There was a time that I quite literally LIVED on convenience food (bring on the coffee, the Cheez-its, the Ramen, the fruit snacks and the protein bars). Convenience food was my JAM when I was in graduate school and I’m not sure I would have actually survived without it, as we were in class and rehearsal from 9am-11pm with 20 minute breaks that we used to run to the other side of campus. Ahhh acting school! Convenience food saved me in a sense but my energy levels were shot from eating all the processed food. My skin was a mess and my weight was all over the place. I’ve come a LONG way from that place (if my old self could only see what I’m doing now), and now work with my clients to focus on crowding health, fresh, whole food into their diets and their lives so they can lose weight naturally and sustainably without guilt and deprivation).
So, when they ask me which snack or protein bars are the healthiest, I always have mixed emotions.
I understand how KEY convenience can be. The slow food movement is a beautiful thing, but there are a lot of movers and shakers that also value their time, and I would rather they EAT slowly than cook slowly. That being said, I encourage my clients to prepare and eat whole, fresh snacks whenever possible (Greek yogurt with berries, raw nuts and fruit, sliced turkey and avocado, veggies and hummus) but also leave some space open for protein and snack bars when needed. They can be SUPER helpful after an intense workout or as a non-perishable emergency snack to keep in your purse or brief case to stave off hunger. In essence, they can prevent the over-eating that comes when you are over-hungry. A lot of times, however, I find people are eating protein bars that they assume are healthy when there health quotient is closer to a Snickers Bar.
So, what should you look for when picking a protein or snack bar?
- Around 180-250 calories for a snack. If it is more than that (300-380), we are leaning toward a meal replacement bar (only in emergency situations is this a go–focus on whole food whenever possible).
- Shoot for 10-20 grams protein for sustained energy.
- Contains fat AND fiber. This will help with satiation and keeping you fuller longer.
- Very low in sugar (stay under 12 grams for sure; 5 is ideal). Why? Because we want to keep added sugar under 25 grams of added sugar a day to keep blood sugar stabilized and some bars contain as much sugar as our daily allowance, making them closer to candy bars. Why not just have the candy bar?
- Steer clear of soy protein isolate (this can be hard on the stomach) and if you are lactose intolerant or dairy sensitive, stay away from Whey protein.
- The less the ingredients, the better. If we can get under 7 or 8, I’m a happy camper!
- Make sure you can pronounce all the ingredients (and you know what they are).
With this in mind, which bars do I recommend?
1) KIND Bars (Nut & Spice Variety)
These are rather amazing (you will see I have mentioned them in two other blog posts). They are quite literally nut and spices, with a teensy amount of sugar (under 5 grams). Be careful to choose the Nut & Spice variety because the other varieties containing dried fruit contain quite a bit of sugar (up to 17 grams). The Nut & Spice variety comes in Cashew & Ginger Spice, Dark Chocolate Sea Salt (to die for), Madagascar Vanilla, Cinnamon Dark Chocolate and they keep coming out with more, because they seem to be a big hit. The Dark Chocolate Sea Salt contains around 200 calories, five ingredients (all of which I can pronounce and understand), 15 grams of fat (don’t be scared of fat), 7 grams of fiber (woohoo!) and 6 grams of protein. Yes, the protein could be higher for sure but the 15 grams of fat will help with satiation and fullness. This is perfect for a TREAT because it tastes like a candy bar and perfect as a tool to stave off hunger at 4pm before dinner.
2) ThinkThin Bars
My clients rave about this bunch. They come in a protein variety (good post workout or for a snack) because they contain around 20 grams of protein. There is also a “crunch” variety of the ThinkThin bars. The peanut butter protein bar is delicious for a post-workout and the white chocolate crunch is also amazing for a treat or a snack. The one down side is that ThinkThin bars while low in sugar contain sugar alcohols (malitol, xylitol, etc).Think of these sugar alcohols as a more natural alternative to artificial sweeteners like sucralose, saccharin and aspartame (know neuro-toxins that are also linked to obesity). Some people are sensitive to sugar alcohols, however, and it can cause some stomach crapping or gastrointestinal problems after eating. This is pretty rare in my experience, but you want to be careful.
3) The Simply Protein (Whey) Bar
This bar comes in a variety of flavors; Chocolate Mint, Apple Cinnamon and Coconut. Be careful of The Simply Bar and The Simply Protein Bar because they do contain soy protein isolate (which again, can cause gastrointestinal distress for some people) and if you aren’t dairy sensitive, choose the “Whey” variety. They do have a fair amount of ingredients (10-13) but I liked that I could pronounce all of them and knew what they were. They contain no artificial sweeteners and they are still low in sugar (only 4 grams), contain fiber and have 15 grams of protein.
4) The Rise Protein Bar
Rise has a number of types of bars (including breakfast bars), but I specifically recommend their Protein bars; the Lemon Cashew, the Sunflower Cinnamon, and Almond Honey. These bars are made with pea protein, and contain 15 grams of protein. They do contain more sugar than I would like (around 12-13 grams) but it is from gentle sweeteners (like honey or coconut nectar) instead of sucrose, HFCS or cane sugar. They contain around as much fat as protein (around 16 grams). This would be a great choice for someone who is leaning toward a diet low in grains, that is higher in fruits, veggies, nuts, meats and healthy fats. They get most of the healthy fats in these from sunflower seed butter or nuts, and the bars don’t contain any dairy. Around 250-260 calories, these bars are a substantial high-energy snack (great for post-workout).
5) The Square Bar
The Square Bar is completely organic and come in three varieties; Cocoa Crunch, Cocoa Almond and Cocoa Coconut. They range from 200-220 calories, contain around 12 grams of sugar, and around 12 grams of protein. The ingredients (around 10) are mostly whole food, and the Cocoa Coconut contains coconut oil, which is great for boosting metabolism. They contain around 10 grams of fat. I love that they are mostly whole foods, relatively low in sugar and organic.
Again, these bars aren’t something to graze on or nosh on, they are high-energy snacks that can be super helpful to have around for when you hit a slump and need enough energy to get you to lunch or dinner. They can be awesome pre or post workout, so you can either kick-ass or give your muscles some protein afterwards.
You can order most of these on Amazon in bulk, so you aren’t paying an arm and a leg buying them at a bodega or grocery store. That way, they are totally around when you need them to curb your hunger.
If you would rather check them out and order them from the site, that is also easy as pie.
- KIND Bars – www.kindsnacks.com
- ThinkThin Bars – thinkproducts.com
- The Simply Protein Whey Bar – www.thesimplybar.com
- The Rise Protein Bar – www.risebar.com
- The Square Bar – www.squarebar.com
Choose whole foods first! But if you need to go for the bars, these are the way to go! Post your favorite all natural protein bars below!!
Rock On & Be Well,