The protein bar market is surprisingly big. Since nutrition bars were first introduced around the mid-eighties, the protein bar market has grown immensely. In 2019, the protein bar industry which covers all manner of nutritional and meal-replacement snacks was worth over 460 billion USD.
The original bar, PowerBar, was created by a marathon runner at the time named Brian Maxwell. As happens with many new fads, something that was intended for a particular market, active sportspeople, crossed over into the mainstream market. Mr. Maxwell was able to sell his creation to Nestle in 2000 for a tasty $375 million.
Since the arrival of the PowerBar, numerous other manufacturers have turned their hands to nutritional snacks, with mixed results. Some bars were all hype and no substance, and some were plain unhealthy. The modern-day market is much better and now there are protein bars available for all types of people and their diets.
What makes a good protein bar?
Part of what makes a good nutrition bar will depend on what you want it for. Meal replacement bars for instance will normally be higher in fat and calories than normal protein bars due to their purpose, to replace meals.
Your dietary requirements can play a part too. When you are deciding if the Keto diet is right for you, or whether you are looking to lose weight, will make a difference in what protein bars are right for you.
However, a general rule about protein bars might suggest that they should contain less than 20 grams of carbs, at least 10 grams of protein, have a good level of fiber, around 3 grams or more, plus no trans fats. Watch out for corn syrup, palm or kernel oil, and other unwanted ingredients such as maltitol, xylitol, and sorbitol.
The latter ingredients can cause unwanted side effects such as bloating and gas. Not to mention having a laxative effect on the body.
Knowing that some protein bars have some dubious ingredients, are they actually good for you?
Are protein bars healthy?
As Brian Maxwell discovered when he started to sell his PowerBar, where there is money, there are imitators. Due to the size of the market and the popularity of protein bars, not all of them are as good as others.
On the face of it, a protein bar is a healthy and convenient way to get protein, micronutrients, and energy into your body without having to stop for a meal. This type of fix suits busy workers trying to fill the void between meals, and athletes and fitness fans who want an energy boost without feeling too full. They can also provide a healthy snack without causing sugar spikes.
They provide the consumer with amino acids, protein, carbs, energy, and fiber. So when you look at the benefits it would seem that protein bars are healthy, but as the American Council on Exercise warns, choosing the wrong type of protein bar can do more harm than good.
What should you avoid in a protein bar?
If you take the time to read the ingredients you may be shocked to see what you find in a protein bar. Some bars contain strange ingredients such as taurine, high levels of sugar, whey, casein, and carrageenan which can cause intestinal irritation.
Soy is likely to contain GMOs if it isn’t organic and is also an allergen to many people, as is whey and casein. Watch out for chemicals and preservatives too.
Brian Maxwell was a critic of Clif Bar back in the day and it is likely he wouldn’t be much of a fan today. He described the bar as having the nutritional value of a Graham Cracker. Today’s bars need a check on the ingredients before purchasing as they may not be what you want.
At least one Clif Bar contains over 40 grams of carbs, more than 20 grams of sugar, has numerous soy ingredients, and has a paltry 9 grams of protein. When it comes to buying protein bars it pays to read the label.
What are the best protein bars?
While the section above may have you worried about what you are consuming, there is a good deal of healthy and nutritious protein bars on the market. Protein bars are processed foods, so you should limit your intake just like any other snack but they can provide fiber, protein, and energy conveniently, and they are better than missing meals or snacking on high sugar content sweets or bars.
According to Healthline, an average sedentary man needs around 56 grams of protein, and a woman, 46 grams a day. Different lifestyles and diets require differing amounts of protein but buying the right bar can help you hit your daily requirement.
Look for bars that contain pea proteins, and whey is ok if you are not dairy intolerant. As has been mentioned above there are certain things to avoid but aim for good protein and fiber levels, lower carbs, and lower levels of sugar. If the ingredients list corn syrup or sucrose in the main ingredients then you should leave it alone.
Some of the best and most popular bars now are:
- Oatmega – contains 7 grams of fiber, 22 grams of carbs, and 14 grams of protein. Unfortunately, it also contains 120 milligrams of sodium in a 50-gram bar.
- Super Pop Snacks – made with almond butter and containing 10 grams of plant-based protein, this bar has dried fruit and less than half the sodium of the Oatmega.
- Bobo’s – the nut butter bar has 11 grams of protein, 4 grams of fiber, and a reasonable 60 mg of sodium. Bearing in mind that the World Health Organisation recommends only 2g for children it is worth keeping an eye on this.
- Built Bar – this particular bar has a low amount of calories at 130, keeps the net carbs down to just 4 grams while packing in 6 grams of fiber and a whopping 17 grams of protein.
- RXBar – the chocolate sea salt flavor contains 24 grams of carbs, 5 grams of fiber, and 12 of protein. However, it packs in 240 mg of sodium in a 50g bar.
There are many more bars on the market and the one that suits you may not be here. However, if you are looking for a low calorie, low carb option, with a high level of protein it would seem that Built Bar is the best option here. You can read this Built Bar review to find out more and see if it suits your diet.
Protein bars can be an invaluable aid to anyone who is on the go and is at risk of missing meals or eating unhealthy snacks. Eating correctly is important to reduce weight gain and avoid health problems such as diabetes occurring. Athletes can also benefit hugely from using protein and nutrition bars to supplement their diets.
However, like any snack, they need to be used in the right way. Buying chocolate-covered, cookie dough flavored, corn syrup-filled bars is unlikely to bring many nutritional benefits. The important thing when choosing the right protein is to check the ingredients. Do some research on how some ingredients can affect you and be wary of allergens, preservatives, and unwanted chemicals, and you’ll find the right bar for you.