||12g (48%) H||20g|
|Come Ready Bar (caramel pretzel crunch) 1 bar (50g)||195||7.5g||4.5g (H)||9g||3g||15g|
|Complete Cookie (chocolate chip). 1 cookie (56.5g)||180||6g (9%)||1.5g (8%)||14g||4g (16%)||8g|
|Detour Simple (salted caramel cookie dough). 1 bar (60g)||230||8g(12%)||4g (20%) H||7g||6g (24%) H||20g|
|Fit Crunch Bar (Robert Irving) (peanut butter). 1 bar (88g)||388||16g (25%) H||8g (40%) H||6g||2g (8%)||30g|
|Fit Elite Bar (Robert Irvine's) (birthday cake). 1 bar (60g)||180||5g (8%)||2g (10%)||2g||15g (60%DV)||20|
|Fit Joy bar (frosted cinnamon roll). 1 bar (60g)||230||8g (12%)||3.5g (18%)||3g||11g (44%)||20g|
|Gatorade Whey Protein Bar (chocolate chip). 1 bar (80g)||360||13g (19%)||10g (50%) H||29g||2g (7%)||20g|
|Gourmet Cheesecake Bar (Ansi) (chocolate peanut butter).1 bar (68g)||220||9g (14%)||2.5g (15%)||4g||20g (80%) H||20g|
|Luna Bar (caramel walnut brownie). 1 bar (48g)||200||8g (12%)||3.5g (18%)||10g||3g (12%)||8g|
|Muscle Foods Muscle Sandwich (peanut butter graham cracker). 1 bar (57g)||290||16g (24%) H||5g (25%) H||15g||2g (4%)||13g|
|Muscle Tech Mission 1 (cookies & cream).1 bar (60g)||200||7g (11%)||2.5g (13%)||1g||17g (68%)||21g|
|Natures Valley Protein Chew Bars (peanut butter dark chocolate). 1 bar (40g)||190||12g (18%)||3.5g (17%)||6g||5g (20%) H||10g|
|No Cow Bar by Ds Naturals. (Mint Coaco Chip). 1 bar (60g)||160||5g (8%)||2g (10%)||1g||19g (76%)||20g|
|NoGii (Elizabeth Hasselbeck) (chocolate coconut). 1 bar (54g)||230||8g (12%)||5g(25%) H||14g||2g (8%)||17g|
|Oatmega (chocolate coconut chrisp). 1 bar (50g)||190||7g (11%)||2g (10%)||5g||7g(28% ) H||14g|
|Oh Yeah! (Chocolate Carmel) 1 bar 85g||380||19g (30%) H||7g (33%) H||8g||4g(15%)||26g|
|Oh Yeah! Almond Fudge Browne. 1 bar (45g)||190||9g (14%)||3g (15% )||4g||3g (12%)||14g|
|Oh Yeah! One (chocolate chip cookie dough). 1 bar (60g)||210||8g (12%)||5g (25%) H||1g||10g (40%) H||21g|
|ON Opti-bar (chocolate chip cookie dough). 1 bar (60g)||230||7g (11%)||2g (10%)||4g||9g (36%)||20g|
|Orgain Organic Protein (peanut butter chocolate chunk). 1 bar (40g)||150||6g (9%)||1.5g (8%)||5g||6g(24%) H||10g|
|ON Protein Cake Bites (chocolate dipped cherry). 3 bites (63g)||240||7g||4g (20%) H||4g||0g||20g|
|Power Crunch Protein Energy (french vanilla ice cream). 1 Bar (40g)||200||13g (20%) H||6g (30%) H||5g||1g (4%)||14g|
|Promax Protein Bar (cookies n cream). 1 bar (75g)||270||4.5g (7%)||3g (15%)||30g||1g (4%)||20g|
|Pure Protein Bar (Dark chocolate coconut). 1 bar (50g)||190||5g (8%)||4.5g (23%) H||1g||2g (8%)||19g|
|Quest Bar (Chocolate chip cookie dough) 1 bar (60g)||190||9g(14%)||2.5g(13%)||<1g||14g (56%) H||21g|
|RXBAR Whole Food Protein Bar (chocolate sea salt). 1 bar (52g)||200||9g (14%)||2g (11%)||12g||4g (14%)||12g|
|Think Thin (chocolate fudge) 1 bar (60g)||230||8g (12%)||3g(15%)||0g||1g (4%)||20g|
|Vega Sport (Chocolate Coconut). 1 bar (60g)||250||9g (14%)||4.5g (23%) H||19g||4g (16%)||15g|
Here is additional information about the protein bars mentioned in this review.
22 Days (walnut fudge brownie) by Co-Exist Nutrition is USDA organic and contains 34g total carbs (11%DV), 0g trans fat, 0mg sodium and is Plant Based.
Arnold Muscle Bar (Arnold Schwarzenegger) (Muscle Pharm) (Chocolate brownie) has 5g of monounsaturated fat, 2g of polyunsaturated fat, 0g trans fat, 25mg cholesterol (8%DV), 355mg of sodium (15%DV), 85mg potassium (2%DV), 30g of total carbs (10%DV).
Best Protein Bar Apple crunch cake (BPI Sports) has 10 mg of cholesterol, 29g of total carbs (10%DV), zero trans fat, 105mg sodium (4%DV) and 6g of sugar alcohols. The Best bar is also gluten free, has 6g of net carbs and contains stevia.
BHU Fit Bar (BHU Foods) has 0 mg of cholesterol, 250mg of potassium, 14g of total carbs (5%DV) and 75mg sodium (3%DV). The BHU Fit bar is also non-GMO, gluten free and “grass fed whey.”
Cliff Bar Builders Bar (chocolate peanut butter). The bar has 0g cholesterol, 340mg sodium (14%DV), 180mg potassium (5%DV), 29g total carbs (10%DV), 2g soluble fiber and 6g of “other carbs.”
Combat Crunch Bar (Muscle Pharm, chocolate chip cookie dough) is gluten free and has 2g monounsaturated fat, 1g polyunsaturated fat, 18mg cholesterol (6%DV), 160 mg sodium (7%DV), 25g of total carbs (8%DV), 100mg of potassium (2%DV), and 1g sugar alcohols.
Complete Cookie (Lenny & Larry's) chocolate chip flavor. The cookie contains no eggs, no dairy, no soy, is non-GMO, vegan and kosher. It contains 1g of monounsaturated fat, zero trans fat, 0mg cholesterol 220mg of sodium (9%DV) and has 24g of to total carbs (8%DV).
Detour Simple (salted caramel cookie dough) has 15mg cholesterol (5%DV), zero trans fat, 100mg of potassium (3%DV), 22g of total carbs (7%DV) and 210mg sodium (9% DV). This bar is also gluten free and non-GMO.
Fit Crunch Bar (Chef Robert Irvine) (Peanut butter flavor). See the Fit Crunch Bar review for more info.
Fit Elite Bar (Chef Robert Irvine) (birthday cake) also1g polyunsaturated fat, 2g monounsaturated fat, zero g trans fat, 10mg cholesterol (3%DV), 250mg sodium (10%DV), 50mg potassium (1%DV), 24g of total carbs (8%DV) and 5g sugar alcohols.
Fit Joy bar (frosted cinnamon roll) has 10mg cholesterol (3%DV), 170mg sodium (7%DV), 105mg of potassium (3%DV), and 23mg of total carbs (8%DV). The Fit Joy bar is gluten free, GMO Free and has no artificial flavors , colors or sweeteners.
Gatorade Whey Protein Bar (chocolate chip). See the Gatorade Protein Bar review for more info.
Gourmet Cheesecake Protein Bar (Ansi) (chocolate peanut butter cheesecake) is naturally flavored, “100% clean,” non-GMO, gluten free, soy free, zero sugar alcohols and is hormone free (rBST/rBGH). It has zero trans fat, 10mg cholesterol (3%DV), 210mg sodium (9%DV), 115mg potassium (3%DV) and 26g total carbs (9%DV).
Luna Bar is non-GMO, made with organic chocolate and has 1.5g polyunsaturated fat, 2.5g monounsaturated fat, zero trans fat, 150mg of potassium, 26g of total carbs (9%DV), 125mg sodium (5%DV), 1g of insoluble fiber and 13g of “other carbohydrate.”
Muscle Sandwich by Muscle Foods (peanut butter graham cracker) has 5 mg of cholesterol (2%DV), zero trans fat, 210 mg of potassium (6%DV), 25 g of total carbs (11%DV) and 140mg sodium (6% DV). The Muscle Sandwich bar is made with 100% real peanut butter.
Muscle Tech Mission 1 (cookies & cream) has zero trans fat, 5 mg cholesterol (2%DV), 180mg sodium (8%DV), 22g of total carbs (7%DV), zero sugar alcohols and is gluten free with no artificial flavors or colors.
No Cow Bar by Ds Nutritionals is all natural, non-GMO, vegan, high fiber, has no sugar added, gluten free, dairy free, soy free, lactose free and “guilt free.” It has zero cholesterol, zero trans fat, 27g total carbs (9%DV), 210mg sodium (9%DV) and 4g sugar alcohols.
Nogii Bar (Elizabeth Hasselbeck) is gluten free and has 0mg cholesterol, zero trans fat, 24g total carbs (8%DV) and 150mg sodium (6%DV).
Oatmega (chocolate coconut crisp) has 300mg of EPA and DHA (fish oils), 20mg cholesterol (7%DV), zero trans fat, 21g of total carbs (7%DV) and 120mg sodium (5%DV). The oatmega bar is also gluten free and non-GMO.
Oh Yeah! Bar (chocolate caramel) 31g of total carbs (10%DV), 3.5g of polyunsaturated fat, 7g of monounsaturated fat, zero trans fat, 130mg sodium (5%DV), 15 grams of sugar alcohols, 5mg of cholesterol (1% DV) and 76mg of potassium (2% DV).
Oh Yeah! (Almond Fudge Brownie) has 1g of polyunsaturated fat, 2g of monounsaturated fat, 0 mg cholesterol, zero trans fat, 80mg of potassium 2% DV, 18g of total carbs (9% DV), 45mg sodium (2%DV) and 9g of sugar alcohols. This bar is also gluten free.
Oh Yeah! One (chocolate chip cookie dough) has 1g of polyunsaturated fat, 2g of monounsaturated fat, zero trans fat, 110g of potassium 3% DV), 125 mg sodium (5%DV) and 11 g of sugar alcohols. This Oh Yeah! bar is also gluten free.
Opti-bar by ON (chocolate chip cookie dough) has 5mg cholesterol (2%DV), 190 mg sodium (8%DV), 23 g of total carbs (8%DV) and 3g of sugar alcohols.
Orgain Organic Protein Bar (peanut butter chocolate chunk) has 0mg of cholesterol, zero trans fat, 60mg of potassium (2%DV), 18g total carbs (6%DV) 115mg sodium (5%DV) and 3 grams of sugar alcohols. The Orgain bar also is a “plant based” bar.
Natures Valley Protein Chew Bars (peanut butter dark chocolate) is gluten free and has zero trans fat, 1g polyunsaturated fat, 7g monounsaturated fat, 0g cholesterol, 180mg sodium (7%DV), and 14g of total carbs (5%DV).
Power Crunch Protein Energy Bar by BioNutritionals (french vanilla cream) has 10 mg cholesterol (4%DV), zero trans fat, 160mg of potassium (5%DV), 100 mg sodium (4%DV) and 8g of total carbs.
Promax Protein Bar (cookies n cream) is gluten free and has zero cholesterol, 240mg of sodium (10%DV), 250 mg of potassium (7%DV), and 40g of total carbs (13%DV).
Pure Protein Bar (Dark chocolate coconut) is gluten free and has zero cholesterol, 160mg of sodium (7%DV), 19 g of total carbs (6%DV) and 6 grams of sugar alcohols.
Quest Bar (chocolate chip cookie dough) has zero trans fat, 5mg of cholesterol (2%DV), 115mg of potassium (3%DV), 20g of total carbs (7%DV), 210mg sodium (9%DV) and 2g of sugar alcohols. The Quest bar is also gluten free, has no sugar added and has 4 net carbs.
RXBAR Whole Food Protein Bar (chocolate sea salt) is gluten free, soy free, has no GMO ingredients and is dairy free. It also has zero cholesterol, 240mg sodium (10%DV), 350mg potassium (10%DV) and 22g total carbs (8%DV).
Think Thin Bar (chocolate fudge) has less than 5mg of cholesterol (o%DV), zero trans fat, 24g of total carbs, 210mg sodium (9%DV) and 12g of sugar alcohols. The Think Thin bar is also gluten free, non GMO and has a low glycemic index.
Vega Sport Bar (chocolate coconut) has 0 mg of cholesterol, zero trans fat, 29g of total carbs, and 40mg sodium (2%DV). The Vega Sport bar also contains 2.6g of BCAAs, 2 g of glutamine and 1g of omega 3 fatty acids. It's non-GMO verified too.
Several protein bars reviewed above listed sugar alcohols on their Nutrition Facts labels. What are they? Sugar alcohols are sugars but they have fewer calories than other carbohydrates. This is often used to reduce the calorie content of foods. While sugar has 4 calories per gram, sugar alcohols have less. According to this Fact Sheet, here are the calories in common sugar alcohols:
- Sorbitol : 2.6 calories/ gram
- Xylitol: 2.4 calories /gram
- Maltitol: 2.1 calories /gram
- Erythritol: 0-.02 calories/gram
Sugar alcohols can also be used to help food taste better or have a better texture. They also tend to have a lower glycemic index compared to table sugar, so they don't raise blood sugar as fast. That can be good for those with diabetes and pre-diabetes. Despite the name, sugar alcohols are are not alcohol so they won't cause people to fail a Breathalyzer test or become impaired while driving, etc.
Sugar alcohols can also be classified as a prebiotic because our bacteria can eat them for energy. This can cause some types to increase gas production. While they might have some health benefits, sugar alcohols might not mesh well with people with digestion issues like irritable bowel syndrome.
Aren't They All Just Candy Bars?
Protein bars are not all candy bars because ,for one thing, they do, tend to have more protein than your typical piece of junk food. Many protein bars have added vitamins and minerals too. That said, I can understand why some would make the comparison. For example, here is the nutrition information for a Hershey's Milk Chocolate Bar (43g):
- Calories: 210
- Total Fat: 13g (20% H)
- Saturated fat: 8g (40% H)
- Sugars: 24g
- Fiber: 1g
- Protein: 3g
Protein bars tend to weigh a bit more than candy bars (43 grams in this example. Some bars weigh are over 60g) but this can give readers a rough idea when comparing protein bars to a basic candy bar. In the bullet list, “H” means it's high in the respective nutrient.
Some of the protein bars in the table above have almost as much – if not more – sugar than a candy bar. Several protein bars summarized above have more calories than a candy bar too. Readers should judge for themselves if the protein is worth the added calories and fat some bars contain.
What They Have In Common?
Many protein bars – although not all – make the claim that they are gluten free and contain non genetically modified organisms (Non-GMO). Those with allergies to nuts, wheat, soy and what, should check the wrappers. Many bars alert consumers that they are made in factories that contain ingredients that some may be allergic to.
Most protein bars have very little sodium, containing for the most part, less than 10% of ones daily value for this nutrient. That is good for those watching their salt intake because of high blood pressure.
Generally, the majority of protein bars are lacking in the mineral, potassium. While sodium can raise blood pressure, potassium lowers blood pressure. Fruits and vegetables are good sources of potassium.
While the majority of protein bars make the claim of containing “Zero Trans Fat,” some still contain high amounts of saturated fat.
Some bars have lots of sugar.
Who Needs Extra Protein?
While I'm sure the typical person who buys a protein bar is someone who works out a lot, I think a case can also be made for some older adults. After the age of 50 we tend to start losing muscle tissue at a rate of about 1% to 2% per year. This is due to a condition called sarcopenia. Sarcopenia is defined as muscle loss as we get older and it can actually start in our 30s.
Some things that can contribute to sarcopenia include:
- lower calorie intake
- lower protein intake
- digestion issues
- wearing dentures
- lower anabolic hormone levels
- lack of appropriate types of exercise (strength training)
Because protein bars provide both protein and calories, I think they might be useful to some older adults. That said, remember, some protein bars may be dense and hard to bite into and chew. This can be a challenge for folks who use dentures. In this instance, a protein shake might be preferable.
Most Protein. Fewest Calories
From the table above, the protein bars that have at least 20g of protein, less than 200 calories and are low in fat and saturated fat include:
- No Cow Bar by Ds Naturals: 20g protein and 160 calories.
- Quest Bar: 21g protein and 190 calories.
- Robert Irving's Fit Elite Bar : 20g protein and 180 calories.
Protein Bar Side Effects
For those who are healthy, I don't think there are any really bad side effects. Some protein bars contain sugar alcohols and fiber which might make people gassy. Bars that are dense and hard to bite into can be an issue for those with dentures. Bars that are high in saturated fat should be avoided by those with heart disease.
While protein -as its normally consumed – won't hurt healthy kidneys, those with unhealthy kidneys should seek guidance from a health professional such as an RD. Many bars contain a lot of calories. This can contribute to weight (and fat) gain in those who are not working out enough.
Which Protein Bar Is Best?
It would be easy to say, grab the bar that has the most protein but this might not always be best. Some high protein bars might also be high in fat, saturated fat and calories, making them basically high protein candy bars. Also, different people may have different needs or wants; some might prefer soy protein while others might look for whey protein. This is where looking at the ingredients labels can come in handy.
Don't choose a bar just by what you see boldly displayed on the wrapper. Food label claims can be used to divert your attention. When you see special claims being made (non GMO, trans fat free, how much protein, etc.) ask yourself what aren't they telling me? Checking the Nutrition Facts label (and ingredients list) can often provide insights that could be missed if only looking at the front of the wrapper or box.
I don't feel bars high in calories, saturated fat, sugars and sodium should be consumed regularly. For what it's worth, when I look for a protein bar, I prefer those that have 200 or fewer calories, and at least 20g of protein some fiber, along with being low in calories and saturated fat.
Here's all the protein bars on Amazonif you want to see what others are saying.