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10 Unhealthiest Protein Bars To Avoid

You don't want to rely on these bars made with artificial ingredients and sketchy additives to grow your muscles.
FACT CHECKED BY Olivia Tarantino
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If you have a box of protein bars stored in your kitchen cupboard for a filling snack or quick meal, then you're definitely not alone. According to MarketWatch, protein bars make up a thriving, billion-dollar industry that's expected to continue to grow with consumers eager to snap up and chow down on their favorite varieties. This success in sales is likely, in part, because people appreciate the taste, however, many are also choosing protein bars because they believe they're body-friendly protein-packed mini-meals. Unfortunately, not all protein bars are as healthy as you might have assumed.

"A healthy protein bar is generally characterized by its balanced nutrient content," Scott Keatley, RD, CDN, tells Eat This, Not That! Keatley explains that it ideally "should be low in added sugars, saturated and trans fats, and sodium," but "high in fiber and protein." Beyond that, he notes that "the quality of ingredients is also paramount," which means that you should "opt for protein bars with whole food ingredients." On the other hand, you want to "avoid those with artificial additives and highly processed ingredients."

Mary Sabat, MS, RDN, LD, tells Eat This, Not That! that you might also want to consider how your specific requirements may affect your choice, saying that you should "check the ingredient list for potential allergens if you have specific dietary restrictions." On top of that, "depending on your goals (weight loss, muscle gain, etc.), the calorie content of the protein bar may be a crucial factor."

With that in mind, be sure to check out the options below are 11 of the unhealthiest protein bars that you may want to stay away from right now. Read on, and for more, don't miss 8 Protein Powders To Stay Away From Right Now.

Gatorade Whey Protein Recover Bars Chocolate Caramel

gatorade protein bar
Per one bar or 80 g – 330 calories, 10 g fat (8 g saturated fat), 190 mg sodium, 43 g carbs (0 g fiber, 28 g sugar), 20 g protein

Gatorade is a trusted name when it comes to fueling athletes. That's why you might assume that the Gatorade Whey Protein Recover Bars are a healthy choice. Frankly, the brand boasts that they're "[u]sed by the NFL, NBA, [and] MLB" and claim that their bars are "[s]cientifically developed for athletes…" Along with providing active folks with a burst of energy, this snack contains whey and milk protein that apparently "help rebuild your muscles so you come back strong" after exerting yourself.

However, these bars also contain ingredients that you might want to avoid. For instance, Keatley points out that they are "high in added sugars and saturated fats." They also include "a fair amount of artificial ingredients."

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SNICKERS Hi Protein Original Singles Size Bar

snickers hi protein
Per 56 g bar: 240 calories, 10 g fat (5 g saturated fat), 150 mg sodium, 19 g carbs (6 g fiber, 4 g sugar), 20 g protein

When you indulge in a chocolatey treat, then you may choose to grab a Snickers bar. However, when you want to fight off hunger pangs with a healthy snack, then you may not want to opt for SNICKERS Hi Protein Original Singles Size Bars. Sabat says, "Despite being marketed as a protein bar, Snickers Protein Bars still contain a considerable amount of unhealthy fats from the nougat and caramel layers."

Clif Builder's Protein Bar Chocolate Peanut Butter

Clif Builder's Protein Bar Chocolate Peanut Butter
Per 69 g bar: 290 calories, 11 g fat (6 g saturated fat), 330 mg sodium, 29 g carbs (2 g fiber, 17 g sugar), 20 g protein

"While popular among hikers and athletes, Clif Builder's Protein Bars are relatively high in sugar (17 grams per bar) and often include added syrups and brown rice syrup, which can lead to blood sugar spikes," Sabat explains.

Keatley also points out the iffy ingredients in this product. He notes that "while it provides a good amount of protein, it also packs in a lot of added sugars."

Kellogg's® Special K® Chocolate Peanut Butter Protein Meal Bars

Kellogg's Special K Chocolate Peanut Butter Protein Meal Bars
Per 45 g bar: 190 calories, 9 g fat (4.5 g saturated fat), 230 mg sodium, 19 g carbs (5 g fiber, 7 g sugar), 12 g protein

Kellogg's® Special K® Chocolate Peanut Butter Protein Meal Bars may be a sweet snack thanks to the chocolate and peanut butter combination that gives this product its decadent flavor. However, if you've been picking them up to provide your body with needed nutrients, then you should be aware of the fact that they "are relatively low in protein compared to their calorie and sugar content," Sabat points out. "They also contain added sugars and artificial ingredients."

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MET-Rx Big 100 Colossal Bars Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough

met rx big 100 chocolate chip cookie dough
Per 100 g bar: 410 calories, 12 g fat (5 g saturated fat), 140 mg sodium, 45 g carbs (1 g fiber, 18 g sugar), 30 g protein

Both Sabat and Keatley warn against MET-Rx Big 100 Colossal Bars with Keatley telling us, "While it's rich in protein, it also comes with a high calorie count, plenty of added sugar, and saturated fats."

"These bars are high in calories and sugar, making them more suitable for highly active individuals or those trying to gain weight rather than for those seeking a balanced protein snack," Sabat explains.

Luna LemonZest Protein Bar

luna lemon zest protein bar
Clif Bar
Per 48 g bar: 190 calories, 6 g fat (2.5 g saturated fat), 85 mg sodium, 28 g carbs (3 g fiber, 9 g sugar), 8 g protein

Luna LemonZest is meant to be "a creamy citrus dream" and attempts to achieve that tasty goal by using organic rolled oats and apparently giving you enough protein to add some "zest" into your day. Granted, these bars aren't as dreamy as you might want due to the excessive amount of sugar and artificial ingredients which is far from ideal.

In fact, a study that was published by the BioMed Research International journal in June 2022 found that "chemical food additives can trigger a slew of serious health issues" which is surely something that you want to avoid along with potentially problematic protein bars.

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Think High Protein Bars

think hight protein bar
Per 60 g bar: 230 calories, 8 g fat (3 g saturated fat), 190 mg sodium, 23 g carbs (1 g fiber, 0 g sugar), 20 g protein

ThinkThin High Protein Bars come in a range of options including Brownie Crunch, Chocolate Fudge, Chunky Peanut Butter, and Creamy Peanut Butter. That's not to mention Cookies And Créme, Lemon Delight, White Chocolate Flavor, and Chocolate Mint.

These tempting flavors are meant to satisfy both your cravings and your hunger. Whether or not that's accurate, Keatley points out that they're not exactly what he would consider to be a healthy choice because they are "high in sugar alcohols and low in fiber."

ZonePerfect Protein Bars

zone perfect bar
Per 50 g bar: 220 calories, 8 g fat (4 g saturated fat), 270 mg sodium, 24 g carbs (1 g fiber, 15 g sugar), 14 g protein

ZonePerfect Protein Bars are another product that you might have come across on store shelves. And that's where you may want to leave them as Keatley tells us they are "high in added sugars and low in fiber."

Sabat also tells us that "these bars have a high sugar content and contain soy protein isolate, which is a processed and less nutritious form of protein."

Pure Protein Bars

pure protein chocolate deluxe protein bar
Pure Protein
Per 50 g bar: 180 calories, 4.5 g fat (3.5 g saturated fat), 90 mg sodium, 17 g carbs (2 g fiber, 3 g sugar), 21 g protein

Pure Protein Bars can offer you the kind of significant boost that your body may need throughout the day. However, that doesn't mean that you should run out and pop them into your shopping cart. Indeed, although Keatley acknowledges that "these bars have a decent amount of protein," he also notes that "they are high in artificial sweeteners."

OhYeah! One Bars

one bar chocolate chip cookie dough
One Bars
Per 60 g bar: 210 calories, 8 g fat (6 g saturated fat), 130 mg sodium, 23 g carbs (3 g fiber, 1 g sugar), 20 g protein

OhYeah! One Bars claim that "[y]ou've earned the right to sneak a little taste of cookie dough with this high protein snack bar." Unfortunately, protein isn't all that you would be consuming if you picked up a box of these bars. Keatley explains that they are also "high in saturated fats and use artificial sweeteners."

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Desirée O
Desirée O is a freelance writer who covers lifestyle, food, and nutrition news among other topics. Read more about Desirée
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