You can't go anywhere these days without seeing rows and rows of protein bars. Slimfast and Special K even have bars now, but that certainly doesn't mean they are healthy. Bars should usually be a last resort: if you're on a road trip, if you can't make a protein shake or grab a piece of fruit and some nuts, then bars should be your fall back food. There are many things to look for in a bar, the most important being the ingredient list. You don't want things like "corn syrup solids," "palm kernel oil," or "artificial flavors." Look for organic, whole ingredients. If there are less than stellar ingredients in bars, make sure they are lower on the ingredient list and not first. If "sugar" is the number one ingredient, steer clear. And watch out for "low-sugar" bars, which just pack them full of sugar alcohols instead, which still wreaks havoc on the system and can upset the stomach. Also watch out for saturated fat, as many of these bars eat up a large portion of your daily saturated fat allowance.
A good protein bar would consist of 15-20 grams of protein, 5 or fewer fat grams, 20-25 grams of carbs and at least 4-8 grams of fiber. This ratio is a tough one to find, however. Many people love Clif bars, but unless you are an endurance athlete, you don't need that many carbs and sugar. Below is a list of the best bars according to what you're looking for.
Best bar for BUILDING MUSCLE: Met-Rx Meal Replacement Bar, Chocolate Chip Graham Cracker. Though this bar doesn't have the most natural ingredients, its metamyosyn protein blend contains whey and casein protein, which helps build and repair muscle. With 360 calories, 5 grams of fat, 51 grams of carbs and 27 grams of protein (and a big dose of daily vitamins and minerals), this bar is a good choice for those trying to put on lean muscle.
Best bar for ENDURANCE ATHLETES: Clif Bar, any flavor. These tiny little blocks are easy to eat during sporting events and have 23 vitamins and minerals. Made with organic ingredients, they have 240 calories, around 3 grams of fat, 45 grams of carbs, 4 grams of fiber, 21 grams of sugar and 10 grams of protein. If you need quick energy, these are your go-to bars.
Best bar for SATIETY: Mojo Bars (also made by Clif) These bars are made with all organic ingredients and are packed with nuts, for a dose of good fats, as well as pieces of chocolate, fruit and pretzels. They pack around 200 calories per bar, 10 grams of fat, 20 carbs and 10 grams of protein. The nuts keep you full, and the slight sweetness kills afternoon cravings.
Best bar for THE CALORIE CONSCIOUS: Healthsmart Foods Chocolite Protein Bar, Chocolate Turtle. At only 115 calories, this bar packs 6 grams of fat (2 saturated), 18 grams of carbs, 10 grams of fiber, only 1 gram of sugar and 9 grams of protein, for a nutritious, light snack that will keep you full because of the fiber. In addition, it gives you many vitamins and minerals and 30% of iron.
Best bar for THE CARB COUNTER: Oh Yeah! Protein Wafer Bars, Chocolate Peanut Butter. This bar has 210 calories, 13 grams of fat (6 saturated), only 8 carbs, 2 grams of sugar and 14 grams of protein. While higher in saturated fat (with 30% of your daily allowance), if you're counting carbs and need a 200 calorie snack, this is the way to go.
Best bar for THE HEALTH NUT: Kind Plus Bars are made from natural ingredients. They contain omega-3s, antioxidants, fiber, and are sweetened with honey. With 140 calories, 11 grams of fat, 16 grams of carbs, 13 grams of sugar and only 3 grams of protein, it's not so much of a protein bar, as a fruit and nut bar. (You may also try Luna Bars, which pack more protein in them and are made from organic ingredients as well.)
Best bar for THE MONEY CONSCIOUS: Promax Bars. At only $0.79, this bar has 270 calories, 4.5 grams of fat, 39 grams of carbs and 20 grams of protein. The sugar content can be high, however - anywhere from 20-30 grams - so make sure you are eating this bar near exercise, so you burn off any excess sugars immediately.
Best bar for MEAL REPLACEMENT: Detour Oatmeal Bars, Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough. With a whopping 440 calories, 7 grams of fat (3 saturated), 63 carbs, 8 grams of fiber, 12 grams of sugar and 30 grams of fiber, as well as a list of mostly whole, healthy ingredients, this is a good option if you need a lunch replacement. This bar will keep you full for at least 3 hours.