5 Protein Bars That Are Healthy and Taste Good
By Kate Dwyer. Photos by Alex Lau.
Let's talk about protein bars. They're packed with, uh, protein, but often, the ones that actually taste good also have a not-so-healthy amount of sugar or are full of fake sweeteners and other questionable ingredients. If the protein is padded with all that crap, aren't we doing more harm than good?
“When looking at the label, consumers should be considering fiber, protein, fat, sugar and net carbs—the amount of total carbohydrates minus the amount of fiber,” says Tanya Zuckerbrot, a nutritionist in NYC. She suggests aiming for 15-20 grams protein, over 10 grams of fiber, fewer than five grams of fat, fewer than 10 grams of net carbs, and fewer than five grams of sugar. “That combination keeps you feeling full longer and sustains your energy level, because fiber and protein are the two nutrients that take the longest to digest,” she says.
A few ingredients to steer clear of: artificial colors, aspartame, high fructose corn syrup, palm kernel oil, and soy protein isolate. Soy is the worst type of protein because it's high in isoflavones—plant-based compounds that can mess with our estrogen levels. Unfortunately, it's a common protein source in bars because it’s cheap and highly-processed.
Once you find a protein bar that fits the bill, how do you know it won't taste like sawdust? (Answer: You don't.) Here at Healthyish, we went in search of bars with alternative protein sources, from the common (whey) to the... unconventional (watermelon seeds?). We had to run two taste tests and try over 20 kinds before we found five we'd actually want to eat.
Overall, bars with nut butter and whole nuts won us over: The crunch and flavor masked the chalkiness of the protein source. Here's who came out on top of the protein pile.
Our Pick: Oatmega Brownie Crisp (190 cal, 7g fat, 14g protein, 14g net carb)
Good for you: According to Zuckerbrot, whey protein powder is an inexpensive source of a “complete” protein, meaning it contains all nine essential amino acids. “It's the most bioavailable form of protein,” she says. That said, whey is not ideal for people who are lactose intolerant, as it comes from cow’s or goat’s milk.
Tasting notes: "It tastes like it's trying to be a candy bar," says visual editor Emily Eisen. "It has a certain melt-in-your-mouth quality to it," says senior food editor Chris Morocco.
Our Pick: Rx Bar Chocolate Sea Salt (210 cal, 9g fat, 12g protein, 18g net carb)
Good for you: “A cooked egg has a bioavailability of 94 percent, with egg whites coming in slightly lower,” Zuckerbrot says. Like whey, egg white protein is a complete protein. "This is a great alternative for people looking to go dairy-free,” she says.
Tasting notes: "This tastes like actual food," Healthyish editor Amanda Shapiro says.
Our Pick: Exo Peanut Butter & Jelly (270 cal, 14g fat, 10g protein, 23g net carb)
Good for you: “Crickets are a great source of protein if you can get over the fact that you’re eating bugs,” Zuckerbrot says. “It's a great source of iron and vitamin B12, making it a better source than salmon or beef.” But it’s important to make sure the crickets are being farmed by a reputable source. An Exo spokesperson told us that the company sources its cricket protein from Entomo Farms in Canada, one of the world’s largest humane cricket farms.
Tasting notes: "It has that Larabar-like quality where you feel like you're eating dried fruit and nuts and not much else," says Morocco. "The texture is kind of like cookie-dough," Shapiro adds.
Our Pick: Primal Kitchen Coconut Cashew (220 cal, 14g fat, 15g protein, 6g net carb)
Good for you: If you've ever had a cup of bone broth, you've eaten collagen, which comes from the bones, skin, and scales of animals. "Collagen production [in humans] naturally declines with age, so adding it to diet is a good way to strengthen cartilage in joints, and connective tissue," Zuckerbrot says, adding that the amino acids in collagen "repair tissue, lessen inflammation, and provide relief from joint pain, similar to taking cortisone or ibuprofen.”
Tasting notes: "There's something more natural-tasting about this one," Shapiro says, while Morocco called it "taffy-like."
Our pick: Aloha Bar Peanut Butter & Jelly (240 cal, 12g fat, 14g protein, 18g net carb)
Good for you: “Pumpkin seeds are packed with protein, fiber and many other minerals, such as iron, copper, magnesium, manganese, phosphorous, zinc, potassium, folate, niacin and selenium,” according to the Mayo Clinic. They also contain healthy poly- and mono-unsaturated fats.
Tasting notes: "It's a little cinnamon-y. I like it," says contributing assistant editor Ali Francis.
This story originally appeared on Bon Appetit.
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