Ask Amelia Food Myths Nutrition

Protein Bars: Healthy or Junk?

are protein bars healthy

Protein bars sound healthy, and most of them taste bad enough that they’d better be healthy or what’s the point in eating them?!  So, are they?

It depends on the bar, but largely, no.

Most protein bars, snack bars, and meal replacement bars are little more than candy bars with some extra additives.  Sure their labels boast words like “thin,” “slim,” or “nutritious,” but when you read the ingredients, you see that they are anything but.

What makes protein bars so bad?

  1. Soy protein isolate.  A highly processed soy derivative, soy protein isolate is a poor quality protein that has been shown to increase estrogen levels in the body (see here why less processed soy is better).  It’s also frequently made from genetically modified soybeans.
  2. Tons of ingredients.  In general with packaged foods, fewer ingredients = higher quality food.  Protein bars have long ingredients lists which are often loaded with unidentifiable, highly processed, or artificial ingredients.
  3. Tons of sweeteners.  Most protein bars have tons of sugar or other sweeteners.  Even the “low sugar” ones are super sweet thanks to artificial sweeteners and sugar alcohols (which by the way, can cause severe digestive distress).
  4. Vitamins do not = healthy.  Adding vitamins to a packaged food does not make that packaged food healthy.  Period.
  5. Unnecessary.  Most Americans get plenty of protein.  Sure, protein bars offer a way to beat hunger when you’re on-the-go, but you’re better off packing fruit + cheese, yogurt + nuts, or a baggie of trail mix for times when you can’t eat a real meal.

are protein bars healthy

If you’re in a pinch and need to choose a protein bar, look for bars with:

  • Fewest ingredients
  • Honey or sugar as the sweetener
  • Nuts and seeds for healthy fat & naturally occurring fiber
  • Oats or another whole grain as the first ingredient

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4 Comments

  • Reply
    Mikayla
    August 21, 2012 at 7:31 pm

    These are great guidelines, thanks so much for sharing. I like the KIND protein/nut bars, which are chocked full of good stuff. I’m also enjoy the Nature Valley protein bars (peanut butter, dark chocolate is my fave), which aren’t too bad as far protein bars go. 🙂

    • Reply
      Amelia
      August 26, 2012 at 1:23 pm

      Great tip, Mikayla!

  • Reply
    Miranda Hernandez
    September 27, 2012 at 9:42 pm

    I love me some Mrs. Mays concoctions! Only a handful of ingredients, all of which you can Read and can clearly See are in the bars or snacks. Their Trio bars are great, and I love their Triple Berry Crunch. Used to get these all the time at Costco, but we’re stuck in Guam, so no Costco or Whole Foods to shop at 🙁

  • Reply
    Frank Kif
    March 13, 2019 at 7:05 am

    Hi Amelia.
    I work in a gym and also a Nutrition Consultant.
    I am glad to see your article as I completely agree with you.
    The thing is that most people don’t read ingredients but also have no idea if what is what.
    All the best.
    Thank
    Frank Kif
    Holistic PT and Nutrition Consultant

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