How to Choose Healthy Energy and Protein Bars

Energy bars can be a great source of fuel for the body, but, like anything, there are good and bad bars. Here's what to look for

Credit: Flickr / Tyler Finck

While protein and energy bars can be healthy snacks or meal alternatives, not all bars are created equal

In the past decade, sales of energy or protein bars have seen incredible growth.

The compact snacks often promise to help fight fatigue, fuel muscle growth, help you lose weight, or add missing nutrients back into your diet.

But during a long hike, after a workout, or as a quick “energy-on-the-go” snack, you wouldn’t reach for a chocolate bar, right?

Unfortunately, many energy bars pack a similar amount of fat and sugar. And the reason you skipped the candy aisle and picked up a protein bar is that you were trying to make a nutritious choice.

So let us help you sort through the hype and find the healthiest options.

Credit: Flickr / ario_

Look for “Real” Ingredients

Like many packaged foods, some energy bars contain more “real” food than others. If the ingredients list reads like a chemistry experiment – hydrolyzed collagen, gelatin, high fructose corn syrup, partially hydrogenated oils, artificial colours, flavours, preservatives, and sweeteners – give it a pass. Look for nuts, seeds, whole grains, and fruit.

One choice? The Larabar Cherry Pie bar, with 190 calories, eight grams of fat, four grams of protein, and 21 grams of sugar. It’s made from three ingredients: dates, almonds, and cherries.

Credit: Balance Bar

Find Balance

Check the label and aim for 200 or so calories, less than 15 g of sugar, less than 6 grams of fat and at least three grams of both fiber and protein per bar.

The Balance Bar Caramel Nut is very balanced, with 210 calories, seven grams of fat, 14 grams of protein, one gram of fiber, and 14 grams of sugar.

Credit: Nature’s Path

Energy vs. Calories

Energy bars don’t “boost” energy and make you feel more energetic the way most people imagine. What they offer are calories. Unless you really want the convenience, or are in the midst of a grueling workout, just about any simple granola bar will do the same thing.

Nature’s Path Organic Apple Pie Chia Seed Plus is a more affordable bar, with 190 calories, eight grams of fat, three grams of fiber, eight grams of sugar, and three grams of protein.

Credit: Hershey

Watch for Sugar

Many bars contain a hefty dose of sugar, making them nothing more than protein-containing candy in disguise. Keep in mind that the American Heart Association says women should not eat or drink more than 20 grams of sugar a day, and men no more than 36 grams.

Also keep an eye out for other questionable sweeteners: high fructose corn syrup is said to cause a quick rise in blood sugar, which can cancel out the benefits from healthy ingredients like oats.

Hershey’s with Almonds is just as ‘healthy’ as many energy bars, with 210 calories, 14 grams of fat, two grams of fiber, four grams of protein and 19 grams of sugar.

Credit: Power Bar

Protein or Bust

The combination of protein and fiber is what fills you up and provides ongoing energy. But not all protein is created equal.

Some bars contain pig’s feet or cattle hide (no you won’t see that in the ingredients list) hidden behind names like gelatin, hydrolyzed collagen, or hydrolyzed gelatin. Look for nuts and seeds, whey or casein protein (from milk), or soy.

Power Bar Protein Plus Cookies and Cream meets the needs of those looking for extra protein with 210 calories, five grams of fat, four grams of fiber, 20 grams of protein, and 13 grams of sugar.