Although I have always loved to work out and take care of my body, eating healthy has been something that I have constantly struggled with - and chocolate is the only one to blame. For this reason, when the much-hyped protein bars first started to gain a following, I was one of the first ones to jump into the band wagon. Not only would I be fueling my body with protein and what I believed to be healthy ingredients, but I could also satisfy my somewhat problematic sweet cravings. Boy was I wrong!

The truth is, protein bars can definitely be healthy - you just need to know what to look for and what to do with them. 

milk, chocolate, candy, peanut butter
Elena Bailoni

How do you know which bar to buy?

First of all, take a look at the calorie count. If your goal is weight loss, then having a 400 calorie protein bar would definitely hold you back. Think about it, for those of you who are on a weight loss track and eat around 1200 calories per day, that bar would make up 1/3 of your total calorie intake for the day - crazy right!? Instead, try to buy one with a lower calorie count, such as Quest Bars or Organic Foods Bars. Having said that, if you are using the protein bar as a meal replacement, and not merely as a snack, it would technically be fine, but at the end of the day, it is always better to have an actual meal with protein and veggies. Nevertheless, if your goal is muscle-gain, then it won't prove to be a big problem, and it can even help you reach your goal more effectively. 

Secondly, take a look at the amount of carbohydrates the bar contains. Once again, if your goal is weight loss, then you should try and look for bars that contain 30 grams or less. However, if you eat one after a workout, there is more room for leniency since you have exhausted your body and carbohydrates will help you refuel it. 

The next thing you need to look at is the sugar content. In my case, the first protein bar I bought was the Chocolate Chip CLIF Bar, only to later find out that each bar contained 21 grams of sugar!!! To put it in context, a Snickers 2 To Go bar has 24 grams of sugar - and if we are being honest, eating the snickers would have been much more satisfying. 

After that, make sure that your bar is high in protein. Although it sounds redundant, there are certain brands that display their bars as "protein bars," yet these tend to have more sugar and carbs than actual protein. A good bar would have around 12-20 grams of protein.  The more protein a bar has the more satisfied you will feel and the longer you will go without getting hungry again.

Lastly, look at the ingredients. A healthy bar will usually be made up of 5-6 ingredients maximum. If you buy a bar that has more than that, then it is probably not as healthy and nutritious as you might think. The golden rule when it comes to determining if a product is healthy (this applies to EVERYTHING) is that if you don't know what the ingredients listed are or what they mean, then you should probably not be eating it. 

cream, tea, milk, coffee
Emma Brant

Just so you get the idea, here is a list of the top 5 best protein bars in terms of protein content and sugar content (whether that be natural or added) when it comes to eating healthy and the less ideal 5 (nutritional factors may vary depending on the flavor, but they are pretty similar):

Top 5:

- ONE: 20 g of protein + 1 g of sugar + 5 g net carbs

- QuestBar: 21 g of protein + 1 g of sugar + 3 g net carbs

- Primal Kitchen: 15 g of protein + 3 g of sugar + 7 g net carbs

- PALEO Protein Bar: 20 g of protein + 2 g of sugar + 2 g net carbs

- NO COW BAR: 20 g of protein + 1 g of sugar + 4 g net carbs

Marisa Palace

Less Ideal 5:

- LARA BAR: 6 g of protein + 19 g of sugar + 23 g net carbs

- LUNA: 8 g of protein + 8 g of sugar + 21 g net carbs

- PERFECT Bar: 17 g of protein + 18 g of sugar + 22 g net carbs

- RXBAR: 12 g of protein + 15 g of sugar + 18 g net carbs

- KIND: 3 g of protein + 13 g of sugar + 19 g net carbs

** Net Carbs equals the total carbohydrate content, minus the sugar alcohols, minus the fiber.

Lauren Kruchten

Have in mind that we live in a society in which marketers and advertisers have us all figured out and know exactly what we are looking for and how to get us to buy their products without us giving it much thought. Just because you see a product that looks "healthy" or one that says "fat-free" or "sugar-free" on the package, it does not mean it is healthy/good for you. You should always look at the nutritional information and ensure that what you are putting inside your body is in fact benefiting you, and not actually holding you back from achieving your goals. Having said this, if you have any specific muscle-gain or weight loss goals, it is always helpful to consult with a doctor or dietitian in order to determine if protein bars would actually be helpful in achieving that goal and if so, which brand would be the most ideal for the results that you wish to get.