How to Select a Healthy Protein Bar

STACK Expert Kait Fortunato offers nutrition guidelines for selecting a protein bar together with a list of four of her favorites.

protein bars

As a registered dietitian, I'm an advocate for real, whole foods. (See Iron Chef Michael Symon: Eat Natural Foods for Improved Performance.) However, I do encourage my clients to carry around healthy protein bars. They are a convenient option when you need a quick meal or snack on the go. Protein bars are also an excellent backup on days when a real breakfast just isn't possible. I try to keep some in my kitchen at home, in my car, and at work so I always have something healthy on hand before it gets too late. Being prepared is one of the keys to sticking with a healthy eating plan. (See How to form healthy eating habits.)

The trouble with energy bars and protein bars is that a bunch of culprits are on the market, all advertised as healthy but really just full of sugar and sodium. Find a healthy protein bar by observing the following guidelines.

Fiber

Healthy protein bars provide a good serving of fiber to help with blood sugar stabilization and satiety. Your choice should have at least three grams of fiber per serving. This is a good sign that the bar has complex carbohydrates.

Sugar


On the other hand, you don't want the carbohydrates coming from excess sugar. A good rule of thumb is less than 10 grams of sugar per serving.

Sodium

Some protein bars are high in sugar (since they are a packaged, convenience item), but you also need to pay attention to sodium when making your selection. A low sodium food item has less than 300 mg per serving.

Fat


As I discussed in a previous article, athletes should not be concerned with the amount of fat, but rather the type of fat. Look for a bar with heart-healthy fats, less than three grams of saturated fat and zero grams of trans fats.

Protein

Be suspicious when picking up any product claiming to be a "protein bar." Just because it's labeled as such doesn't necessarily mean it has the amount of protein you're looking for. For a snack-sized bar, try to find one with at least six to eight grams of protein; and for a meal-sized bar, look for at least 10 to 12 grams of protein.

Best Healthy Protein Bars

Some of my favorite bars are:

Lara Bars (Peanut Butter Cookie)

  • 220 calories
  • 12g of fat
  • 70mg of sodium
  • 23g of carbs
  • 4g of fiber
  • 7g of protein

Kind Bars (Almond Walnut Macadamia with Peanuts + Protein)

  • 200 calories
  • 14g of fat
  • 13g of carbs
  • 3g of fiber
  • 10g of protein

Think Thin Bars (Brownie Crunch)

  • 230 calories
  • 8g of fat
  • 170mg of sodium
  • 24g of carbs
  • 2g of fiber
  • 20g of protein

NRG Bars (Lemony Lemon)

  • 170 calories
  • 2g of fat
  • 85mg of sodium
  • 34g of carbs
  • 4g of fiber
  • 4g of protein

Photo Credit: Getty Images // Thinkstock

Topics: PROTEIN | FIBER | SODIUM | CALORIES | FOODS | HEALTHY EATING | CARBOHYDRATES | PROTEIN BAR