Zeroing In On the Best Energy Bars
We set the “bar” high. Our criteria for healthy bars: Protein: more than 3 grams; Fiber: more than 3 grams; Fat: mostly heart-healthy fats; Carbs: mostly whole grains with 10-20 grams sugar
Our top flavor pick: Lemon Zest
Bar Stats: 180 calories, 9g protein, 3g fiber, 13g sugar, 5g fat (2.5g saturated)
Pros: Offers a nice balance of the nutrient "Big 3"—protein, fat, carb—in a sweet, almost candy-like, bar. With almost 10 grams of protein, the bars can double as appetite quenching snacks or a post workout protein boost. Sugar is about three teaspoons; lower would be nicer, but this is about average since sugars make bars taste good. (A Snicker's candy bar has 29 grams sugar.) Other pluses: Bars are made with 70% organic ingredients and are newly fortified with Vitamin D.
Cons: Geared just to women.
Bar Stats: 210 calories, 13g protein, 3g fiber, 14g sugar, 10g fat (3.5g saturated)
Pros: Leave chemical-tasting behemoth protein bars to the body builders. This pairing of peanut butter and dark chocolate offers a delicious 13 grams of quality protein. It's plenty to quench an appetite too. Also noteworthy: Agave nectar for the sweetener and a line that includes gluten, dairy, and soy-free choices.
Cons: Not as widely available as big name brands.
Bar Stats: 160 calories, 3g protein, 4g fiber, 21g sugar, 2g fat (0g saturated)
Pros: With flavors reminiscent of a slightly sweet Fig Newton, these organic bars deliver a blast of slow-digest carbs gleaned mainly from a mix of dried fruits, chia seeds, and rolled oats. Sugars are a little higher than our benchmark, but we've made an exception because studies show that carbs (plus a little bit of protein) before a workout give exercisers an energy edge, allowing them to workout longer and do more reps.
Cons: A little bit plain Jane in taste.
Bar Stats: 190 calories, 6g protein, 8g fat (0.5g saturated), 3g fiber, 19g sugars
Pros: Made with nuts, seeds, and dried fruits, raw food bars harvest Mother Nature's finest energy with minimal processing. Ranking them depends on your priorities. Organic a must? Pure bars are 100% organic; our runner up, Cashew Cookie Larabar, is not. Fat an issue? Pure edges out Larabar with a little less fat (8 grams versus 13). Love variety? Larabars offer a deliciously longer list of flavors from Cherry Pie to new Tropical Fruit Tart.
Cons: Lower amounts of protein than most energy bars.
Bar Stats: 250 calories, 10g protein, 5g fat (1.5g saturated), 5g fiber, 20g sugar
Pros: Most energy bars are too skimpy on calories to replace a meal. One bar we tried offered a tasty 400 calorie package but was skimpy on protein. Another bar delivered on protein but was dry as chalk. So our strategy: pair this higher calorie oatmeal cookie bar with real food. Add a couple of low-fat string cheeses or a handful of nuts and a piece of fruit to make a nice small meal. Other pluses: it’s fortified to replace nutrients missed at meals.
Cons: Nothing beats a real meal, but good in a pinch.
Bar Stats: 130 calories, 4g protein, 4.5g fat (2g saturated), 4g fiber, 12g sugar
Pros: Half the size of most energy bars, this crunchy cookie-style gluten-free bar tastes like a cross between fruitcake and biscotti. With four grams of protein, as much fiber as many of the big bars, and just under five grams of fat, it puts up respectable nutrition numbers for a light snack. Use it to take the edge off hunger without ruining your appetite for dinner. Runner up contenders: newer mini size Luna and Clif bars offer a skinny 80 to 100 calories.
Cons: Not an option if you're allergic to soy.
Bar Stats: 120 calories, 3g protein, 3g fat (1g saturated), 3g fiber, 12g sugar
Pros: Downsized to meet pint-size energy and nutrient needs, Z bars have enough sweetness to appeal as cookies. Yet, they offer a bit of protein and fiber to make a better snack. For teens and older kids: Clif Mojo Peanut Butter & Jelly offers a little less fiber than a PBJ on whole grain bread, but a little more protein too. At 220 calories and nine grams of protein, it's not a bad choice when older kids are caught without something to eat.
Cons: Doesn't let kids appreciate the best nutrition—whole foods.