The 5 best and worst nutrition bars
While nutrition bars can be part of a healthy need-protein-now lifestyle, there's good reason they're not stocked next to the kale and broccoli. Most are hiding tons of added sugar, carbohydrates, and calories—not to mention additives that cause digestive distress.
Well+Good broke out the reading glasses for a closer investigation into which bars are best—and which to stay away from. To help us read the labels, we tapped brainiac Ariane Hundt, founder of Brooklyn Bridge Boot Camp, who has a master's degree in nutrition.
After evaluating more than 30 brands, here are our findings for the five best and five worst nutrition bars on the market—and a bonus selection of organic and raw bars that look way healthier than they are. —Jenna Holt; research by Elisabeth LaRosa
1. Kind Blueberry Pecan + Fiber
This is a no-nonsense, 10-ingredient bar made with simple, whole foods like almonds, blueberries, honey, and brown rice. Although it's a little low in protein (just 3 grams), Kind bars are a clean and quick on-the-go bit of fuel. Though the grams of sugar can creep up in some of the other fruit-and-nut varieties, this one has just 12 grams, which is on the low side for nutrition bars.
In a pinch for protein? Ariane Hundt’s absolute favorite is this brand-new bar that manages to pack 17g of fiber and 20g of protein into only 170 calories. Quality ingredients like almonds, coconut, sea salt, and whey protein isolate are both satisfying in taste and in nutrition requirements, she says.
3. Larabar Uber Roasted Nut Roll
We love that these sweet and salty bars contain a mere 14g of carbohydrates, which is just enough to keep you going without weighing you down. And with only 7g of naturally derived sugar, there’s no head rush after every bite. The nuts definitely keep this bar in check. (We can't quite say that about many of the fruit-based bars in the Larabar line.)
4. Zing Almond Blueberry
This is a great gluten-free, soy-free, and wheat-free bar with all organic ingredients. Hundt likes that Zing contains whey protein isolate, a staple ingredient for post-workout success. "Easily digestible and absorbed quickly into your system, whey protein powder is excellent for immediate muscle rebuilding and restoration," says Hundt. Plus, the whey helps to boost the amount of protein in this bar to 11 grams.
5. Health Warrior Peanut Butter and Chocolate Chia
Four years after Dr. Oz praised the power of chia seeds as a source of fiber, protein, and omega-3 essential fatty acids, they’re still going strong. We love that they're finally being added to nutrition bars. Even with decadent-sounding organic peanut butter and cocoa powder, this vegan bar by chia brand Health Warrior is high in nutrients and low in sugar (4 grams) and calories (just 100 per bar).
1. Luna LemonZest
Just because it’s advertised as a “woman’s bar” doesn’t mean it should have a place in your purse. These bars are filled with difficult-to-absorb minerals and vitamins (like Vitamin D2) that will slow your body down instead of giving you that desired burst of energy, says Hundt. We're also nervous about the amount of soy and the presence of vegetable glycerin in it, too.
2. Clif Bar Coconut Chocolate Chip
Heading to yoga, barre, or spin class? This snack is not for you. Clif Bars are intended for endurance athletes who need 42g of carbohydrates and 22g of sugar to power through a four-hour hike or climb up the Andes Mountains, not an hour-long workout. The first ingredient on the label is brown rice syrup (not helpful if fat-burning is your goal), and the company uses soy protein isolate as the main source of protein, which is known for causing digestive stress, inflammation, and thyroid problems.
3. Pro Bar Superfood Slam
Don't let the word "superfood" lure you in. This bar has an appealing ingredient list, but the combined result is low on protein and fiber for its high number of calories (350) and carbs (46g). The label tells you straight up that this is a meal replacement, not a snack. But for virtually the same amount of calories, Hundt points out, you could have any one of these 400-calorie breakfasts made with whole foods, which would keep you satisfied three times longer.
Five Worst Nutrition Bars
4. Balance Bars S’mores
Balanced carbs, protein, and fat: yes! Balanced ingredients? Not so much. Balance Bars source their protein from soy, leaving you bloated and gassy. They also use a handful of unnecessary oils, sugars, and an artificial flavor-enhancer calcium caseinate, known to cause migraines and cognitive issues.
Five Worst Nutrition Bars
5. Amazing Grass: Green Superfood Berry Whole Foods Energy Bar
This bar is a Code Red sugar overdose (26 grams). Fructose, found here in high quantity in dates and dried cranberries, is one of the leading contributors to our nation’s obesity epidemic, and an arch-nemesis of Hundt's. “Fruit sugar makes you fat faster than regular sugar because it overloads the liver,” says Hundt. "Since it can only be metabolized by the liver, one third of fructose calories are automatically stored as fat." Not to mention that fructose leads to overindulgence because it doesn’t signal the brain that the stomach is full. All this kind of defeats the point of buying it for the wheatgrass and broccoli extracts.
Yes, the labels are loaded with organic and often carefully sourced ingredients that have been minimally processed, but that doesn't mean they're a heath food.
1. Garden of Life Organic Fruits of Life Summer Berry Bar. If you really want to waste 250 calories on a snack, reach for a Snickers bar, because they contain the same 29g of sugar per serving. These bars will leave you tired and hungry due to an insulin spike from the sugar and 46g of carbs.
2. Blueprint Cashew Date. If we were solely judging bars based on their ingredients, these raw, gluten-free bars would be an all-star. However, we also spy 30g of carbohydrates and 22g of sugar on the nutrition label. Not to mention there’s a hefty price tag of $4 per bar, notes Hundt. Stick to the company's cleanses and juices and leave this new product in the dust.
3. Organic Food Bar Active Greens Chocolate. Organic ingredients or not, this bar still racks up a whopping 26g of sugar and 15g of fat—more than the average person needs in a regular meal! It'd be a lot healthier to steam some broccoli rather than get your greens this way.