15 Best Healthy & Low-Sugar Protein Bars, According to Dietitians
Whether you're looking for a nutritious, on-the-go option to tide you over between meals or a portable snack to maintain muscle mass between workouts, low-sugar, high-protein bars are often the answer to your nutritional needs.
Protein bars are great for traveling, as pre-or post-workout snacks, as a snack to keep blood sugar balanced, or as a fast and easy breakfast. Because they're shelf-stable and portable, protein bars are convenient to always keep stocked in your pantry, with you at your desk, or in your bag for a quick snack on the go.
When determining if eating protein bars is good for you, the protein source, how much there is, and what other nutrients it's paired with all need to be taken into consideration.
That's why we asked a handful of nutrition experts for help in determining what criteria make the best protein bars.
What makes a protein bar "healthy"?
If you're looking to further your better-body goals, you may consider eating protein bars. While it might sound beneficial, unfortunately, most of the protein bars in the market are loaded with sugar alcohols or saturated fat and lack fiber. We spoke to Toby Amidor, MS, RD, Rachel Fine, MS, RD, Angie Asche, MS, RD, and Hillary Cecere, MS, RDN about what qualities you should be looking for in healthy protein bars:
- Have a nice balance of healthy fats, protein, and fiber to keep you satisfied
- Are between 200 to 400 calories
- Contain up to 20 grams of protein per serving
- Feature whole foods like nuts, whole grains, and fruit.
- Use high-quality protein sources like whey protein isolate, pea protein, brown rice protein, and eggs.
The nutritional criteria for the best protein bars.
Not just any protein bar landed a spot on our list of best protein bars. We compiled a list of over 100 protein bars so we could compare their nutrition and ingredient information. With the help of dietitians, we came up with specific nutritional and ingredient criteria we had to follow to select the best protein bars:
- 8 grams protein minimum: To qualify as a "protein bar," each bar had to have no less than 8 grams of protein. Cecere recommends aiming for 15-20 grams of protein if you're looking to gain muscle and 7-12 grams of protein for a satiating snack. However, there are a few exceptions to this rule in our list below.
- 13 grams sugar maximum: The best protein bars have no more than 13 grams of sugar, with a few exceptions that made the list (and the experts explain why).
- 3 grams fiber minimum: When it comes to fiber, Fine recommends opting for a protein bar with 3 or more grams per bar or serving. "However, caution with those boasting more than 10 grams of fiber as these are likely loaded with isolated fibers that can cause stomach discomfort," says Fine. You'll find there are a few options listed below with only 1-2 grams of fiber, but this means the other ingredients in the bar are top-notch.
The ingredient criteria for the best protein bars:
- High-quality protein sources: We prioritized protein bars that sourced their protein from high-quality isolates and concentrates (such as grass-fed whey protein) as well as whole food ingredients (like nuts or antibiotic-free meat). "Nuts, nut butters, grass-fed meats, egg whites, and seeds are my favorite whole food protein sources for a protein bar," Cecere says.
- Natural sweeteners: "Last, regarding added sugar, check ingredients and choose options with natural sources of sugar like cane sugar or fruit. Whole fruit (in comparison to fruit juice and fruit concentrate) is not considered an added sugar," says Fine.
- Whole-food ingredients: Whether they're used to flavor or sweeten, the best protein bars only use whole food or natural ingredients—no artificial ingredients allowed.
- Healthy fats: Fats are essential for your body to absorb certain nutrients and they also help to keep you satiated. We prioritized protein bars that contain healthy fats from nuts and seeds rather than those that use vegetable oils as fillers and binders.
- Low to no synthetic or isolated fiber: "Ingredients I watch out for and advise athletes avoid (especially around the times they're training as they can cause bloating, gas, abdominal pain) include artificial sweeteners and sugar alcohols like maltitol, erythritol, and xylitol, and large amounts of synthetic fibers like soluble corn fiber or chicory root," adds Asche.
The following 15 low-sugar, best protein bars deserve a spot in your pantry. After discovering the best of the best, keep reading to uncover the protein bars that are not all that below.
The Best Healthy Protein Bars
1. Best Protein Bar Overall: RXBar Chocolate Sea Salt
If you want to feel like you're eating a decadent salted brownie while meeting all your protein needs, you've met your match with an RXBAR. Dubbed a favorite by many of the experts we spoke to, Natalie Rizzo, MS, RD, an NYC-based Registered Dietitian, particularly likes the simplicity of ingredients: "RXBAR does a nice job of making bars out of recognizable ingredients. They are very straightforward on their packaging and tell you that each bar contains dates, nuts, egg whites, and flavors. My personal favorite is the Chocolate Sea Salt, and I find that the 12 grams of protein really keeps me full."
2. Best Tasting Protein Bar: KIND Protein, Crunchy Peanut Butter
With creamy nut butter and crunchy peanuts, this healthy snack bar packs in a respectable amount of digestion-aiding fiber and muscle-maintaining protein. It's been chosen as the best tasting because of the balance of crunchy and chewy, which comes from the blend of peanut butter drizzle and real peanuts. You'd never guess that this bar only has 8 grams of sugar because it tastes exactly like dessert.
3. Best Protein Bar for Muscle Gain: Vital Performance Protein Bar
"I recommend the Vital Performance Protein Bar as the best for muscle building. It contains complete protein, meaning that it provides all the essential amino acids necessary for building muscle, and in addition, 20 grams of protein (the amount in one bar) is the ideal amount for a post-workout snack, making this bar great for after a workout or just as a snack," says Amy Goodson, MS, RD, CSSD, LD, registered dietitian and author of The Sports Nutrition Playbook and member of our Expert Medical Board.
According to Goodson, there are some other great benefits to the Vital bar as well. "It's also low in lactose, making it a great pick for those with lactose intolerance, and the bar contains collagen, which can be helpful for exercise recovery and bone and joint health."
4. Best Vegan Protein Bar: 88 Acres Banana Bread Protein Bars
If you need a boost of protein but follow a plant-based or vegan diet, it can be tricky to find vegan protein bars that are both high in protein and low in added sugar. Thankfully, 88 Acres makes great vegan bars with plenty of protein.
"These bars grab an impressive 12 grams of protein from only pumpkin seeds, and I love that this flavor includes real banana and has a short ingredients list," says Kaleigh McMordie, MCN, RDN.
5. Best Protein Bar for Weight Loss: Zing Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip
"ZING peanut butter chocolate chip protein bars are surprisingly delicious with only 6 grams of sugar, and you won't find any sugar alternatives in these bars," says Lauren Manaker, MS, RDN, author of The First Time Mom's Pregnancy Cookbook and Fueling Male Fertility. "Made with quality ingredients like real peanuts, organic oats, and a touch of agave nectar, these bars will be a go-to for anyone who needs 10 grams of protein while on-the-go."
6. Best Protein Bar for Gut Health: Glow Beauty Fuel
"Glow Beauty Fuel is a protein bar that provides ingredients that support beauty and gut health, including Vitamin C, Hyaluronic Acid, Bioactive Collagen, and Hibiscus Flower," says Manaker. "All bars are low in sugar and are gluten, dairy, and soy-free, as well as non-GMO."
7. Best Paleo Protein Bar: EPIC Beef Sea Salt + Pepper Bar
"If you're serious about a high protein bar with minimal sugar, you can't beat one made from high-quality animal protein," says McMordie. "With about 11 grams of protein each, EPIC bars are made with 100% grass-fed beef and little else—including zero added sugar."
8. Best Keto-friendly Protein Bar: Bulletproof Collagen Protein Bar
With 12 grams of net carbs, Bulletproof's bar is a bit higher than your average keto protein bar, but it's a worthwhile carb expenditure. Its protein comes from grass-fed collagen, a trendy protein derived from bovine or marine sources (in this case, it's from grass-fed cows). It's particularly beneficial because it "helps to boost collagen production in the body, which has benefits for hair, skin, nails, joints, and gut health," says King. This bar is rich in MCT oil, which studies show can prevent long-term weight gain due to increased energy expenditure.
While this bar is great for those following the Bulletproof or cyclical keto lifestyle, King also likes to recommend it in general for a snack for those working on blood sugar balance.
9. Best Low-Sugar Protein Bar: Raw Rev Glo Peanut Butter, Dark Chocolate & Sea Salt
"Raw Rev Glo Bars have 3 grams of sugar and 11 grams of protein depending on the flavor, and they're made with whole food ingredients as well," says Goodson.
10. Best Protein Bar for Multiple Dietary Needs: :ratio Keto Friendly Toasted Almond Bar
"For an afternoon snack bar that will keep you feeling satisfied, I love the :ratio Bar. With only one gram of sugar, 12 grams of protein, and whole food ingredients, it is a crunchy, filling bar," says Goodson. "Plus, it works for various eating patterns like gluten-free, Keto, and vegetarian."
11. Most Natural Protein Bar: Rise Bar Lemon Cashew
"Most 'protein' bars have only 6-12 grams of protein per bar, but Rise [bars] are more substantial by providing 15-20 grams of protein per bar," says Anya Rosen, MS, RD, LD, IFNCP, CPT, a functional medicine dietitian and founder of Birchwell Clinic. "Rise bars also do not use sugar alcohols or other added ingredients that tend to cause bloating (such as corn fiber, chicory root, or inulin, which are found in many other popular bars, and as a result, they are easier to digest and great for individuals with food restrictions and/or sensitivities."
12. Best Meat Protein Bar: EPIC Provisions Venison Sea Salt + Pepper
"Made with the lean venison meat, these bars are a natural source of protein," says Manaker. "With only 1 gram of added sugar and made with minimal ingredients, this bar can help people sneak in 12 grams of protein when on the go."
13. Best Pre-Workout Protein Bar: Clif Chocolate Chip
Our basis for these protein bars mentioned is containing no more than 13 grams of sugar, but according to Goodson, a certain level of sugar can be beneficial for a pre-workout protein bar.
"The classic Clif Bar is ideal for a pre-workout bar because it is a 4:1 ratio of carbohydrates to protein (40-44 grams of carbohydrate and 10 grams of protein)," says Goodson. "This is ideal for providing the body with steady energy to get to and through a workout."
14. Best Post-Workout Protein Bar: Birthday Cake One Bar
"With 20 grams of high-quality protein from a milk protein isolate and whey protein isolate blend, the ONE Bar can help jumpstart muscle repair after a workout," says Goodson. "The goal is to eat the 20 grams of protein as soon as possible after exercise, ideally within 45 minutes, so throw this bar in your workout bag."
15. Best Protein Bar Made With Whole Ingredients: Go Raw Organic Sprouted Pumpkin Seed Bar
Goodson recommends the Go Raw Sprouted Pumpkin Seed Bar because it is full of whole ingredients like "sprouted pumpkin seeds, sprouted flaxseed, dates, raw agave nectar, and sea salt."