All protein bars are not created equal. Some have more health benefits than others while some are just candy bars in disguise and should be avoided at all costs. Some will keep you full longer and are more bang for your buck, which every broke college student should appreciate. And some protein bars just don’t have the taste that we need.
The sports bar aisle at your local grocery store can be daunting. There are rows upon rows of protein bars, all claiming to be the best and most delicious bar you’ve ever eaten. But before you spend thirty minutes standing there comparing nutrition labels and ingredients, I’m going to break down some of the most popular and common protein bar brands you can find at the local grocery store, and whether to love it or leave it.
ThinkThin Protein Bars: Leave It
ThinkThin bars have 10 grams of protein and 5 grams of fiber for a 150 calorie bar, with about 5 grams of sugar. (The brand also offers a high protein version with 20 grams of protein and 0 grams of sugar).
The ingredients making up these ThinkThin bars make this a less desirable choice, however. The label on the back is filled with unrecognizable and questionable names, like Glycerin, Lecithin, and Folic Acid. The 12 flavors are pretty good and the chocolate coating certainly helps the taste, but for $2.00 a bar, these ThinkThin bars aren’t the best choice for the health-conscious college student. Make these no-bake high protein cookies for way cheaper instead.
Luna Protein: Leave It
Luna Bars are significantly weak in protein, with only 12 grams per 45-gram serving. You should also consider that each bar has at least 13 to 15 grams of sugar, which outnumbers the protein content of every bar.
Certain flavors also contain up to 3.5 grams of saturated fat, with no evidence that this comes from “healthy fats.” The chocolate coating adds a lot to the taste and eating a Luna Bar feels like eating a candy bar, but that’s mostly because of all the added sugar. For $1.49 per bar, you’re better off sticking to healthier choices, like a handful of nuts or fruit, or making your own copycat versions at home.
CLIF Bars: Leave It
CLIF Bars are under the same company that makes Luna Bars, so it’s no surprise that these bars are loaded with entirely too much sugar – over 20 grams in most bars. CLIF Bars have 10 grams of protein and at least 40 grams of carbohydrates, so unless you’re going on a hike or an extremely long run, you’re getting way more than you need.These bars are a deceptively tasty snack, but at 250 calories, you’re having a pretty hefty snack. If you’re still willing to pay $1.49 for these, check out more about why they’re unhealthy
These bars are a deceptively tasty snack, but at 250 calories, you’re having a pretty hefty snack. If you’re still willing to pay $1.49 for these, check out more about why they’re unhealthy here.
Balance Bars: Leave It
Although they offer 13 to 15 grams of protein, the high levels of sugar that don’t come from natural ingredients are frightening. The S’mores flavor, for example, has 14 grams of sugar that come from added sugar, glucose syrup and fructose just to name a few (and spoiler alert, if you’re trying to be healthy, you shouldn’t even mention the word fructose).
Not to mention the high amount of saturated fat that’s completely unnecessary – 4 grams in that S’mores flavor. Balance Bars taste pretty good, but just like with the Luna bars, you’re eating a glorified candy bar. Save your $0.99 for something better, like these actual junk food options for after working out.
Exo Bars: Love It/Leave It
The last one can honestly fall into both calories. Exo Protein Bars are made with real crickets, so if you’re spooked by bugs, you may want to steer clear. Other than that, though, they’re gluten, soy, grain and dairy free and are made with all natural ingredients.
They also pack about 10 grams of protein into one bar. The sugar content runs a bit high, at 13 grams per bar, but it all comes naturally from the ingredients, no additives.
As for the taste, reviews are mixed. Another group of Spoon writers found here that the texture wasn’t the best and the flavors were weird. But everyone’s tastes are different, so if you’re brave enough, these certainly are a healthy meal replacement choice.
Raw Rev Glo Organic Bars: Love It
Raw Rev Glo Bars have 10 to 15 grams of protein, an amazing 10 to 14 grams of fiber, and less than 5 grams of sugar. These bars are entirely vegan and made with all natural, organic ingredients that you can easily recognize on the back of the label.
These protein bars taste like a healthy candy bar. However, if you don’t like sweetness, this may not be the bar for you, so try these savory filling snacks. If you do have a sweet tooth, my personal favorite, the Mixed Nuts, Caramel and Sea Salt, has chocolate chunks that melt in your mouth. These bars are $1.89 per bar, which for the all the nutrition you’re getting, is entirely worth it.
Pure Protein: Love It
Depending on the flavor, Pure Protein bars have 18 to 31 grams of protein per bar, with the corresponding sugar contents coming in from 1 to 9 grams per bar. The higher protein bars are about 300 calories, which can serve as a meal replacement, but other options are under 200 calories, which makes them perfect for a snack. (Not sure how much protein you need? Find out here.)
Although they’re protein heavy, the 12 different flavors don’t have a powdery, artificial protein taste and are pretty tasty. The 50-gram bars are a cheaper option for $2.19 per piece or you can splurge for a 78-gram bar for $3.15. Either way, I would recommend finding room in your budget for these.
Oatmega: Love It
Oatmega bars are interesting because they offer a source of Omega-3’s, along with 14 grams of protein. For those who didn’t know, Omega-3’s come from fish oil to provide energy, but no need to worry, these protein bars don’t taste like fish at all. Read all about them, and other kinds of fat here.
They only contain 5 grams of sugar and all organic ingredients. Plus, they offer eight different flavors, ranging from White Chocolate Raspberry to Chocolate Mint Crisp, and they’re all yummy. A single bar is just under $2.00, but for a nutritious, non-GMO protein bar, you should snatch this one up.
Quest Bars: Love It
Quest Bars pack 20 grams of protein, which can make up about 50 percent of a 2,000 calorie diet. This combined with 13 grams of fiber is guaranteed to keep you satisfied for awhile. The bars have less than 1 gram of sugar and are sweetened with Stevia, an all-natural sugar substitute.
There are about 18 different flavors of Quest Bars available and most, not all, are pretty darn good. My personal favorites are the Cookies and Cream and White Chocolate Raspberry, but you can see a more detailed ranking of flavors here. Quest Bars are expensive for a college student, at $2.39 each, but they’re easily worth it.