When sitting down for a meal isn’t feasible, nutrition bars seem like a quick, healthy solution. You can wolf one down for breakfast while packing up the kids’ backpacks or while commuting to work. What’s not to love? Many seem packed with whole grains, like quinoa and oats, dried fruit, nuts and seeds. Sometimes there’s even peanut butter or chocolate chips.
The best protein bars can be good for pre- or post-workout snacks, as they can provide a burst of energy before exercising or help aid in muscle repair after.
And protein bars can offer plenty of flavor variety as well. You can opt for plant-based sources like soy, pea or brown rice or reach for one coated in yogurt with dairy proteins like casein and whey. Surprisingly, some bars even contain egg whites. Finding a version that satisfies your taste buds won’t be the problem.
Yet with hundreds of pre-wrapped options available, we couldn’t help wondering whether or not protein bars are actually good for us — or if we’re just falling for the hype.
Pros And Cons
Protein bars offer a simple, ready-to-eat option that is convenient to have on hand, for both children and adults. Many bars are not only a good source of protein and carbs, but also offer several micronutrients like potassium, iron, calcium and B vitamins. They can even be a good source of dietary fiber, which can help keep the digestive tract functioning and could prevent you from overeating between meals.
The downside to these handy, portable options is that they are a processed food. Some types contain large quantities of added sugar, thanks to high fructose corn syrup sweeteners, and can be high in fat and calories. And different brands may include concentrated, highly-processed protein sources like whey or soy protein isolate rather than healthier whole food protein alternatives. Experts prefer leaner, unprocessed, more nutritious sources of protein like chicken breasts and beans.
Finding The Best Protein Bars
So what do you want to look for in the best protein bars on the market? Bar nutrition varies significantly between brands and flavors. The best way to decipher what bars should make the cut requires reading the ingredient list and checking the nutrition panel.
However, some protein bars have a proprietary blend of ingredients, which won’t necessarily all be disclosed on the label. If you are worried about what you put into your body, you’ll want to beware of this and stick with bars that disclose everything that goes into them.
Overall, most protein bars fall somewhere between 150–400 calories and 10–20 grams of protein. When label surfing, keep an eye out for a bar that’s low in fat (less than 5 grams) and aim for 3 to 5 grams of fiber. Avoid buying bars with added sugar or hydrogenated oils.
If you want a true meal replacement, rather than a snack, look for one with 15 or more grams of protein. If you’re watching your weight, keep a close eye on the calories. Nutritionists also recommend eating some whole foods along with the bar, like a piece of fruit or a handful of grape tomatoes, and caution against eating more than one protein bar a day.
Final conclusion: It’s not possible to generalize and say that every protein bar is good for you. You’ll need to look at the ingredients and determine if each individual product is right for your needs.
However, in general, protein bars can be a great choice when you’re tight on time, eaten as a meal replacement or snack — as long as you take the necessary precautions. While there are other great ways to add more protein to your diet, choosing your protein bar wisely will help you find a quick and nutritious option in a pinch.
This story originally appeared on Don't Waste Your Money. Checkout Don't Waste Your Money for product reviews and other great ideas to save and make money.