Best & Worst

We Tested 12 Protein Bars, And This Is The Best!

Discover which of your favorite protein bars should be barred from your diet.

Best & Worst

We Tested 12 Protein Bars, And This Is The Best!

Discover which of your favorite protein bars should be barred from your diet.

“I love protein bars,” my friend Sarah said the other day. “Chocolate, vanilla, nuts, nougat—they’re like candy!”

Unfortunately, Sarah was more right than she knew. Some are candy.

The portable, dessert-like treats have gotten you through the worst of times (when your tummy develops that baritone roar) and the best of times (when you crushed your squat PR at the gym). But not all bars are created equal, and if you choose the wrong one, you may as well be eating a Snickers. Some bars have as much sugar and fat as a candy bar, and others contain more calories than you should eat between meals. As Top Taste Tester at Eat This, Not That!, I rounded up the best and the best of the worst bars, and graded them based on Nutrition, Clean Ingredients, Appearance and Texture, and Taste.

Read on to find out which portable proteins made the cut, and then check out why some bars (along with other sneaky culprits) made our list of 75 Unhealthiest Foods On The Planet.

How We Graded Them

pen marking report

Here are the four metrics we used to determine each bar’s final grade.

Nutrition

Protein bars can work as excellent meal replacements, post-workout muscle fuel, or even as high protein snack that gets you through the 2 p.m. slump. But some grab-and-go picks are packed with enough sugar to cause a crash or way too many calories to be considered a snack. That’s why we’ve outlined each bar’s nutritionals for you to decide if they fit with your goals.

Clean Ingredients

Many bars contain a bunch more than just “chocolate peanut butter” or “salted caramel cashew,” which is why the ingredient police is here to summon all the fattening offenders out of your lunch bag, and dangerous additives.

Appearance & Texture

If you don’t want to look at it, why would you want to taste it? We all have some sort of expectations regarding whether the bar is embellished with a chocolate drizzle or just happens to melt in your mouth like meringue.

Taste

This one’s a given. We can’t rate a bar too highly if it scores A+ in nutrition, clean ingredients, appearance and texture, and then falls flat for taste.

From Worst… To Best


12

GoMacro Macrobar Protein Paradise Cashew Caramel

GoMacro Macrobar Protein Paradise Cashew Caramel

Nutrition: 260 calories, 11 g fat (2 g saturated fat), 35 mg sodium, 30 g carbs (1 g fiber, 10 g sugar), 11 g protein

Ingredients: This bar’s protein sources are organic cashew butter, organic sprouted brown rice protein, organic pea protein, organic cashews, organic puffed brown rice, and organic sprouted flax, and it’s sweetened with organic coconut sugar.

Appearance & Texture: This bar is flatter and wider than all of the others tested and was noticeably chewy and hard to break apart, which means that it’s probably not meant for sharing.

Taste: Before biting into this bar, we noticed that its smell was quite reminiscent of Ikea’s cinnamon rolls. It tastes like creamy cashews with a hint of cinnamon, although it wasn’t very sweet despite the 11 grams of sugar it packs in.

Eat This, Not That! Verdict:

GoMacro Macrobar Protein Paradise in Cashew Caramel didn't exactly deliver the tropical escape it promised. It lacked memorable taste and totally missed out on any smooth caramelly flavor notes. What bummed us out most was that organic brown rice syrup (a modified sugar with a obesity-inducing glycemic index of over 100!) is the first ingredient listed. Another not so sweet factor? This gluten-, soy-, and GMO-free pick boasts a high 30 grams of carbs, of which only one gram is fiber and 10 grams are sugar—the equivalent of a Krispy Kreme Original Glazed Doughnut!

Buy it now for $24.22 per 12-pack ($2.01 each) at Amazon.com

11

Vega Protein+ Snack Bar Chocolate Caramel Flavored

Vega protein snack bar chocolate caramel

Nutrition: 200 calories, 9 g fat (4.5 g saturated fat), 65 mg sodium, 24 g carbs (4 g fiber, 12 g sugar), 11 g protein

Ingredients: This bar packs in its protein from pea and brown rice proteins as well as almonds, almond butter, alfalfa sprouts, chia seeds, and hemp seeds. It’s sweetened with organic brown rice syrup, dark chocolate, organic date paste, and organic agave syrup.

Appearance & Texture: The first thing we noticed is that the Vega Protein+ bar had a chocolate drizzle and scattered nut pieces on top, which obviously looked yummy, but the artificial caramel scent deterred me from wanting to take a bite. Once I did, it was very chewy, just like real caramel.

Taste: Rather than boasting a chocolatey taste, this pick had a distinct peanutty caramel flavor that was accompanied by a chalky aftertaste.

Eat This, Not That! Verdict:

The lack of chocolate was disappointing and so was the inclusion of brown rice syrup and agave syrup, which has a high fructose content (and that’s linked to liver and kidney disease, high blood pressure, and even premature aging). For just 11 grams of protein, you can find a better bar that won’t potentially tax you with the aftermath of funky ingredients.

Buy it now for $30.40 per 12 count ($2.53 each) at Amazon.com

10

Luna Protein Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough

Luna Protein Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough

Nutrition: 170 calories, 5 g fat (3.5 g saturated fat), 260 mg sodium, 21 g carbs (3 g fiber, 14 g sugar), 12 g protein

Ingredients: This bar is primarily made with soy protein isolate, with extra protein coming from whey protein concentrate and macadamia nut butter. It’s sweetened with organic cane syrup and organic dried cane syrup.

Appearance & Texture: The fact that this looked like a Twix bar was already building sky-high expectations—and the super chewy, teeth-sunk-in texture delivered.

Taste: Luna’s rendition of chocolate chip cookie dough tasted somewhat like (ultra sweet) date paste, but nonetheless, pretty satisfying. But, unlike your go-to midnight snack, this lacked bountiful chunky chocolate chips.

Eat This, Not That! Verdict:

The over-sweetened cookie dough flavor fell a little flat and we didn’t like that Luna threw in multiple types of sugar, including dried cane syrup, which is one of the worst sweeteners as well as alkalized cocoa (AKA “Dutch processed”) which basically means that the cocoa’s natural acidity is reduced by an alkalizing agent, which also minimizes its flavonoid and polyphenol content significantly.

Buy it now for $11.49 per 12 count ($0.96 each) at Amazon.com

9

Pegan Thin Protein Bar Chocolate Lava

Pegan Thin Protein Bar Chocolate Lava

Nutrition: 190 calories, 9 g fat (1 g saturated fat), 35 mg sodium, 27 g carbs (26 g fiber, 1 g sugar), 20 g protein

Ingredients: This bar’s main protein and fiber sources come from organic sacha inchi, organic prebiotic digestive resistant tapioca fiber, and organic sunflower butter. It’s sweetened with monk fruit.

Appearance & Texture: One thing that was super odd was that this bar was oil-slicked and almost slipped out of its packaging. (Since when are protein bars greasy?!) Another drawback: it looked as dense as its texture.

Taste: Just like many chocolate protein powders, Pegan Thin has a very chalky flavor and harsh sweetener aftertaste. The worst part is probably the fact that it lacked any true cocoa flavor.

Eat This, Not That! Verdict:

Although it boasts an impressive 20 grams of protein and even more striking 26 grams of fiber, in addition to gut-balancing probiotics, we’re sad to report that it tasted nothing like molten lava cake. (insert crying emoji here.) If you can stomach the odd powdery taste for the sake of this bar’s bountiful benefits, we’re giving you the green light.

Buy it now for $29.99 per 12 count ($2.50 each) at Amazon.com

8

Nature Valley Protein Chewy Bars Peanut, Almond & Dark Chocolate

Nature Valley Protein Chewy Bars Peanut Almond Dark Chocolate

Nutrition: 190 calories, 12 g fat (3.5 g saturated fat), 180 mg sodium, 14 g carbs (5 g fiber, 6 g sugar), 10 g protein

Ingredients: This bar is primarily made out of peanuts, almonds, and sunflower seeds, with extra protein coming from soy protein isolate and whey protein concentrate. It's sweetened with sugar, corn syrup, fructose, glycerin, and dextrose, and bound together with a blend of vegetable oils.

Appearance & Texture: This had an appealing chocolate layer supporting the nutty layer on top. It also delivered a satisfying crunch thanks to the roasted peanuts, almonds, and sunflower seeds.

Taste: I didn’t expect to like this compressed trail mix so much as I did: it balanced both the sweet and the salty as well as packed in a rich, chocolate foundation that was absolutely delicious.

Eat This, Not That! Verdict:

While we’re complete fans of the flavor, this bar didn’t really impress us with its addition of dextrose or fructose, which turns into fat, inflammatory compounds, and causes metabolic disorders such as insulin resistance, high cholesterol and triglycerides, belly fat accumulation, and heightened blood pressure. Plus, Nature Valley blends a slew of belly-busting vegetable oils that aren’t any better than the sea of added sugars.

Buy it now for $27.75 per 15 count ($1.85 each) at Amazon.com

7

Aloha Organic Protein Bar Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip

Aloha Organic Protein Bar Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip

Nutrition: 260 calories, 14 g fat (2.5 g saturated fat), 190 mg Sodium, 20 g carbs (3 fiber, 13 sugar), 14 g protein

Ingredients: This bar is made primarily of organic peanuts and organic pumpkin seed protein as well as organic pea protein. It’s bound together with organic tapioca syrup and sweetened with organic semi-sweet chocolate chips and organic date paste.

Appearance & Texture: As of the moment I unwrapped this Aloha bar, I was hit with a whiff of peanut butter—which obviously isn’t the worst thing in the world. The texture was as rich as jelly’s salty BFF and even had delightfully crunchy pieces of peanuts and chocolate chips throughout.

Taste: This PB-colored bar tasted exactly like its first ingredient and lacked even the slightest cocoa hints.

Eat This, Not That! Verdict:

The PB flavor overpowered the chocolate significantly to the point where Aloha should’ve just omitted the missing flavor to cut down on sugar. Overall, it’s a bit too high in calories, sugar, and sodium for us to rank it any higher.

Buy it now for $24.73 per 12 count ($2.06 each) at Amazon.com

6

Oatmega White Chocolate Raspberry

Oatmega White Chocolate Raspberry

Nutrition: 190 calories, 7g fat (2 g saturated fat), 120 mg sodium, 21 g carbs (7 g fiber, 5 g sugar), 14 g protein

Ingredients: This bar’s main protein sources are grass-fed whey protein concentrate, whey protein isolate, whey protein concentrate, and almonds. It packs in responsibly-caught fish oil for omega-3s and is sweetened with sugar and monk fruit extract.

Appearance & Texture: Woah, that squint-inducing artificial fruit scent had me convinced this treat would taste more like a Sour Patch Kid, despite its crispy texture.

Taste: rather than white chocolate, Oatmega’s bar tasted like artificially sweetened vanilla and nothing like antioxidant-rich raspberries.

Eat This, Not That! Verdict:

Taste-wise, this pick didn’t please our critical taste buds. Nutrition wise, we like that it packs in pasture-raised, grass-fed whey and a decent amount of fiber and protein for under 200 calories. Oatmega also throws in heart-friendly omega-3s, so if you’re not a fan of this flavor, don’t knock it before you try the brownie crisp or chocolate coconut crisp!

Buy it now for $23.94 per 12 count ($1.99 each) at Amazon.com

5

Quest Double Chocolate Chunk

Quest Double Chocolate Chunk

Nutrition: 180 calories, 8 g fat (2.5 g saturated fat), 170 mg sodium, 23 g carbs (13 g fiber, < 1 g sugar, 6 g Erythritol), 20 g protein

Ingredients: This bar’s protein blend is made of milk protein isolate and whey protein with extra protein coming from almonds. It’s sweetened with erythritol and stevia.

Appearance & Texture: It resembled a bean-based brownie and proved to be consistently dense without any pop of crunch or silky smoothness you’d expect from chocolate. The texture was crumbly sans chocolate chunks.

Taste: If this is Quest’s version of a brownie, it really didn’t follow through. The taste wasn’t necessarily unpalatable, we just expected a more indulgent chocolatey kick that wasn’t so similar to gritty protein powder.

Eat This, Not That! Verdict:

Although erythritol sounds like the product of an odd science experiment, this sweetener is actually good for you! Since it’s naturally found in nature (in grapes, pears, melons, and even mushrooms), this fructose-free sweetener doesn't cause the same digestive problems as other sugar alcohols or raise blood glucose levels. Although this all sounds dandy, the flavor wasn’t so much so, but we’ll snack on this impressively fiber- and protein-packed bar any day.

Buy it now for $23.74 per 12 count ($2.08 each) at Amazon.com

4

Clif Bar Whey Protein Salted Caramel Cashew

Clif Bar Whey Protein Salted Caramel Cashew

Nutrition: 250 calories, 11 g fat (3 g saturated fat), 200 mg sodium, 26 g carbs (3 g fiber, 5 g sugar), 14 g protein

Ingredients: This bar gets its protein from whey protein concentrate, organic cashew butter, organic cashews, whey protein isolate, organic brown rice protein, and organic pea protein. It’s sweetened with organic dried cane syrup.

Appearance & Texture: Let’s just say, the nut-spiked top resting on a bed of chocolate was very inviting. It even smelled like Crème brûlée. Oh, and it’s crispy. Simply put, we have very high hopes.

Taste: Is this a Rice Krispies Treat or a protein bar? Because we really can’t tell the difference! The chocolate and caramel took center stage while the cashew struggled to make its cameo.

Eat This, Not That! Verdict:

Clif nailed the nostalgic cereal-like flavor, and with 14 grams of protein and only five grams of sugar, we can definitely agree that this bar “has what you want to get you to your next adventure.” The only downside is that that the adventurous founders of this treat decided to throw palm kernel oil into the mix, which has been shown by numerous scientific studies to raise total cholesterol as well as LDL cholesterol levels.

Buy it now for $14.24 per 8 count ($1.87 each) at Amazon.com

3

RX Bar Mint Chocolate

Rx bar mint chocolate

Nutrition: 210 calories, 9 g fat (2 g saturated fat), 200 mg sodium, 24 g carbs (3 g fiber, 14 g sugar), 12 g protein

Ingredients: This bar has only seven simple ingredients: dates, egg whites, cashews, almonds, cacao, peppermint oil, sea salt.

Appearance & Texture: The minty scent was refreshing and the bar looked like a nut-studded brownie rather than a snack that packs in 12 grams of protein. The cashews and almonds provided a satisfying sporadic crunch that complemented the dense yet chewy consistency nicely. Just note that this bar will stick to your teeth like Laffy Taffy.

Taste: We loved that this bar had a perfectly sweet chocolate to mint balance, without the peppermint overpowering our taste buds. Looking at the sodium content, we’re thinking maybe Rx went overboard with the sea salt (pun intended).

Eat This, Not That! Verdict:

Our favorite thing about this bar is its squeaky clean list of just seven wholesome ingredients—especially that’s it’s naturally sweetened with dates, which have been found to significantly increase the total phenols and vitamin C content of your food by a study published in the Emirates Journal of Food and Agriculture. Equally as a important: as a kid who always chose a mint chocolate chip cone at the ice cream shop, I can personally approve this flavor.

Buy it now for $31.24 per 12 count ($2.60 each) at Amazon.com

2

ThinkThin Protein & Fiber Bar, Chunky Chocolate Peanut

Think Thin Protein Fiber Bar Chunky Chocolate Peanut

Nutrition: 150 calories, 5 g fat (1.5 g saturated),170 mg sodium, 19 g carbs (5 g fiber, 5 g sugar), 10 g protein

Ingredients: This bar’s protein blend combines soy protein isolate, whey protein isolate, calcium caseinate, and is sweetened with sugar found in the dark chocolate coating.

Appearance & Texture: This chocolate-coated bar smells like candy and we appreciate the decorative chocolate ripples on top. The texture: wonderfully chewy, although we expected some chunks after reading the flavor on the label.

Taste: YUM, I believe, is an adequate description. The bar was barely sweet, with both delicate peanutty and dark chocolate flavor notes. I devoured the whole thing.

Eat This, Not That! Verdict:

Given the non-GMO bar’s Goldilocks taste and texture, and a satiating 10 grams of protein and five grams of fiber (for only 150 calories!) as well as added vitamins and minerals, this snack is straight out of a storybook.

Buy it now for $19.71 per 10 count ($1.97 each) at Amazon.com

1

D's Naturals The No Cow Bar Lemon Meringue Pie

Ds Naturals The No Cow Bar Lemon Meringue Pie

Nutrition: 170 calories, 4 g fat (2 g saturated fat), 170 mg sodium, 27 g carbs (20 g fiber, 1 g sugar, 3 g sugar alcohol), 21 g protein

Ingredients: This bar is primarily made of brown rice protein and pea protein and packs in extra protein from almonds. It’s sweetness comes from erythritol, monk fruit extract, and stevia.

Appearance & Texture: Thankfully, the super lemony scent wasn’t so much like Windex and the bar’s color matched the hue of lemon meringue pie crust, and so did the consistency.

Taste: This is where the bar won us over. It literally tasted like lemon meringue, and with only one gram of sugar (in addition to calorie-free natural monk fruit and antioxidant-rich erythritol) and zero animal products such as eggs or butter (it’s all plant protein, hence the name “No Cow”), we were beyond blown away!

Eat This, Not That! Verdict:

It was love at first bite. This invigorating bar isn’t too sweet or salty, has no weird sweetener aftertaste (major points!), and has beyond stellar nutritionals (just look at that protein, sugar, and fiber count!). Although, don’t expect a silky smooth texture—this bar boasts a bit of a bite and crumbles in your mouth just like baked crust.

Buy it now for $21.37 per 12 count ($1.78 each) at Amazon.com