The Best Protein Bars
Healthy, filling snacks don’t need to taste bad
Our goal was to find the best tasting protein bar that still qualifies as a healthy snack. It needed to fill us up and provide enough protein, fiber, and other nutrients our bodies need — all while having as little sugar as possible. After talking to multiple nutritionists and reading the back of 164 ingredient labels closely, we taste-tested the top 25 contenders to find our top picks.
This bar manages to taste great while still packing a real nutritional punch. At only 160 calories per bar, it has 15 grams of protein, 10 grams of fiber, and only three grams of sugar.
Best Savory Protein Bar
Best Sweet Protein Bar
Best Vegan Protein Bar
A handful of candy certainly feels more fun to eat than a protein bar, but it has zero nutritional value. On the flip side, protein bars that pack 20-plus grams of protein and 20 grams of fiber no doubt keep you satiated for hours — but they taste absolutely horrible (even when masked with copious amounts of sugar.) That’s why we set out to find the best-tasting protein bar that still provides a healthy dose of the nutrients our bodies actually need to keep us feeling full — all while keeping sugar content to a minimum.
We wanted to find a healthy, protein-rich bar that’s actually a joy to eat.
Our top pick is Ooh Snap! Crispy Protein Bars. It tastes a lot like a Rice Krispies Bar — which we believe to be universally delicious — but comes with a powerhouse of a nutrition label. Each 160 calorie bar includes 15 g of protein, 10 g of fiber, and only three grams of sugar, making it an officially “healthy” snack to tide you over between meals.
For those with a more savory palate, we recommend Strong & Kind Honey Mustard Almond Bars. It still has a respectable 10 g of protein in each 230 calorie bar, and a reasonable three grams of fiber and six grams of sugar — but tastes just like a handful of trail mix. If you have a sweet tooth, Nature Valley's Protein Chewy Bars pack a surprisingly sweet flavor while only containing six grams of sugar and still delivering 10 grams of protein in each 190 calorie bar. The best tasting vegan option we found was Garden of Life Organic's Fit High-Protein Weight Loss Bars, which come with an impressive 14 g of protein in each 200 calorie bar and include a mere one gram of sugar.
How We Found the Best Protein Bars
We began our search by compiling a list of 164 widely available protein bars — culled from a variety of online retailers, health- and workout-related sites, and “best of” lists. The manufacturers of some of these bars turn out 10 or more flavor options. For simplicity’s sake, we decided to include only one bar per brand. (For example, our overall winner, the Ooh Snap! Crispy Protein Bar comes in Chocolate Peanut or Vanilla Marshmallow; we only included the latter.) From there, we sought out multiple nutritionists to help us home in what, exactly, qualifies as a “healthy snack.” Then we had a panel of taste testers try the 25 top contenders to find the best protein bar for most people, plus a few other great options for those with decidedly sweet or savory tastes.
We cut any bar that didn’t contain at least 10 grams of protein.
The recommended dietary allowance (RDA) for protein varies according to a person’s sex and build. As a general rule, we need 0.8 gram of protein per kilogram of body weight, which translates to about 75 to 90 grams of protein a day for active women, and roughly 100 to 110 grams a day for active men. More sedentary people, or, say, more petite people, require less. To calculate your own targeted protein goal, we recommend using the USDA’s daily nutrient calculator.
Shockingly, some of the products marketed as protein bars, including those by Special K, contained a measly 4 grams of protein (to put that in perspective, one cup of diced chicken breast delivers 43 grams of protein). Assuming you’re taking in some protein with meals, all of our experts recommended bars with between 5 and 15 grams of protein. “I like to see about 10 grams, a bit more than you’d get in a handful of nuts or a hardboiled egg,” explains Monica Auslander, MS, RD, LD/N, founder of Essence Nutrition in Miami. In other words, a smart snack. “As a general rule, 10 grams is a good benchmark for most of us.”
Then we took a hard line on sugar.
Plenty of protein bars, intended as meal replacements rather than snacks, use loads of sugar to mask the less-than-palatable flavor of high protein counts. Universal Nutrition’s Proteon Bars, for instance, contain a staggering 29 grams of protein — along with 19 grams of sugar. Those numbers might work together to create a good-enough tasting bar that’s bursting with protein, but for the purpose of finding an even remotely healthy snack, we wanted to keep a lid on sweets.
We cut any protein bars with more than 12 grams of sugar — and preferred bars with much less.
“More than 12 grams of sugar and you’re eating a glorified candy bar,” explains Auslander. That’s roughly equivalent to 3 teaspoons of sugar. As a point of comparison, a Snickers bar has 27 grams; 21 for a Kit Kat bar. And ultimately, capping sugar helps weed out bars that simply aren’t as healthy: “If sugar is high, carbs and total calories are likely to be high, as well,” says Sarah Mattison Berndt, RD, MS, CPT, a dietician, personal trainer, and nutrition advisor for Complete Nutrition. “So sugar is a good indicator of the nutritional status of the bar overall.”
We also dropped sugar alcohols.
Knowing that consumers are understandably wary of sugar, many protein bar manufacturers employ a little sleight of hand: They use sugar alcohols — sorbitol, mannitol, xylitol, and more — to sweeten products while keeping the sugar count low. (Some use these substitutes to sweeten bars that they label, technically, “sugar-free.”) Essentially, these carbohydrates are just chemically altered sugar. In this state, they contain fewer calories and don’t have as much of an impact on insulin levels in your blood. Sounds swell, right?
While sugar alcohols can prove helpful for people with diabetes, they don’t contribute to a better protein bar for most people.
“Sugar alcohols were actually developed as laxatives,” explains Barry Sears. “And they retain that activity in bars.” Indeed, our bodies cannot completely absorb sugar alcohols, which means rather than passing into the bloodstream, they travel through the gastrointestinal tract. Once there, they can ferment, causing abdominal cramping, flatulence, and diarrhea. “A lot of people experience bloating after eating a protein bar, and this is why,” adds Joe Feuerstein.
We looked at net carbohydrates, too.
Study any nutritional label, and you’ll find that fiber and sugar are lumped together, under a count for total carbohydrates. And since sugar’s necessary, in most cases, for producing a bar that you’ll actually want to eat, Feuerstein champions a closer look at the net carb count.
In other words, we looked at the total carbohydrates in a bar (in grams) and subtracted the amount of fiber it contains (in grams).
Our bodies don’t digest fiber, which moves through the GI tract and keeps us regular while also slowing the absorption of other carbs and helping to ward off spikes in blood sugar. Net carbs, in other words, are the leftover sugars and starches that can be absorbed by the body. And not surprisingly, the higher the net carbs, the less attractive the bar. “Ideally, I like to see no more than 15 grams of net carbs,” Feuerstein tells us. So we decided to cut any bars that had more than that.
Fiber content was crucial.
Protein content may be the most important factor when it comes to protein bars, but for a snack to fill you up, getting enough fiber is also key. “Fiber contributes to satiety and it’s a really underappreciated dietary component,” says Emily Braaten, MS, RD, LD. “Most Americans aren’t getting enough.” The USDA estimates that the average American adult gets a mere 16 grams of fiber each day. But the National Academy of Sciences recommends we consume 14 grams of fiber per 1,000 calories consumed. (That comes out to roughly 38 grams of fiber a day for men under 50 years old, while women in that same age group should get 25 grams daily. After age 50, that recommendation dips to 30 grams for men and 21 for women.)
If the aim is 14 grams per 1,000 calories, a 200-calorie bar should deliver just under 3 grams of fiber — so we required all of our top contenders to have at least that much fiber per serving, if not more.
Finally, we started snacking.
Balanced levels of protein, fiber, and other ingredients are all well and good, but if a protein bar tastes like wood pulp, it’s not going to do you much good. With 25 protein bars left in the running, we devised a blind taste test, with six active individuals (three men, three women) ranging in age from late-20s to late-30s. They were given a bite of each protein bar and asked to record their thoughts on overall appearance, texture, and flavor, rating those last two factors on a scale from 1 to 10, with 10 being the best. Other questions included: “If you’d already paid for this bar, would you finish it — or throw it away?” Indeed, some of the bars were so offensive to testers, they spit their bite out after a few chews. Even given the variety of personal preferences, a few standout protein bars universally rose to the top in terms of flavor, as well as nutritional value.
ANSI Gourmet Cheesecake Protein Bars
Boundless Nutrition Perfect FIT Protein Cookie
BPI Sports Best Protein Bars
BPI Sports FUNNBAR
Chef Robert Irvine FortiFX FIT Elite Bars
CytoSport Muscle Milk Snack Bars
Detour SMART (coconut almond)
Dr. Mercola Pro Puff Protein Bars
Garden of Life Organic Fit Protein Bars (peanut butter chocolate)
GNC Total Lean Bar
Julian Bakery Paleo Protein Bar
Julian Bakery Pegan Protein Bar
KIND Strong + Kind Bars (honey mustard)
Nature Valley Protein Bars (salted caramel nut)
NuGO Slim Bars
Oatmega Protein Bars
OhYeah! Nutrition OhYeah! Victory Bars
Primal Kitchen Protein Bars
Promax Carb Sense Bars
SimplyProtein Nut & Fruit Bars
SimplyProtein Whey Bars
Snap Nutrition OOH SNAP! Crispy Protein Bar (vanilla marshmallow)
Tracy Anderson Protein Bars
WonderSlim Protein and Fiber Bars
Our Picks for Best Protein Bars
Best Savory Protein Bar:
Best Sweet Protein Bar:
Best Vegan Protein Bar:
Price Per Bar
Protein: 15 g
Fiber: 10 g
Sugar: 3 g
Net carbs: 8 g
With an all-around appealing “Rice Krispies-treat-like taste and texture,” the Ooh Snap! Vanilla Marshmallow protein bar really does feel like a treat. Manufactured by the UK-founded Snap Nutrition, these bars pack an impressive 15 grams of protein and 10 grams of fiber with only 3 grams of sugar — and they don’t taste like it either.
After trying the Ooh Snap! Bar, testers reported zero aftertaste, a common complaint with most protein bars, and a nice crunch. All of our participants rated this bar highly on taste and texture; it was one of the few bars that got positive reviews across the board. The formula blends five types of protein, including soy protein isolate, whey protein, and milk protein concentrate. At around $2 a bar, the price fell roughly in the middle of the 25 finalists in our taste test (the most expensive came in at $2.67; the lowest only cost $0.73).
Ooh Snap! makes these bars in just two flavors — vanilla marshmallow, and chocolate peanut, which has a similar Rice Krispies-like texture with an outer chocolate coating. The caveat: Even the vanilla marshmallow bar contains flavoring from peanuts and almonds, so our top pick’s one drawback — a trait it shares with the vast majority of protein bars on the market — is that it won’t do for users with nut allergies. If that’s you, try our Best Nut-Free Protein Bar top pick: Boundless Nutrition Perfect Fit Chocolate Chip Cookies.
Tester comments included, “Just like dessert!” and, “Sweet and creamy,” and, “Just enough crunch.” Only one tester had a negative comment: “A little too sweet,” but that person preferred savory flavors to begin with. Our entire panel said they’d happily eat this bar again — the only time that decision was unanimous for a bar that contained 15 grams of protein or more.
Others to Consider
In a sea of dizzyingly dessert-like flavors (including iced vanilla cupcake, vanilla birthday cake, chocolate chip cookie, and so on) this honey-mustard-flavored bar, comprised of whole almonds and pumpkin seeds, proved a nice reprieve. Several of our taste testers likened it to “a handful of trail mix.” Our panel consistently sung Strong & Kind Honey Mustard Almond Bar’s praises — even the participants that were self-avowed sugar fanatics.
Protein: 10 g
Fiber: 3 g
Sugar: 6 g
Net carbs: 12g
Kind introduced a new subset of its bars, Strong & Kind, after receiving some bad press regarding its liberal use of the word “healthy” to describe certain bars with low protein and high sugar and saturated fat counts (a decidedly unhealthy snack). Still, its low fiber content, just 3 grams, kept it from being our top pick overall. And with 230 calories per bar, it has 70 more calories per serving than the Ooh Snap! Crispy Protein Bar, too.
Aside from that, though, the gluten-, dairy-, and soy-free bar packs an impressive punch, with 10 grams of protein derived from plants, including pea protein isolate. In fact, the only ingredient that keeps these bars from being vegan is honey. Kind also turns out similar bars in five flavors, from Roasted Jalapeno to Thai Sweet Chili, for around $1.33 apiece.
In general, ubiquitous grocery-store brands did not fare well with our nutritional criteria. Special K protein bars, for instance, brought just 4 grams of protein to the table, while Cascadian Farm Protein bars had 17 net carbs (the Ooh Snap! Crispy Protein Bar only has eight). Much to our initial surprise, however, Nature Valley’s Salted Caramel Nut Protein Chewy Bar — another gluten-free option with 10 grams of protein — flew through the cuts and made it into our taste test with no problems. It was the only mass-market brand to do so. It looked a little out of place alongside GNC, Muscle Milk, Victory, and FitElite bars that felt more like body-building than lunch-box snacks — but nutritionally, we knew it could actually compete.
Protein: 10 g
Fiber: 5 g
Sugar: 6 g
Net carbs: 9 g
It also tasted great, receiving the highest marks for flavor and texture of any bar our panel tried. A less-than-ideal 6 grams of sugar and a few other ingredients (corn syrup, corn starch, and chicory root, which can cause gas and GI distress for people with irritable bowel syndrome) knocked it down a few pegs overall, but if you have a sweet tooth, you’re not going to find a healthier, sweet-tasting protein bar out there. Tasting notes included “delicious,” “a big fan!” and, “I could actually eat the whole thing.” It also happened to be the least expensive bar on our list, coming in at about $0.60 a pop.
Let’s be clear: This isn’t actually a “weight loss” bar. It’s just a vegan protein bar — but it’s still a good one, despite it’s somewhat misleading marketing. For those looking for a bar absent of any animal proteins (or other animal-based ingredients), the least offensive identified in our taste test was Garden of Life’s Peanut Butter Chocolate High Protein Weight Loss Bar, which boasts 14 grams of plant-based protein (from peanuts, pea protein, and sprouted-brown rice), 13 grams of fiber, and only 1 gram of sugar. Our testers liked the chocolate flavor and chocolate coating, but more than half noted a dry or chalky texture, a common detractor for plant-based protein bars.
Protein: 14 g
Fiber: 13 g
Sugar: 1 g
Net carbs: 13 g
The Garden of Life bar has a uniform texture and consistency, a factor that tasters felt was less desirable than the chunky Kind and Nature Valley bars and the more granular Ooh Snap! Crispy Protein Bar. And at $2 to $4 apiece depending on flavor, the vegan option is slightly pricier than our other top picks, but still at least $0.50 cheaper than all of the other plant-based protein bars we looked at.
Did You Know?
You shouldn’t skip the ingredient list when picking out a protein bar.
“Remember that ingredients are listed in order of dominating weight, so pay extra attention to the first couple of ingredients listed,” says Berndt. “It’s like a snapshot of what makes up the majority of the bar.” Ideally, the protein source comes first or second, along with other whole foods like nuts or oats. In terms of red flags, favor bars with ingredients you can recognize and pronounce, says Feuerstein. “If you’re looking at a cheap bar made by a multinational corporation,” he explains, “by line two, you’re going to be deep in a chemistry lesson.”
Trendy new protein-bar-like options are making their debuts — but we’re saving those for another review.
In the wake of the Paleo craze, high-protein products are on the upswing, though many of them don’t market themselves as protein bars, per se. Companies like Wilde are putting out bars made from pasture-raised beef, turkey, and chicken, while countless startups are experimenting with cricket flour (essentially pulverized, farm-raised bugs that have a low environmental footprint and an incredibly high protein profile). Our initial list gathered products labeled as protein bars, and most of these meat- and bug-based bars aren’t. Exo’s cricket flour-based protein bar landed on our initial list, but its 13 grams of sugar took it out of the running early on. In the months and years to come, more of these less-processed bars will make their way into the protein bar space.