Ok, so as a fitness chick and a chef, I get a TON of questions about shakes, meal replacement bars, protein bars…etc. People want to know which ones I like, which ones are actually healthy, and even if I make my own and sell them. I have to admit that I don’t eat performance or meal replacement bars much, but there are some protein bars that I eat as a supplement to my meals. I also do make my own, yes, but I don’t sell them…I’ll get more into that later. With all that said, I bought a bunch of bars, tried them all, and vetted the heck out of them. I dedicate this blog to all those taste buds and stomachs of my friends and family, who didn’t let me down no matter what I put them through.
Now, let’s start at the beginning…meal replacement bars are not a new concept in general, it’s the fitness and health food industries that have reinvented the concept for a new purpose. Pemmican bars, which is the original form, have been around for ages! These bars were made for the fur traders who embarked on long journeys in areas not suitable for foraging. These bars were concocted of dried lean meat (bison, elk, venison), ground up, combined with melted fat and often combined with berries and nuts. These were considered “high-energy” necessities for journeymen and even for those seasons where food was scarce locally. These bars were preserved in rawhide bags and could keep for months at a time, if not longer. There was even a pemmican trade along borders between hunters. Imagine using a PowerBar as a bargaining chip…although, maybe they are in a gym somewhere…makes you think, eh? The bars that I made for Jake’s race last year were a modern take on pemmican bars. They consisted of dehydrated ground bison, bacon fat, goji berries, honey and almonds. To be honest, those things were delicious and were some serious rocket fuel. I remember when I was taste testing I felt like I was going a mile a minute! Because of its concentrated energy sources, it’s safe to say that a little goes a long way. Again, I don’t sell them, but I want you guys to know that I am somewhat clued into what the purpose and history of meal replacement bars are, so don’t get mad at me if I slam your favorite bar. Now, on to the reviews…
FLAVOR: Bison, Bacon & Cranberry, 1.5oz
PRICE RANGE: $2-3
NUTRITION: 11g protein, 200 calories (110 from fat), 12g fat, 8g sugar, 220mg sodium
PROS: Great taste, really compact, natural ingredients, made from real meat, a definite protein punch, great for paleo diets
CONS: Not vegan/vegetarian friendly, sodium count can get a little high on some varieties
MY TAKE: These are the closest modern take on the traditional pemmican bars and the benchmark for my homemade ones. I have always loved these and since I love savory over sweet they are perfect for me. The texture can be a slight put-off, but not enough to not give it a try. There are some give and takes on every bar and sacrificing texture for taste and health benefit works here.
PALEO PROTEIN BAR
FLAVOR: Glazed Doughnut, 2.25oz
PRICE RANGE: $3-3.50
NUTRITION: 20g protein, 200 calories (50 from fat), 6g fat, 2g sugar, 250mg sodium
PROS: Gluten-free, Paleo friendly, natural ingredients, high protein with low sugar and fat counts
CONS: Not vegan/vegetarian friendly, tastes nothing like the flavor, the use of Stevia is highly prevalent, bad after taste
MY TAKE: These are disgusting. We all agreed that this thing tastes and looks like playdough. The aftertaste is like drinking a generic can of diet soda. I had to drink 2 glasses of water to cleanse my palate before I tried the next bar. I don’t think this bar is worth the sacrifice for eating a glazed doughnut, I’m sorry, the calories are totally worth it. The bar is soft and shiny like nougat but couldn’t be far enough from it. I mean my dogs spit it out!! This was a huge NO from me and I hope I never have to eat this thing again.
FLAVOR: Mango Apple, 1.2oz
PRICE RANGE: $1-2
NUTRITION: 0g protein, 100 calories (0 from fat), 0g fat, 23g sugar, 25mg sodium
PROS: Gluten-free, vegan/vegetarian friendly, kosher, raw, natural ingredients, no fat and low calorie count, price point, clean taste, no added sugars
CONS: no protein, looks worse than it tastes, high in natural sugars
MY TAKE: These are deceivingly decent! They look like a granola bar, but taste like a fruit roll up! I liked the mango and apple flavor and love that they use one of each fruit in each bar. I don’t think this is a good option for a meal replacement or performance bar. I like this option for an afternoon snack when you are craving something sweet or think that peeling a mango at your desk could be problematic. The high sugar count alarms me a little bit, but it’s nicely balanced with having no fat and minimal calories.
FLAVOR: Cookies & Cream, 2.12oz
PRICE RANGE: $2-3
NUTRITION: 21g protein, 180 calories (60 from fat), 3g fat, 1g sugar, 310mg sodium
PROS: Gluten-free, aesthetically appealing, tastes just like a candy bar, low sugar count, high fiber, high protein,
CONS: Not vegan/vegetarian friendly, artificial ingredients that include a protein powder blend, slight stevia aftertaste
MY TAKE: I LOVE THIS BAR! I love that they actually used real cocoa bits for the cookies! I am not a fan of the use of protein powder blends, but the high protein with low sugar benefit kind of makes that moot. I do find this bar a little on the dense side, which means that it would take me 2 sittings to finish one bar. I also love the fiber benefits; I mean who doesn’t want to clear out the pipes regularly? The price point is a little high if you want to try more of the flavors, but the bar is rather large so as I said before, you can stretch it to a before and after workout snack.
FLAVOR: Chocolate Mint, 1.76oz
PRICE RANGE: $2-3
NUTRITION: 10g protein, 195 calories (80 from fat), 9g fat, 14g sugar, 65mg sodium
PROS: Gluten-free, vegan/vegetarian friendly, made from fruits and veggies, probiotics
CONS: Chalky, bad aftertaste, chemical residue left in mouth, higher price point
MY TAKE: This is just nasty. I mean the looks on all of our faces after eating this was nothing short of a kid eating brussels sprouts. Which for that matter, along with about 27 other fruits and veggies make up the base of this bar. Wait, it’s a chocolate mint bar…yeah, so you figure it out. They took about 30 diff fruits and veggies, created a “superfood” powder and voila! Chocolate Mint. It’s so naturally unnatural? Sure, let’s go with that…the thing is that it tastes like the leafy greens in my compost bucket in chalk form. You can’t uneat this thing. Jake was still tasting this bar for an hour after he’d eaten it and he even brushed his teeth!
As you can see, I gave you my take on 5 very different bars from ones you are familiar with but also different from each other. Some can be considered meal replacement and others are just good snacks.
Most of us know the staples like PowerBar & Clif Bar which are high protein bars that are usually made from protein blends and wheys and can be seen as a substitute for a shake.
Most of these taste like sawdust with some cocoa notes and hints of vanilla…not good. They are readily available at most anywhere and cost less than $2. I just think we can do better than eating artificially flavored sawdust.
Luna and Lara Bars are also relatively well known. The ingredients are slightly higher in quality, but again don’t strive to achieve much happiness for your palate. I found them average and too sweet. They have a better texture than sawdust and not as chalky…think real wood versus IKEA particle board…kinda the same but not really. I think the nutritional value gets a bit jaded by the high sugar levels which I think is meant to hide the taste. These are also readily available in most stores and have lower price points as well.
There are definitely some newbies on the market like Hemp Heart and Think Thin High Protein Bar. The hemp bar is a vegan option made from shelled hemp seeds, not a pot brownie…I know, what a rip. Although, I wish I was high when I ate this thing, it’s gross. As Linda, my friend, put it…”it tastes like ground up leaves, and not the good ones!” Its nutritional value makes it a diff option for vegans and the texture is somewhat different from most…almost like a sesame seeds that pop in your mouth like quinoa. The Think Thin bar is a high protein bar that has a terrible after taste. It’s artificially produced and fabricated with ingredients that aren’t what they claim to be…meaning more protein powder with alkalized cocoa…whaaa? It’s not even worth dissecting, it just not worth it.
Ok, so now you have a better idea of where I stand when it comes to all these nutrition bars. I do put a lot of emphasis on taste and appearance because that does matter to me if I am going to eat anything, and I think most of you all feel the same way. The distinction is what sacrifices we are willing to make for nutrition, convenience and even cost. Are you willing to eat shiny sweet playdough for an extra 10 grams of protein? I’m not. I am willing to eat a fruit bar on the go than trying to peel and cut a mango. I don’t always eat nutrition bars for its benefits, some of them are just good like KIND Bars. I love that they are full of great ingredients, nuts, chocolate, sea salt and caramel. They don’t have more than 10g of protein, but they have lower sugar counts and are just freaking tasty! Truth is, nothing takes place of a well-balanced meal whether it’s before or after a workout. A handful of nuts and a bunch of grapes is always going to be better for you than any bar on the market. I’d rather get my sodium, protein and sugars from the source itself…not broken down, regurgitated, reconstituted and then remolded into a rectangle that resembles vomit…yeah, there you go, I said it.