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4 Protein Bars That Don’t Suck

by jenny sansouci on May 5, 2015

Hey little nugs.

I haven’t been checking in with you guys here on the blog for a couple of weeks, because I’ve been on the road again traveling around looking for hip and healthy resources to share with you guys. I’m in beautiful, sunny San Diego right now, after a fantastic trip to Austin for the PaleoFX conference.

PaleoFX is a conference focusing on “health, nutrition, fitness, sustainability, & everything in between.” Many of the brands I support and the nutrition experts I follow and learn from were there. Let’s just say…I totally geeked out. My boyfriend said being at a nutrition conference with me was “like letting a dog loose at the dog park.” Not sure if that was meant to be a compliment but I think it means I was VERY excited.

One of my favorite parts of PaleoFX was seeing all the fun food products and trying samples of them.

Protein bars are something I get asked about A LOT. Because let’s face it, no matter how much we want to preach about only eating whole foods and sitting down to quietly savor each meal, everyone wants a convenient snack you can throw into your gym bag and eat on the go.

Most Protein Bars Are The WORST!

The challenge is this: most protein bars suck. They suck because they are full of sugar, artificial sweeteners, and insane crazy crap. To prove this point, I searched “protein bar” on Amazon. Here are the ingredients for the top 2 protein bars they have listed.

Pure Protein Bars:

pure protein bar

Power Bar, S’mores Flavor:

Ingredients: Chocolate flavored coating (sugar, fractionated palm kernel oil, cocoa, whey, nonfat milk, soy lecithin, natural flavor), glucose syrup, chocolate filling (glucose syrup, sugar, palm oil, alkalized cocoa, nonfat milk, chocolate, natural flavor, carrageenan, soy lecithin, salt), TriSource™ Protein Blend (whey protein isolate, calcium caseinate, soy protein isolate), maltitol syrup, vegetable glycerin, oat fiber (contains wheat), soy crisps (soy protein isolate, tapioca starch, salt), marshmallow flavored nuggets (sugar, cornstarch, maltodextrin, fractionated palm kernel oil, vegetable glycerin, rice flour, dextrose, gum arabic, water, natural flavor), high oleic canola oil, and less than 2% of: ground almonds, calcium phosphate, soy lecithin, salt, potassium phosphate, natural flavor, ascorbic acid (vitamin C), molasses, partially defatted peanut flour, ferrous fumarate (iron), pyridoxine hydrochloride (vitamin B6), thiamin hydrochloride (vitamin B1), riboflavin (vitamin B2).

Ick!!! These things are filled with ingredients I would not want anywhere near my body (if I can help it). Sugar, sucralose (artificial sweetener), canola oil, carageenan, soy…”marshmallow flavored nuggets”…bye felicia. No matter which way you swing it, those things ain’t food.

Fortunately, at PaleoFX I found a few bars worthy of eating and feeling good about. They are all made with actual foods! Plus, I met the people who work for these companies and they are all great people who care about your health.

NOTE: none of these are vegan bars. If you are a vegan, I’ll recommend something for you at the end of the post.

Here goes –

4 Protein Bars That Don’t Suck

 

bulletproof bar

Bulletproof Collagen Protein Bars: These things are my new love and definitely my favorite of the bars I’m listing here. You guys all know my obsession with Bulletproof products and I knew I’d be into these bars. They just came out and I’ve already ordered 2 boxes of them! The vanilla ones are my favorite. They taste like cookies. They are full of healthy fats and collagen protein (read more about collagen here), and very low in sugar (2 grams). INGREDIENTS: Organic cashew butter, Bulletproof® Upgraded Collagen Protein, chicory root fiber, Bulletproof® XCT™ Oil, organic cashews, Bulletproof® Brain Octane, organic coconut oil, Bulletproof® VanillaMax™ (lab-tested Madagascar vanilla beans), sea salt, stevia. 12g protein.

rx_bar

Rx Bars: I had heard about these bars from the Whole30 folks, and because they are Whole30 approved I had been wanting to try them for awhile. Turns out they are delicious and full of whole-food ingredients. The protein in them comes from eggs. My favorite flavors are Coconut Cacao and Blueberry. The only drawback to these guys is they are a little higher in sugar than I’d normally like (14g in one bar), but comes from dates, not refined sugar, so that’s a big plus. INGREDIENTS: Dates, Egg Whites, Figs, Almonds, Unsweetened Coconut, 100% Chocolate, Natural Coconut Flavor. 12g protein.

epic-bar-bacon

Epic Bars: I was so scared to try these. I’ve been seeing them around for awhile but I was like, who wants to just bite on a meat stick like that? But fortunately for me, the great people from Epic were at PaleoFX and had every single flavor out as a sample. And they are made with 100% grass-fed meats and other high quality herbs and spices. I figured – let’s go, now is the time. You need to do this for investigatory journalism. And it was GOOD. Surprisingly good. I didn’t try all the flavors, but I really liked the 100% sugar free uncured bacon bar. To be honest, I can’t say I’ll be carrying these around often, unless I am REALLY hungry, but they are legit. Ingredients: Uncured bacon (pork, water, sea salt, vinegar, celery powder), natural pork, lactic acid. 15g protein.

exo bars blueberry

EXO Bars: If you think I was scared to try a meat bar like the Epic bar, I was even more afraid to try a CRICKET BAR. I keep hearing about how cricket flour is the next big thing, but eating bugs is scary to me. But with a flavor like Blueberry Vanilla, and 10g of protein from crickets…I went for it. Delicious and not insecty at all! These bars also carry a higher sugar content (14g) from fruit and honey, but have a nice amount of protein and fat to balance that out. Ingredients: Almonds, Apricots, Blueberries (Blueberries, Apple Juice Concentrate), Strawberries (Strawberries, Apple Juice Concentrate), Cricket Flour (Acheta Domesticus), Honey, Ground Flaxseeds, Coconut, Vanilla Extract, Sea Salt. 10g protein.

So those were the 4 bars I tried at PaleoFX that I had never tried before. I think they were all a big win and I would recommend them over conventional protein bars any day.

And drumroll, what I know everyone has been waiting for…

What do I think about Quest Bars?

quest bar cinnamon roll

Oh, everybody’s beloved Quest bar. I have to admit. When I first saw a box of Quest bars, I just assumed I would never touch them because they looked like one of those fitness “health foods” that was actually full of crappy ingredients. But then I was encouraged to check the box and find something wrong with them. I picked up the Cinnamon Roll box and took a peek. It wasn’t as bad as I expected.

Cinnamon Roll Quest Bar: Protein Blend (Whey Protein Isolate, Milk Protein Isolate), Isomalto-Oligosaccharides* (Prebiotic Fiber), Almonds, Water, Erythritol. Contains less than 2% of the following: Sea Salt, Stevia, Lo Han Guo, Natural Flavors, Cinnamon.

Here were my 2 issues with this bar: 1) no idea about the quality of the whey protein, and 2) the “natural flavors” – you never know exactly what this means.

But my issues weren’t THAT huge with these Quest bars, and I was surprised about that. Sure, they were less “real food” than what I would normally recommend, but they contained no artificial sweeteners, sweetened with stevia and erythritol (a sugar alcohol), no weird oils or soy…hmm. Then I bit into one. And it was delicious. What? I had to investigate further.

Here’s the issue I eventually found with Quest bars – most of them DO contain artificial sweeteners (probably about half of the flavors, actually). This is a non-negotiable for me. I won’t ever knowingly touch artificial sweeteners at all – here’s why.

There are 7 Quest bars that don’t contain artificial sweeteners, and these are the only ones I consider acceptable to occasionally eat. Are they the most natural food in the world? Not at all, but you have to pick your battles sometimes. If you do choose to eat a Quest bar, choose carefully based on these guidelines:

Quest Bars without artificial sweeteners:

That’s it. Don’t touch ANY of the other Quest bars if you want to maintain a high vibe in the world. K?

Whew! That’s mostly it for now when it comes to what I think about protein bars. If you have a question about a specific bar, please ask me in the comments and I’ll look up the ingredients and get back to you. :)

But don’t ask me about KIND bars. I don’t like them. Unless you can show me a KIND bar without “non-gmo glucose” as an ingredient. That’s just another name for sugar, right? If someone can tell me otherwise, I’m all ears. Otherwise I have no idea why so many people in the health and wellness world are promoting KIND bars. It boggles me.

I mentioned I would provide a protein resource for vegans — I recently found Onnit’s Hemp Force protein powder and it’s awesome. Try the chocolate maca flavor! It’s a shake, not a bar, but it rules. If you want vegan bars, you could try Larabars, Chia Bars or Granilla Bars for plant-based bars – they aren’t necessarily high in protein, but they are made of mainly fruit, nuts and seeds.

Okey dokey. That’s all for today. Let me know in the comments if there’s another protein bar I should check out. (Hint: if it has cane sugar or artificial sweeteners in it, it isn’t approved by the Healthy Crush panel of judges and I can’t imagine it ever will be. But who knows, I would have never thought I’d be promoting a bar of meat)… 😉

Remember – stick to eating fresh food when you can, but if you need a quick snack on the go, these protein bars won’t steer you wrong. :)

Love,
Jenny




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{ 25 comments… read them below or add one }

Stephanie May 5, 2015 at 2:03 pm

Hi Jenny,

Thanks for the great article. I think it’s important to highlight all the rubbish ingredients in supposed “healthy” food.

I was wondering, have you heard of Dale’s Raw Protein Bars? They are vegan and I first found them at integral yoga in NYC and they have gotten me through many a long day at work/school. Also I can pronounce everything on the ingredient list!

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jenny sansouci May 5, 2015 at 2:07 pm

Hey Stephanie! Thanks for reading. I have never heard of those before but I just looked them up and they look good :) I’ll have to give them a try. Thanks for the tip!

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Tania June 24, 2015 at 2:48 pm

Thank you, Stephanie. I’ve been looking for a low glycemic, high protein bar that is also vegan, gluten/soy free. This is great!

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Stephanie May 5, 2015 at 2:36 pm

Hi there! Great list. Thank you. Do you happen to know offhand if the bulletproof bar’s palm oil is sustainably acquired? We steer away from palm oil because of the many environmental impacts it has on the earth and it’s beautiful creatures. I want to order a box if it’s sustainable!

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jenny sansouci May 5, 2015 at 2:43 pm

Hey Stephanie! On the site, it says “The manufacturer of UpgradedTM XCT Oil is a member of the RSPO (Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil).” I will look into what exactly that means.

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Natalie Van Dalen May 5, 2015 at 2:48 pm

I love Arbonne’s fruit nutrition bar with chunks of cherries and crispy quinoa. There is also a chocolate bar. They are certified vegan and formulated without gluten, artificial sweeteners, soy and dairy (including whey). Made with 9g of pea and rice protein.

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jenny sansouci May 5, 2015 at 2:58 pm

Hey Natalie! Thanks for sharing. I would probably steer clear of that bar as it’s mostly grains and sugar (some of the ingredients = brown rice syrup, brown rice protein, crisp rice (rice flour, sugar, salt, calcium carbonate), oats, glycerin, natural flavors, quinoa, etc). Doesn’t look like the worst thing ever, but there are definitely better ones out there, especially for people who want to avoid having too many grains.

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katie Johnson May 5, 2015 at 2:51 pm

I LOVE this post as I have missed protein bars as my easy snack. I look forward to trying the ones you’ve recommended.

Also, the Onnit Help protein is the best…I put it in my coffee so I won’t use sugar:-)

Hope you enjoyed your time in Austin!

KJ

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jenny sansouci May 5, 2015 at 2:55 pm

I am obsessed with Onnit! They have great stuff. Austin rules.

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Amelia May 5, 2015 at 3:07 pm

Hey Jenny! Thanks for the post, I’m always looking for higher quality bars that I can throw in my purse for a snack on the go! I swear by all your posts these days, I did a whole 30 because of you, tried bulletproof coffee because of you, and now I totally relate to you as a 3 year vegetarian in the past who has now gone mostly paleo! You are totally legit and have aided in some big changes for me for the better! Anyway, I’m wondering if you tried the “bearded brothers” bars while you were in Austin? They are a local Austin brand and the ingredients are pretty dang good! I hope you enjoyed Austin, I’m planning on moving there later this year! I love that city!

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jenny sansouci May 6, 2015 at 1:06 am

Hey Amelia! Loved this comment – thank you. So glad to hear you’re feeling good and experimenting!! That’s really the only way to know what really works for your body and your health. Yessss I forgot about the Bearded Brothers bars. They have those at Hu Kitchen in NYC! I should add those to the list. Austin is great. :) Can’t wait to go back! Thanks for reading. :)

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Mark Jenkins May 5, 2015 at 5:28 pm

Good writeup. I just made a Bulletproof order this week and completely forgot about the bars! I also made an Onnit order this week. Have you tried their Warrior bar? Very good. I also really love the EPIC bars (grass fed beef/ habanero my favorite).
I’m constantly trying different ones. Unfortunately I find most of them too sweet. I’m a huge Onnit fan (as you) and even the Hemp Force is too sweet for me (though I love what is in it). I mix that with the Bulletproof Whey.
I’ve been wanting to try the EXO bar. Haven’t found them out here on the East Coast so might have to order that online as well.

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jenny sansouci May 6, 2015 at 1:09 am

Thanks for reading, Mark! Nice to meet a fellow Bulletproof and Onnit fan :) Both great companies that are doing a lot of work to make sure they use high quality ingredients to fuel high performing humans!! I haven’t tried the Onnit Warrior bar but I will make a point to do so. You might find the EXO bar a bit sweet as well, but I think it’s worth a try just because of the cricket factor. :)

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marina May 5, 2015 at 6:36 pm

Hey anyone heard of anyone being protein deficient? Nope. One would actually have to put some thought and effort into NOT getting enough protein. The stuff is pretty tough on the kidneys. And, in this day and age of overpopulation, water shortages and all of those other things that we know come with overpopulation, Paleo and sustainable are almost an oxymoron. EVEN if you ate/bought ethically raised meat, the amount of water it takes to produce a kilo of meat is ridiculous and is downright irresponsible. Not to mention the space it takes to raise animals vs the space it takes to grow plants and how many people it can efficiently feed. I am not questioning our ancestral diet here (though it’s pretty clear humans are omnivores) I am asking people to think about right here right now. Can’t eat animals and not say you ask for planetary disaster. Think about it people. Think about it.

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Joel May 6, 2015 at 1:01 am

Hi Marina,

You might like this insightful article by Bill. He’s done a few big things in the world.

http://www.gatesnotes.com/Books/Should-We-Eat-Meat

It’s a good question people should be asking, but the answer is more complicated than you let on.

The whole article is worth reading, but I wanted to point out a few gems:

1) Nearly 90 percent of the water needed for livestock production is what’s called green water, used to grow grass and such. In most places, all but a tiny fraction of green water comes from rain, and because most green water eventually evaporates back into the atmosphere, it’s not really consumed.

2) One study that excluded green water found that it takes just 44 liters—not thousands—to produce a kilo of beef. This is the kind of thing Smil excels at: using facts and analysis to examine widely held beliefs.

Again great question to ask, but a far too simplistic of a solution to be helpful or actionable in a global world that sees meat consumption rising globally (not just here in the U.S.)

I’d suggest you read the article, take another look at the issue and think about it.

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jenny sansouci May 6, 2015 at 1:15 am

Thank you for adding in your point of view, Marina — and thanks for the comment, Joel. The article you refer to makes some really interesting points. You’re right it’s a complicated issue. After being a vegan for a long time I definitely am no stranger to the issues that come along with conventional factory farming. I think we have to do our best with the foods that work for our individual bodies. I work with so many people who, after being sick as vegans (fatigue, loss of period, skin problems, digestive issues, trouble losing weight, etc), feel much better when they introduce high quality animal protein into their diets, even if it’s just bone broth. On the other hand some people do feel better as vegans. I think there’s a way to eat animal products in a healthy and sustainable way – if I didn’t believe that, I would never be including animal products on my blog. Everyone needs to do what feels best to them, and I also do believe we have a responsibility to do our best when it comes to supporting ethical practices. Definitely not a black and white topic. Thanks for all the insightful comments!

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Deb Petersen May 6, 2015 at 10:36 am

What about Perfect Bar? They have to be refrigerated but seem to be pretty clean and full of protein at least the Almond and Peanut are. Please check them out.

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jenny sansouci May 6, 2015 at 6:19 pm

Hey Deb – the ingredients aren’t that bad, but they are a bit high in sugar (some being 20g of sugar in one bar), and a couple ingredients like rice and nonfat milk powder that I wouldn’t typically choose. But not the worst. :)

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Lisa May 6, 2015 at 10:50 am

Hi Jenny,
Thank you for this article. Very Informative. Could you possibly give more information about the total number of calories in these bars (or a few examples). I’m currently on a calorie restricted diet, but am doing muscle training with the goal of weight / fat loss. I would like to increase my protein intake, but counting calories means that I have to be careful about what I eat. I’m seeing results and am happy with my lifestyle changes – Would just like to have a few ideas about how I can add protein on the go sometimes without going over my calorie allotments.
Thanks for your time, Lisa

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jenny sansouci May 6, 2015 at 6:14 pm

Hi Lisa – Bulletproof bar: 216 calories. Rx Bar: 200 calories. Epic Bar: 130 calories. EXO bar: 260 calories. I hope that helps!

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dominique arroyo May 6, 2015 at 4:38 pm

What do you think of the Paleo protein bar brand?

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jenny sansouci May 6, 2015 at 6:12 pm

Hi Dominique! The ingredients look pretty good! I can’t believe they have a “glazed donut” flavor. I might have to try. :)

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Nicki June 13, 2015 at 11:09 pm

What do you think about gomacro bars? How do they compare to the bars on your list?

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Michelle July 29, 2015 at 5:13 am

Hi,

Love that I came across this post as I travel ever week for work and have been looking for a healthy alternative to my Cliff bars for on the go. Have you heard of the Whole Earth and Sea Protein Bars? They are certified organic and plant based. How do they compare to thrones you’ve recommended here? Appreciate your insight!!

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Tammi October 15, 2015 at 10:01 am

I love Epic bars but I can’t wait to try the other three. What are your thoughts on Go Macro bars? I particularly love Chocolate Peanut Butter protein and the Cashew Butter (sweet rejuvenation)

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