They’re literally everywhere these days. You can even find an impressive assortment of protein bars at the sketchiest gas station on the side of the road in the middle of nowhere.
With so many different flavors and brands available (all, of course claiming to be the best!) – have you ever pondered “are protein bars healthy”? In short, they can be, but it depends on the bar.
Just like with any other food, drink, or supplement, there are great bars out there, bars that are decent in a pinch, and bars that you’re better off skipping.
But here’s the thing – “healthy” is one of those words with no concrete definition. Your personal criteria for what makes a bar healthy might be completely different to your workout buddy’s idea of healthy.
So instead of determining if protein bars are healthy – let’s decide if they’re healthy for you, your lifestyle, and your preferences.
How to choose a healthy protein bar
There are a lot of things to consider when selecting a protein bar, so let’s get right down to it. Here’s what to keep in mind:
Let’s address this one first because sugar is a BIG thing when it comes to protein bars. You can find anything ranging from zero-sugar low-carb bars to those that are essentially candy bars masquerading as health food.
Of course, your sugar preference may fall anywhere in this range, so it’s impossible to make a blanket recommendation. If you prioritize lowering your sugar intake, you have two options when it comes to protein bars.
The easiest option is to simply look for one that doesn’t have sugar (or something similar) as its first ingredient. Alternatively, you can set a limit for sugar – 10 to 15 grams is usually a good guideline.
Obviously, if it’s a protein bar, you should expect it to pack a protein punch. Typically, somewhere around 15 to 20 grams of protein makes for a pretty decent protein bar. In addition to the amount of protein, you’ll also need to consider the type of protein.
If you prefer whey, you might not like a bar that contains soy protein. For many people, this will simply be a matter of preference, but if you’re vegan, vegetarian, or have food allergies, you may have a specific protein request.
If you opt for a low-sugar or low-carb bar, there’s a pretty good chance that you’ll find sugar alcohols in the ingredient list. You’ll have to choose your allegiance here.
Some people experience gastrointestinal discomfort after consuming sugar alcohols – so if you’re one of the unlucky ones, you’re likely to opt for bars without them. If your digestive system doesn’t mind them and you prefer a low-sugar, low-carb lifestyle, sugar alcohols may be ideal for you.
When you’re a health-conscious person looking for something that fits your nutritional needs, taste can get lost in the shuffle. Maybe it doesn’t need to be the top priority on your list when selecting a protein bar, but don’t minimize the importance of good taste.
Realistically, if you buy a protein bar that doesn’t taste good, you’re not going to want to eat it, and you’ll end up eating something else that might not help you meet your nutritional goals.
Luckily, there’s a line of protein bars out there for every different taste and texture preference, so take the time to pick one you’ll actually look forward to eating.
If you’re working toward weight loss, this factor might rank pretty high on your list. A good general rule of thumb is to keep the calorie count under 300 or 400 calories.
Of course, if you plan to use a protein bar as a snack, you might want to limit it to fewer calories to stay in line with the size of your usual snacks.
There’s no middle ground – you’re either cool with them or you avoid them at all costs. Whatever your deal is when it comes to artificial sweeteners, pick the option that you’re comfortable with.
While it’s up to you to define healthy, there is truly a protein bar out there for everyone, so take the time to do your research and decide which protein bar is healthiest for you.
If you’re in the market for a nutrient-dense protein bar free from sugar alcohols, artificial sweeteners, gluten, and soy, with a short ingredient list full of real food, try our peanut butter protein bars or our chocolate protein bars.
Both ring at 15 grams of protein, contain premium ingredients with no additives and are gluten free, soy free and no GMOs because you should be able to enjoy a high protein snack without compromising on your diet.