In a perfect world, we would all have enough time, energy, and resources to prepare snacks and meals every day made from fresh, wholesome ingredients. However, being a bit more realistic, pre-made, grab-and-go options such as protein bars, are an excellent and convenient staple in many people’s diets – including mine! Relying so heavily on protein bars to hold me over between my lunch and dinner, I always want to make sure I am choosing a protein bar that not only keeps me feeling full, but one that also fuels my late-afternoon workout properly.
As a Registered Dietitian, I explain to my clients that it is important to look for the following Top 5 key attributes when choosing a protein bar, to ensure they are choosing ones that are both delicious and nutritious!
1. Low in Added Sugars: Keep an eye out for added sugars and try to keep them at bay. Added sugars are any type of sugar or sugar-containing ingredients that are added during a food’s processing to sweeten it. These are different from natural sugars, which are naturally occurring in the product’s ingredients, such as the sugar found in dates. Aim for bars with 10g or less of added sugars. Unsure if a bar is high in added sugars? If the amount is not listed on the nutrition facts label, simply take a peek at the ingredient list – look at the first few ingredients and keep in mind that they are listed in descending order.
2. At Least 1 Full Serving of Protein: Protein is an essential part of every meal or snack. Our bodies use proteins to build and repair tissues, transport nutrients within the blood, and is essentially needed for our body’s overall function and survival. When it comes to food, protein plays a key role in keeping us full between meals. Aim for a protein bar that contains at least 1 serving of protein, or 7 grams. P.S If you are someone that regularly engages in weight-bearing exercises, you may even want to strive for bars containing 2 servings!
3. A Good Source of Dietary Fiber: If you have ever eaten a protein bar and then an hour later feel your stomach growling, perhaps it did not have enough dietary fiber. In addition to helping keep us full, fiber is responsible for regulating our digestive system, lowering cholesterol levels, and aiding in weight management. I recommend choosing a protein bar that has at least 3g or higher of dietary fiber per serving.
4. Not Too High in Saturated Fat: Keeping saturated fat levels at a minimum means that the protein bar is likely made with more better-for-you ingredients. Saturated fat, one of the most commonly recognized types of fat, is typically solid at room temperature. Saturated fat raises our cholesterol levels and may impact your risk of cardiovascular disease and diabetes. Foods containing saturated fat should be eaten in moderation – I encourage choosing protein bars with 3.5g or less saturated fat per serving.
5. Better-for-You Ingredients: This last tip is probably the most important, but can also be the most confusing! Many food products these days are bearing the phrase “Natural” or “Natural Ingredients”, however there is no criteria which currently exists, from which these claims are based. The most simple method that I recommend for choosing a protein bar is to look at the both the names and the length of the ingredient list. Aim for a protein bar with fewer ingredients, many of which you should be able to recognize. Very lengthy ingredient lists may contain components such as artificial sweeteners, colors, and preservatives.
Looking for a protein bar that fits all of these tips and tastes amazing too?
Try one of my go-to favorites: NuGo Slim protein bars! These bars are high in both protein and fiber, low in both sugar and saturated fat, and are not made with artificial sweeteners or sugar alcohols. Basically a dietitian’s dream come true! If you need help label reading or identifying certain ingredients on your favorite protein bars, contact your local nutrition professional. Happy Snacking!