Soccer practice, ballet, little league, trying to get your kids out the door on time; the go go go fashion of today’s world has made eating on the go not only routine but necessary.
The marketplace has delivered by the introduction of nutrition bars that offer convenient little portable “meals”.
Sitting somewhere between fast food and home cooked meals, protein bars offer a great solution.
Which to choose for your little darling is another story.
Taking into consideration the balance between protein, fat, sugar, and fiber, many find themselves illiterate when it comes to food labels.
our top 5 picks
Learning how to read a label
Before we get into the review of each individual bar, let's talk a bit about labels.
One of the most confusing words on any food label is “trans fat”. Trans fat include things like hydrogenated oils which help prolong shelf life.
When consumed, trans fats lower your HDL (the “good” cholesterol), raise your LDL (the “bad” cholesterol) and slow metabolism.
While finding foods marked as having 0 trans fat, it is important to remember that food labels are legally allowed to contain less than 1 gram of trans fat per serving and still list it as 0 grams.
The maximum recommended intake of sodium is around one teaspoon (roughly 2,300 mg) per day (1).
Overconsumption of sodium has been correlated with hypertension.
Hypertension is high blood pressure which strains the heart.
Carbs and Sugar
While both carbohydrates and sugar seem like they should be avoided at all costs, both are found in whole foods and are a vital source of energy.
The key is knowing where and how to get them. Perhaps you have heard the terms “complex” vs “simple” carbs.
Complex carbs are in fibrous foods like fruits and veggies and are leaps and bounds healthier for you than a simple carb like refined sugar.
The fiber found in complex carbs leads to the body breaking down food more slowly and thus preventing a blood sugar spike.
Think of the difference between an apple vs apple juice.
The whole fruit contains fiber while the juice has likely been processed and stripped of its fiber and infused with artificial sugars.
Fiber helps with blood sugar levels as well as helping keep you feeling full.
Children between the ages of 4-8 should get 25 grams a day.
As children begin adolescence, their recommendations change based on sex.
Older girls between 9-18 should get 26 grams of fiber a day.
Older boys, aged 9-13 are advised to get 31 grams and teen boys aged 14-18, 38 grams per day (2).
While the rest of the world and your food labels are using the metric system, you may find yourself unable to understand what 4 grams of something even looks like.
A simple trick to converting grams to teaspoons is to divide by 4.
An example of this is 16 grams of sugar is equal to 4 teaspoons of sugar.
Understanding the ingredients list
Ingredient lists are listed in order by weight; meaning the first ingredient is the most abundant in the item.
A good rule of thumb is if you can not pronounce or do not recognize an ingredient, to not consume it.
Another good rule of thumb is to look for lists which have five or less ingredients.
The longer the list, usually the more unnecessary artificial preservatives there are.
Protein Bar vs Granola Bar vs Cereal Bar
Protein bars are often more nutritious than other types of bars. This is due to their proportion of protein to carbohydrates and fats.
Granola bars are typically a sweet, baked bar made out of oats. They usually consist of rolled oats, butter, brown sugar, and some type of syrup.
A cereal bar is a prepackaged bar consisting of breakfast cereal. These can range from the more sugary bars made of fruity pebbles and other cold cereals to the fruit filled oat bars.
The issue of accessibility is two-fold.
The first is the question of whether everyone has access to certain protein bars.
This question is meant to highlight the prevalence or lack thereof of certain bars depending upon store choices.
With the help of the internet, this problem should dissolve.
The second issue of accessibility is where this food can be taken.
The issue of allergies and exposure to allergens is a severe risk for some that many schools and other locations try their best to keep the environment allergen free.
This may impact parents who have a child who loves peanuts or chocolate but their child’s school has a strict policy on what can be brought in to protect other children.
Now let's talk about the bars..
Top 5 Bars Reviewed
The Clif Organic Z Bars are marked specifically for children.
Clif will be a familiar and trust brand of protein bars to many consumers.
The Z bar is an organic, soft and chewy snack bar. It is made with 10-12 grams of whole grains; translating to a great source of fiber.
The “organic” in the title refers to the certified USDA organic and non-GMO standard.
A huge draw to this product is its lack of the ingredients parents wish to avoid, such as: high fructose corn syrup, artificial flavors, and synthetic preservatives.
This particular bar may be seen as more of an energy bar than a protein bar.
This is due to the fact that they provide above average amounts of carbohydrates than a standard protein bar.
An example of the food label facts for a chocolate brownie flavored bar would be: 120 calories, 3 grams of protein, 3.5 grams of fat (1g saturated), 23 grams of carbohydrates (10 grams of sugars or 2.5 teaspoons, and 3 grams of dietary fiber) and is fortified with 12 vitamins and minerals.
The Vega Protein+ bars offer an all-in-one plant based protein bar.
The ingredients of this bar include pea, hemp and flax all making up 11 grams of protein in each bar and 50% of the recommended daily intake of vitamins and minerals coming from broccoli, strawberries, kale, and other natural, whole food ingredients.
In addition to the protein, vegetables and greens, each bar offers 4 grams of fiber.
At least 25% DV of 11 different vitamins like A, C, D, E, and K.
Being a bar that is completely plant-based translates to being vegan friendly.
Vega Protein+ Snack Bar is made without any animal ingredients, including dairy, eggs, or honey.
This bar is also soy free in addition to being animal byproduct free.
This bar is filled with protein, vitamins and taste. NuGo Dark bars are dipped in antioxidant-rich, real dark chocolate.
Every NoGu Dark flavor is certified as being gluten-free, vegan, kosher, and non-GMO.
These bars also offer a high protein count with 10 grams in each bar.
This translates to a longer last feeling of being full while the taste satisfied the need for flavor.
While every NuGo Dark bar contains 15 grams of sugar, the NuGo brand does offer a bar with only 3 grams of sugar that does not contain the dark chocolate coating.
One thing to note is that this product is made with soy protein. While not a concern for some, it can be a health issue for others.
As the name suggests, this bar is nut free.
In addition to being nut free it is also gluten-free, organic, and non-GMO.
This is made possible by their use of their own peanut-free, tree nut-free, gluten-free facility making this bar perfect for schools, airplanes and other nut-free places.
This conversation of allergens goes back to earlier in the article where accessibility of where one can or can not bring their protein bars due to safety issues.
Purefit bars are kosher, vegan, and dairy-, wheat-, and gluten-free.
Made from soy protein, this bar is accessible to a wide range of dietary needs and free of common allergens.
One bar provides 220 calories, 18 grams of protein, 6 grams of fat (1 grams saturated) and 24 grams of carbohydrates (15 grams of sugar or 3.75 teaspoons and 3 grams of dietary fiber).
These bars, though chocolate-coated, do not melt as easily as other bars.
This makes Purefit bars perfect for long trips in the car or bus or stuffed in a cubby hole or locker for an after school treat.
Out of the featured protein bars, the one to rise above the others was the Vega Protein+ bars.
Their allowance to be accessible for consumption for a wide range of consumers through their plant based make-up along with the 25% fulfillment of varying vitamins makes it a popular choice.
Low risk of allergens, accessible to vegans and non-vegans alike, and high in vitamins makes this bar a top choice.