I spent the afternoon with a client in DC and did a sampling of my favorite snack bars. It went so well and was so well received that I thought I’d put together a quick blog post to give you the details about what we tried and learn how to pick out an “upgraded” nutrition bar.
With our on-the-go lifestyles, it can be easy to prioritize convenience over quality, especially when it comes to eating. Instead of sitting down for a meal, many of us grab a snack, like a protein or granola bar. Unfortunately, many of the bars on the market these days are packed with some not-so-nourishing ingredients and as much sugar as a candy bar. Not only that, but the ingredient list contains dozens of ingredients that you’d never find in an at-home pantry.
Here’s the secret.
To maintain balanced energy and to satisfy hunger, you’ll want a bar that has a combination of protein, fiber and healthy fats and a lower sugar count. When we eat something containing fiber and protein, it helps to slowly release blood sugar, so we don’t deal with spikes and drops that trigger irritability and other not-so-pleasant physical and emotional symptoms.
The American Heart Association recommends no more than 6 teaspoons (24 grams) of added sugar per day for women and no more than 9 teaspoons (36 grams) of added sugar per day for men. That’s not much.
Here are a few tips to keep in mind when picking out a bar:
- Aim for single digit sugar content…or close to it. When you’re looking at a label, remember that 4 grams of sugar = 1 teaspoon of sugar. Fortunately, the next round of nutrition facts label will include information about added sugars.
- Opt for 5+ grams of fiber to keep you feeling full. I look for about 20% fiber on the nutrition facts panel.
- Go for at least as much protein as fiber. I look for protein to at least equal and (ideally) exceed sugar content.
- Look for an ingredients list that contains real food vs. “isolates” and unfamiliar words. I look for bars containing ingredients that, for the most part, I could make on my own.
- Try to eat actual meals as often as possible, and use these bars in a pinch!
Here’s a list of the bars we sampled (and a few extras!). I’ve indicated whether they are gluten-free (GF), dairy-free (DF), vegan (V), or soy-free (SF). I also listed how many grams of sugar / fiber / protein are found in one variety of each type of bar. One of my favorite things to do, which you’ll see below, is to share the story behind the bar, so we can connect more with our food, where it comes from and how it makes us feel.
GF, DF, V, SF
Why I Like Them: I’ve been a fan of Purely Elizabeth’s granola for years, so I was excited to find out that they now make paleo-friendly, grain-free granola bars. The bars have a crunchy and chewy texture and are made from a base of nuts and seeds including cashews, sunflower kernels, pumpkin seeds, almonds, chia seeds, and hemp seeds. They’re lightly sweetened with coconut sugar and powered by Reishi, an adaptogenic superfood and medicinal herb (AKA the “Mushroom of Immortality”). Each bar has 6-7 grams of sugar and 5-7 grams of protein.
Flavors: Peanut Butter (7g sugar / 7g protein), Chocolate Sea Salt, Coconut Cashew and Banana Nut Butter.
GF, DF, V, SF
Why I Like Them: I love the story behind this company. Amelia (the founder) and her family grew their own food and were entrepreneurs who made money selling the food products they created. When she was diagnosed with breast cancer, she modified her diet to be plant-based and created GoMacro bars.
When I first saw these Thrive at MOMs Organic Market I was excited. I love when new products are introduced that prioritize real food ingredients, nutrition, and flavor. I was at the Green Festival in DC last weekend and Go Macro was there sampling all of their bars. My favorite was the Ginger Lemon one. Now I just need to find who sells it near me!
Flavors: Ginger Lemon; Almond Apricot; Caramel Coconut; Blueberry Lavender; Chocolate, Nuts & Sea Salt; Chocolate Peanut Butter Chip.
Where to Find Them: MOMs Organic Market (some varieties), Whole Foods, GoMacro.com, Wegmans, The Fresh Market. You can fill out a request form on their website to request them at stores near you.
GF, DF, SF
Why I Like Them: When I first reviewed these bars about two years ago here, I was impressed by how much fiber and protein they contained and how short the ingredient list was. To this day, they are still my go to bar because of the purity of ingredients and how filling they are. EVER BARs are paleo-friendly, non-GMO, and locally made in Olney, Maryland! I could also identify all of the ingredients as “food,” which isn’t always the case with bars.
While most bars list whatever sweeteners they use as one of the first three ingredients (because those bars are more sugar than anything else), EVER BAR has sweeteners as their last few ingredients, and the primary ingredient in every bar is organic hemp seeds. They’re a little chewier and denser than most bars, but I don’t mind it because I know I’m getting high quality nourishment.
Flavors: Almond Cranberry (my fave), Cinnamon Ginger, Blueberry Cashew, and Green Power. The Cinnamon Ginger bar has 11g sugar / 6g fiber / 12 g protein. The other bars have a similar profile.
Where to Find Them: MOMs Organic Market, Wegmans, LivityFoods.com, Amazon, Dawson’s Market.
Health Warrior Pumpkin Seed Bars
GF, SF, DF
Why I Like Them: These were recommended by my friend Jen, and I’m so glad she told me about them because I didn’t even know they existed! The pepper one is REALLY peppery…but I’m a pepper lover, so I was okay with it. I definitely want to try the Cinnamon Spice one next. I’ve had the Health Warrior Chia Bars before but didn’t even know about this line of sweet and savory bars. They’re lower in sugar and have a good amount of protein but are a bit lower in fiber than I’d like.
Flavors: Cinnamon Spice, Honey Cracked Pepper & Turmeric, Dark Chocolate. The Cinnamon Spice bar has 7g sugar / 2g fiber / 8g protein.
GF, SF, DF
Why I Like Them: I was initially drawn to these bars because they were a new product at the grocery store where I shop. When I took a closer look, I was impressed by the protein (15g) and fiber (5g) content and pleasantly surprised by the low sugar content (only 3 grams!).
Monk fruit, a Chinese herb cultivated for centuries by Buddhist monks, is the primary sweetener. Much like stevia, it’s a natural zero calorie way to sweeten without the blood-sugar raising effects of sugar. It can have a bit of an aftertaste, so my favorite bar was the Macadamia Sea Salt one. The 15 grams of protein come from nuts and seeds and collagen from grass-fed cows. Here’s the scoop from their website:
The collagen protein used in Primal Kitchen Macadamia Sea Salt Bars is collagen hydrolysate from grass-fed cows, which is broken down into individual amino acids and easier to absorb and digest, so it’s a preferable alternative to taking collagen in, say, capsule form.
Flavors: Macadamia Sea Salt (3g sugar / 5g fiber / 15g protein), Cashew Coconut Bar, Dark Chocolate Almond, Chocolate Hazelnut. To be honest, I didn’t really love the chocolate flavors and prefer the Macadamia Sea Salt bar most.
GF, DF, SF
Why I Like Them: These are Bill’s favorite bars, so I had to highlight them. They’re paleo-friendly, high in protein and low in sugar but typically don’t contain fiber, so I like to pair them with some crunchy veggies. Think of them as an upgraded form of jerky made with responsibly-raised animals that were fed their natural diet. Inspired by the diets of our hunter gatherer ancestors, these bars combine high quality meat, wholesome vegetables, fruit, nuts and seeds. The chicken sriracha bar is our #1 pick!
EPIC foods begin with a living animal. We believe that all ruminants should consume diets they were biologically intended to eat and roam freely outdoors. As a result our beef, venison, wild boar, lamb, and bison are raised on open pasture just how nature intended. We continuously strive to convert ranchers to this pasture based livestock model, and through our products, create financial incentives to help change American agriculture.
Flavors: Beef, Apple & Uncured Bacon (2g sugar / 0g fiber / 11g protein); Turkey Almond Cranberry; Venison Sea Salt Pepper; Beef, Habanero & Cherry; Chicken Sesame & BBQ; Chicken Sriracha; Lamb, Currant & Mint; Wild Boar Bacon; Bison Bacon Cranberry; Smoked Maple Bacon; Smoked Salmon Maple.
Where to Find Them: They have over a dozen varieties, and you can find them at MOMs Organic Market, Wegmans, Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s and EpicBar.com.
Why I Like Them: They are low in sugar, and you find buy them anywhere – airports, gas stations, grocery stores, and beyond – and that’s why I recommend them. KIND has a few lines of their bars (Nuts & Spices, Sweet & Spicy) that are low in sugar (6 grams or less). They also contain a decent amount of fiber and protein to keep you feeling full and satisfied. When I spoke at the WELCOA conference last spring, I shared the story behind KIND bars, so if you’re not familiar with it, I’d encourage you to check out this article about the amazing story behind the bars.
Flavors: I opt for the lower sugar Nuts & Spices Line. My favorite flavors are Maple Glazed Pecan & Sea Salt (5g sugar / 5g fiber / 6g protein) and Cashew & Ginger Spice. Other flavors include Madagascar Vanilla Almond, Dark Chocolate Nuts & Sea Salt, Dark Chocolate Almond Mint, and Black Truffle Almond & Sea Salt.
I’m also a fan of their Sweet & Spicy savory bar line that includes flavors like Roasted Jalapeno (the crowd favorite at the tasting), which contains 6g sugar / 3g fiber / 10g protein. Other flavors in that line include Thai Sweet Chili, Chipotle Honey Mustard, and Sweet Cayenne BBQ.
Where to Find Them: Just about everywhere. From grocery stores to gas stations and Amazon, everyone carries KIND bars.
GF, DF, V, SF
Why I Like Them: The group of friends who created these bars were frustrated by the lack of transparency and real food ingredients in the protein bars they were eating. They wanted to come up with a bar that was simpler and honest about what was in it. What you see is what you get. Each package includes as the final ingredient, “No B.S.” I’ll be honest and say these taste more like what you’d expect a protein bar to taste like and have a bit more sugar (even if it’s natural) than I’d like, BUT I just love their transparency and accessibility, so I’m in.
Flavors: Their most popular flavor is the Chocolate Sea Salt (15g sugar / 6g fiber / 12 g protein). Blueberry, Coconut Chocolate and Maple Sea Salt, Peanut Butter, and Chocolate Mint are their most popular flavors. For more flavors, click here.
Where to Find Them: Wegmans, Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s, Amazon, RXBAR.com.
Aaaand that’s a wrap! What are your favorite snack bars? Any that you love that I’m missing?? I’d love to know what you think, so feel free to comment below.