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What To Look For In A Protein Bar

Last week I was asked in one of my Facebook groups, what I thought of Quest bars, and I thought it was such a great question, that I wanted to elaborate more on it in my blog.

So I’ll get into what I think of Quest bars and break them down a bit, and what to look for when choosing the ideal/healthiest protein bar for you!

I want to start of by saying that I always advocate attempting to get most of your food from whole food sources when possible.

I’m sure you have heard this before, but I just wouldn’t be me if didn’t throw that out there, so yeah.

But when it comes to protein bars, my number one recommendation is to make your own. I never real did this until recently because I thought it was too much work, but seriously it’s super easy! Plus it’s the cheapest way to get quality nutrition that you can feel confident about, not to mention customize to your liking, so I think that is a win win if you have the time.

However, I am very aware that eating whole foods/making your own protein bars may not always be that feasible for you (although I do believe that setting aside one day to meal prep can help tremendously in this area if you want it bad enough), so I will give you some tips on how to make choosing the healthiest pre-made bars a bit easier.

I’ll also include a few recipes for homemade protein bars jusssssst in case you want to give it a try, along with my personal favorite pre-made brands, yes yes.

But, assuming you are not going to be making your own, let’s get into my top five tips to consider when choosing a healthy protein bar.

 

5 Tips To Consider When Choosing A Healthy Protein Bar

 

1. Decide What Your Max Budget Is Going To Be Per Bar.

This is number one because the higher quality bars tend to be on the pricier side, especially depending on your access to them, so knowing this going into it will narrow your options down quickly.

Then I suggest checking out what your local grocery stores have to offer first, and if you find a bar of interest compare prices to online sources to get the best deal.

However, depending on where you live, you may have to resort to ordering bars from online sources to get a higher quality option than your local stores can offer anyway, but it’s always good to know what you can stop and grab if you need something quick.

 

2. Determine What Your Nutritional Priorities Are With The Bar.

For example, if you are going to have your bars primarily as a post workout snack you will want to make sure your bar isn’t low carb and has higher amounts of protein (mostly whey protein unless vegetarian).

Where as if you are strictly monitoring your carb intake to lean down and/or just want a mid day snack to hold you over until your next meal, then you don’t necessarily need a ton of carbs, the protein source can be varied, and you may want a higher amount of healthy fat.

 

3. Choose A Bar With Protein Between 10- 25 g, With A Complete Protein Source (eggs, milk, whey, quinoa.)

Most women don’t even come close to hitting their recommended/ideal amount of protein intake on a consistent basis.

Therefore, in most cases the more protein a bar has the better. So choose an option with at least 10 g and no more then 25 g.

Having at least 10 g will help fill you up, reduce sugar cravings, keep hormones balanced and increase overall daily protein intake.

Having more then 25 g in one bar is not always the best option for everyone depending on your body and what it will actually use. So usually somewhere around 13-19 is golden for the average person.

You want to opt for complete protein sources to help ensure that you are supplying your body with a complete amino acid profile including those that we can only get from food, so your body can function optimally.

For more details on the benefits of protein and how it functions in the body, check out my blog.

 

4. Look For As Many Whole Food Ingredients As Possible With The Least Amount Of Added /Artificial Sugar, Preservatives and Artificial Flavors.

This is pretty self explanatory, but be sure to read every ingredient closely.

Natural sugars are not a bad thing, but you should take the amount into account when looking at your total daily intake.

This tip also applies to “natural flavors,” which can include 50-100 ingredients, including solvents and preservatives. Natural flavors may not always be bad, but it’s hard to know exactly when they are. You don’t need to swear off products containing natural flavors because they are pretty common, but just be aware that there may be some unknown and unhealthy additions when that is stated.

When in doubt look up ingredients you are not familiar with. The higher up they are on the ingredients list, the higher the amounts of them in the product.

 

5. Opt For A Certified Organic, Non-gmo And Gluten Free Option When Possible.

I say this because most certified organic options will ensure that there are no artificial preservatives, flavors or pesticides used on any of the ingredients. Again reading the label closely to see what percentage of ingredients are organic and possibly researching the companies certification standards can be beneficial (if you want to get crazy with it).

Also, not everyone reacts terribly to gluten, however, it is my personal choice and recommendation to opt for gluten free products as much as possible, to reduce even the tiniest amount of intestinal permeability or various adverse reactions that can occur with gluten intake.

I’m not a gluten free or die kind of person, but when trying to select the healthiest choices, it’s worth mentioning.

Again do what you feel is best for you and your body.

 

EXTRA TIP: Make Sure You Enjoy What You’re Eating!

I just had to say this because I didn’t always do this myself.

I often ate whatever as long as it was healthy, regardless if I actually liked it or not.

However, now I truly believe that there is no reason to eat a bar (or anything for that matter) that doesn’t taste good to you. It doesn’t have to be knock your socks off amazing, but it also shouldn’t be gross or unappealing.

There are so many healthy options out there now, not to mention you can make your own if money is an issue, that there is just no reason not to enjoy your protein bar, unless you are in a bind or just plain lazy, let’s be honest.

I personally feel that when we make choices to fuel our bodies with nutritious foods that it should be an enjoyable experience to help reinforce a healthy habit that supports a sustainable lifestyle of healthy living. That’s less likely to occur if you can’t stand your protein bar/food selections.

With that being said let’s talk about Quest bars.

 

My Quest Bar Breakdown

I personally do not like the taste or texture of Quest bars and find that I much rather prefer to eat something else.

But aside from the taste factor, they are cost effective, easily accessible, and a healthier option compared to most store brands but not every bar has the exact same ingredients.

Therefore, if you have a favorite flavor I suggest taking a look at those particular ingredients and breaking them down to really know what you are consuming and how much.

But I’ll mention a few things here.

CARBS:

I want to note that the carb content stated on the Quest bar labels is “net carbs.” That means they subtracted the fiber content (which can be pretty high in some flavors) and any sugar alcohols in the bar and put that as the amount of “net carbs.” So you are actually getting a higher percentage of total carbs then you may think. So depending on what your goals are and how strict you are with your cab intake, this can be something to consider.

SUGAR

Sucralose and steviol glycosides seem to be the most common sugar ingredients added. Sucralose is an artificial sweetener used in Splenda, while steviol glycosides are a natural sweetener derived from the stevia plant. Not all of the flavors contain sucralose so again look at the label, and if they occur towards the bottom of the ingredients list, the amounts are minimal.

PROTEIN

The amount of protein is on the higher end which is a positive with these bars. Also, the source is a Whey and milk protein blend making it a complete protein. However, the source of the protein is not grass fed or assured to be hormone and antibiotic free. But bars that have this quality are going to be pricier.

FAT, FIBER & INGREDIENT QUALITY:

The ingredients are not certified organic or non- gmo, and the sources of the ingredients are unknown to me.

Again this is not the biggest deal, but one of the main ingredients used is soluble corn fiber, and corn is one of the highest gmo foods. Also, palm oil is used in many flavors, which is mainly a saturated fat and often not sustainably or ethically farmed.

In addition, these bars contain higher amounts of natural flavors, depending on the flavor.  Again, this isn’t always the biggest deal but considering it along with the other factors is worth mentioning.

So ultimately it depends on what is most important to you and the particular flavor of choice.

For me I am willing to spend more to have what I consider to be a high quality bar, but I also don’t resort to eating bars that often.

But I want to share some of my favorite choices for when I do.

 

My 5 Favorite Protein Bars:

  1. Core Meal with Whey  This is by far my favorite and the highest quality bar I have tried. They taste amazing, are organic, gluten free, use raw sustainably farmed ingredients, are 100 percent whole food based and have 17-19 g of grass fed Whey protein. However, they are on the pricey end and need to be kept cold.
  2. Oatmega These come in a ton of different flavors, have 14 g of protein, use grass fed whey, are gluten free, have Omega-3’s from fish sources, and are pretty affordable.
  3. Perfect Bar These guys are yummy if you’re looking for a higher fat percentage. They have up to 17 g of complete protein, organic and non- gmo ingredients, honey and dates as sweeteners, super foods added in, a variety of flavors (my favs are coconut peanut butter and maple almond) and they are pretty widely available (Costco, Target).
  4. Rx Bar They greatest thing about these is that are pretty affordable for a whole food based bar. They aren’t organic, have natural flavors in some and only 9 g of fat, but they are gluten free and provide 12 g of protein from egg whites.

Now if you want to go all the way and make your own here are two great recipes:

 

Homemade Protein Bar Recipes:

 

1. Caravaggio Bars

The Caravaggio Bar

Serves: 20

INGREDIENTS:

3 cups cranberry trail mix
3 cups mixed nuts
1 cup large flake oats
10 scoops (20g protein/scoop) vanilla protein powder
2 tbsp black strap molasses
2 tbsp honey

DIRECTIONS:

  • Chop the cranberry mix and mixed nuts in a food processor. Mix with large flake oats and protein powder in a large bowl (as big as you can find, otherwise you may have to do this in two batches).Add just enough water to wet all the protein powder so that it doesn’t have a chalky consistency. Next, add 1 tbsp molasses, spread over whole batch, and mix thoroughly. After that, add 1 tbsp honey and do the same. Repeat with 1 more tablespoon of each sweetener. If the mix is too dry, add a little water; if too wet, add a little protein.Lay plastic wrap across the bottom of two 9 x 9 or similar baking dishes, leaving enough wrap on each side to wrap around the mixture and cover the top. Spoon the mix into the baking dishes on top of the wrap, and pack it in with the spoon. Cover the mix with the extra wrap, then flatten the mix with your hands. Refrigerate. No baking required.Cut into 20 bars, 10 in each baking dish. And enjoy.

    NOTES:

    Keep the mix in the fridge and covered or else it will dry out.

    These bars are wicked good so make sure not to overeat them. Even though the ingredients are healthy, 2 or 3 small squares will net you 600-900 calories. And that’s alot for a little snack.

    Nutrient Profile:

    1 bar = 312 calories
    16.5 Protein
    26.5g Carbohydrate
    15.5g Fat

    Recipe credit: Precision Nutrition

2. Almond Butter Banana Protein Bars Recipe

Almond Butter Banana Protein Bars

Serves: 9

INGREDIENTS:

  • 1 cup gluten-free oats
  • 1 cup bone broth protein powder (sub whey protein or other complete variety)
  • 1 cup sprouted almond butter
  • ¼ cup honey
  • 2 mashed ripe bananas
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

DIRECTIONS:

  1. Preheat oven to 350 F.
  2. Grease 8 x 8 pan with coconut oil or line with parchment paper and set aside.
  3. In a small bowl, add in oats and protein powder and stir.
  4. In a large mixing bowl, add in almond butter, honey, bananas, eggs and vanilla extract.
  5. Mix almond butter mixture until well combined.
  6. Pour in oat mixture and stir again.
  7. Spread batter into pan and bake about 30 minutes or until firm.
  8. Let bars cool before cutting and serve.

Recipe credit: Dr. Axe

 

 

Like everything else, you have to choose a bar that makes the most sense for you, while trying to get the most quality/nutritious ingredients possible. This is going to vary from person to person depending on your allergies, caloric needs, schedule, lifestyle, etc.

So never feel like there is only one correct way to anything when it comes to nutrition, health and fitness.

The correct way/path is going to be whatever continues to move you forward to a healthier version of yourself.

This is an ever changing and ongoing process that requires you to be in tune with your own body and adapt accordingly to your lifestyle and circumstances.

Don’t stress out trying to be perfect, just commit to showing up and making healthier choices one step at a time.

I’m just here to help you along that path to better understand how to find the best options for you to get you to where you want to be.

So hopefully this can bring you one step closer.

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