Magazine cover image Get the Fall Issue

The Best & Worst Protein Bars at Trader Joe's

You'll want to read the labels before picking up a post-workout snack.

Trader Joe's is known for having a wide array of healthy options, from the frozen section to the pantry aisles. But that doesn't mean there aren't items that can sneak past your health radar under the guise of being protein-packed. In fact, there's a lot more you should be looking at when picking out a protein bar, and there are a few factors that should weigh into your decision. Ahead, we've rounded up the best and the worst Trader Joe's protein bars.

Instead of blindly trusting what appears to have the highest protein content or a clean ingredient list, you'll want to pay attention to other items on the nutrition label, too. "The bar of your choice should depend on when the bar is being consumed (before, during, or after exercise), your health (high blood pressure, high risk for cardiovascular disease, diabetes, etc.), and health goals (weight gain, weight loss, muscle gain, etc.), and overall dietary intake habits," shares Sakiko Minagawa, MS, RDN.

Keep this handy next time you're headed for your local TJ's, along with these handy Trader Joe's shopping tips, and you'll have the most envied cart in the store.

Now, here's how to navigate the best and worst protein bars at Trader Joe's.

The Worst Protein Bars at Trader Joe's

Worst: Bulletproof Vanilla Shortbread Collagen Protein Bar

220 calories, 14 g fat (6 g saturated fat, 0 g trans fat), 115 mg sodium, 14 g carbs (5 g fiber, 2 g sugar), 12 g protein

Even though this bar touts collagen support and contains anti-inflammatory Brain Octane oil, you may not be as big a fan of the relatively low protein content and higher fat content compared to others on this list.

Worst: RXBar Chocolate Sea Salt

210 calories, 9 g fat (2 g saturated fat, 0 g trans fat), 260 mg sodium, 23 g carbs (5 g fiber, 13 g sugar), 12 g protein

Many athletes or fans of the gym will try to bulk up with a protein bar or protein smoothie ahead of their workout instead of eating on a completely empty stomach. And one like this could be a great option—but beware of the high sugar and sodium. "If a bar is planned to be consumed prior or during exercise, a bar higher in carbohydrates—the primary source of energy for your body during exercise—and moderate fat (this will help you from getting too hungry during exercise) content may be a better choice," says Minagawa.

Worst: KIND Crunchy Peanut Butter Protein

250 calories, 18 g fat (4 g saturated fat, 0 g trans fat, 2 g polyunsaturated fat, 11 g monounsaturated fat), 140 mg sodium, 17 g carbs (5 g fiber, 8 g sugar)

With the 2016 changes to nutrition labels, which included separating added sugars from naturally-occurring sugars, it is increasingly becoming easier to see where excess sugar is coming from. This bar includes six grams of added sugar.

"The 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend reducing caloric intake from added sugars, as this can make it difficult for individuals to stay within the daily caloric needs, as well as daily vitamin and mineral needs," says Minagawa.

RELATED: No-sugar-added recipes you'll actually look forward to eating.

Worst: Power Crunch Peanut Butter Fudge

215 calories, 13 g fat (7 g saturated fat, 0 g trans fat), 120 mg sodium, 12 g carbs (1 g fiber, 5 g sugar), 13 g protein

This is less of a bar and more of a wafer-style cookie, and it shows! With a high saturated fat content and low fiber to balance it all out, you might be better off just eating one of these healthy cookies instead.

Worst: think! Chocolate Fudge

230 calories, 8 g fat (3 g saturated fat, 0 g trans fat), 190 mg sodium, 24 g carbs (1 g fiber, 0 g sugar), 20 g protein

As far as bars go, this isn't the worst at first glance. And it does contain 20 grams of protein, which can be a great way to rebuild your needed protein blocks post-workout. However, the low fiber and high calorie count don't always outweigh that.

The Best Protein Bars at Trader Joe's

Best: Perfect Bar Coconut Peanut Butter

340 calories, 21 g fat (6 g saturated fat, 0 g trans fat, 2 g polyunsaturated fat, 13 g monounsaturated fat), 55 mg sodium, 25 g carbs (4 g fiber, 19 g sugar), 16 g protein

You won't find these with the rest of the bars on this list—check the refrigerated section! Packed with organic superfoods and healthy fats, this bar uses whole food protein over whey or soy for a fresh and not-heavy mouthfeel.

Best: GoMacro Protein Paradise Cashew Caramel

260 calories, 11 g fat (2 g saturated fat, 0 g trans fat), 35 mg sodium, 30 g carbs (1 g fiber, 10 g sugar), 11 g protein

Clocking in with the lowest sodium on the list, this raw bar is an easy way to get in the superfood mesquite. Mesquite is a low-glycemic sweetener that's packed with minerals and high in dietary fiber. A little goes a long way with this sweet yet spicy bar.

Best: CLIF Crunchy Peanut Butter

260 calories, 7 g fat (1 g saturated fat, 0 g trans fat, 2.5 g polyunsaturated fat, 3 g monounsaturated fat), 230 mg sodium, 40 g carbs (4 g fiber, 19 g sugar), 11 g protein

While this bar only contains four grams of fiber, it has a balanced mix of other nutrients, including three grams of insoluble fiber. Both soluble and insoluble fibers have multiple health benefits, and this bar offers both types.

"Insoluble fiber does not dissolve in water, therefore it moves through the gastrointestinal tract without changing form, adding bulk, which promotes healthy bowel movement," shares Minagawa.

Best: ONE Birthday Cake

210 calories, 7 g fat (5 g saturated fat, 0 g trans fat, 1 g polyunsaturated fat, 1 g monounsaturated fat), 140 mg sodium, 22 g carbs (9 g fiber, 1 g sugar), 20 g protein

This bar that's higher in protein "may be a better choice for post-exercise fuel to maximize muscle repair and synthesis," says Minagawa. It also contains polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats. Consuming these fats in moderation, rather than consuming high amounts of saturated fat or refined carbohydrates, can reduce harmful LDL cholesterol and lower triglycerides.

Best: QUEST Cookies & Cream

200 calories, 8 g fat (2.5 saturated fat, 0 g trans fat), 280 mg sodium, 21 g carbs (15 g fiber, 1 g sugar, 2 g erythritol), 21 g protein

Dietary fiber is a key nutrient for our digestive health and encourages regular and healthy bowel movements. And this bar takes the cake (or in this case, cookie) when it comes to high fiber content. "In term of fiber, the Quest bars wins the battle with an impressive 15 grams," says Minagawa, who also approved these Trader Joe's bestsellers.

Next time you're shopping for a post-workout snack at TJ's, keep this list in mind. Not all Trader Joe's protein products are created equal.

Get the Fall Issue

Featuring delicious weight loss recipes, quick and easy sheet pan suppers, slow cooker tips and much more!

Jacqueline Weiss
Jacqueline Weiss is a vegan food writer specializing in product coverage. Read more
Filed Under