My friends are always asking me, “What’s a good snack to keep around to avoid a food emergency?”
One of my go-to recommendations, whether you’re looking for a sweet treat or a savory one, is a high-quality protein or energy bar.
Bars are an awesome way to pack in some on-the-go nourishment when you’re running around and need some quick fuel on a busy day. However, a lot of the bars out there are made from processed ingredients that aren’t the best for our bodies.
Today, I’m highlighting some of my favorite clean snack bars made from delicious whole-food ingredients. And to make it easier to weed out the brands that suck, I’m giving you a checklist that will help you find a high-quality bar in a pinch.
But first, I want to share some honest thoughts with you about bars versus whole foods.
Real Talk Note #1: Bars Aren’t Meant to Be a Substitute for Whole Foods
This is important. When we have the time and bandwidth, whole-food snacks are the best way to get your nourishment (food first, always!). Some of Taylor’s (my co-writer) and my favorite high-protein snacks are smoked salmon, plain organic Greek yogurt or kefir, and hard-boiled eggs.
But sometimes we genuinely don’t have access to whole-food snacks. Whether you’re running errands, on a long car ride, traveling, or in back-to-back meetings—those are the times when having a high-quality bar on hand can be a great way to avoid feeling “hangry.”
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Real Talk Note #2: Calories Still Matter
So many health experts say that calories don’t matter, it’s the quality of the food that makes up the calories that matter.
This is an important message for unsubscribing to the “a calorie is a calorie” mindset, but it’s not meant to be interpreted as we can eat however much we want as long as we’re eating whole foods.
If we’re trying to lose weight or focus on improving our body composition, we need to be mindful that we aren’t overeating on healthy calories.
When it comes to calories, the truth is somewhere in the middle: the quality of our calories AND total calories play a role in body composition.
The reason I’m pointing this out is that bars are definitely easy to overeat, and the calories can add up fast. It’s best to use bars as a supplement when we don’t have access to whole foods or to avoid a food emergency when we have a busy day ahead of us.
Now that we’ve provided some context, let’s jump into the checklist!
What to Look for (and What to Avoid) in a Snack Bar
This checklist is broken down into five main categories, and each category is grouped based on macronutrient properties, sweeteners, or common additives found in bars. For each category, you’ll want to pay attention to what to look for versus what to avoid.
If you’re ever on the hunt for a snack bar, keep the following in mind:
- Protein. In lieu of whole-food-based protein sources, a high-quality protein bar is an excellent tool for curbing hunger. It can also be used to help you reach your daily protein goals, which is crucial for maintaining a healthy weight and building and maintaining lean muscle mass.
- 🔎Look for grass-fed beef protein, bone-broth protein, collagen, whey (if tolerable), egg whites, nuts, seeds, pea protein, and hemp protein.Note: plant-based protein is not as bioavailable as animal sources, but it’s a better option than none.
- ❌Avoid or minimize soy and soy protein isolate and rice protein due to concerns about arsenic.
- Healthy fats. A bar rich in healthy fats can help curb hunger and is a good source of energy if you’re metabolically flexible or following a ketogenic diet.
- 🔎Look for nuts, seeds, dark chocolate, coconut flakes, coconut oil, and MCT oil.
- ❌Avoid palm oil, canola oil, sunflower oil, corn oil, cottonseed oil, and other seed oils.
- Carbohydrates, natural sweeteners, and fiber. Bars that are heavier on the carb side can be a good source of energy before or after a workout. If you’re having a carb-rich bar as a snack around a workout, you’ll want to keep the net carbs to a minimum to avoid a glucose spike—that’s where fiber from functional or whole-food sources comes in.
- 🔎Look for whole food sources of carbs and natural sweeteners; fruit, a little honey, maple syrup, and organic cane sugar are totally fine. Monk fruit and stevia are good zero-calorie options as well.
- 🔎Look for these fiber sources: inulin, chicory, nuts, tapioca fiber, and psyllium husk.
- ❌Avoid or minimize refined flour and starches: rice flour, tapioca flour, tapioca starch, and cornstarch.
- Added sugar and sugar alcohols. Sugar is technically a source of carbohydrates, but I wanted to give it its own category to tease out the areas to avoid a little further since the source of sugar can ruin the quality of the bar.
- ❌Avoid high fructose corn syrup, corn syrup, rice syrup, tapioca syrup, and artificial sweeteners (sucralose, Ace-K).
- Be mindful of sugar alcohol levels (erythritol, xylitol, sorbitol, maltitol). These are super common in low-carb, “keto” bars. A few grams is okay, but high doses can cause gas and bloat for people with sensitive guts.
- Additives. Generally speaking, we want to avoid all types of chemical additives in our diet. BHA, BHT, artificial dyes, and carrageenan are a few of the main ones, but if you see chemical names on the ingredient list, that’s another big red flag.
My top picks for clean, high-quality bars that meet the above criteria are listed below. I organized them according to what macronutrient they are highest in to help you plan the most ideal time to enjoy them as a supplement for your hunger and to help you get closer to your health goals.
Protein Bars (to Satisfy Hunger, Reach Protein Goals)
- Paleovalley Superfood Bar. This bar makes a great snack or meal replacement. It has cashew butter, prebiotic fiber, and grass-fed beef protein to keep you full for hours and avoid a food emergency. These bars also have natural sugar from dates that can serve as a quick energy boost before or after a workout.Speaking of Paleovalley, I’m also a big fan of Paleovalley’s grass-fed beef sticks and pasture-raised turkey sticks because they help me get closer to my daily protein intake goals and are a great on-the-go, protein-rich snack for a busy day of meetings and podcast interviews.If you want 15% off your order, use the code “Dhru” at checkout!In full transparency, Paleovalley is a sponsor of my podcast, but I was a fan way before they sponsored my show. They didn’t pay for the above mention, either—I’m just that big of a fan.
- EPIC Bar. If you’re keto or watching your sugar intake, these bars are amazing because they’re high in protein and fat and have minimal carbs and sugar. These savory snack bars are perfect for sticking to a low-carb lifestyle when you’re on the go, and you can find them at almost any gas station or convenience store.
Carbohydrate and Fat-Focused Bars (for Pre- or Post-Workout or an Occasional Sweet Treat!)
- The Only Bar by Truvani. These bars are higher in carbs (and calories), making them the perfect pre- or post-workout fuel or choice if you want to indulge in a sweet treat. Sweetened with organic maple syrup and dates, each one of their four flavors comes in at around five-to-seven grams of protein.
- LÄRABAR. A few of the women on my team spoke highly of these bars. They are made from minimal ingredients, sweetened with natural sugars from dates, are available at almost every grocery store, and have a wide variety of flavors. I’ve heard great things about the coconut chocolate chip!
- RXBAR. I like this brand because they have so few ingredients that they put them all on the front of the label. Their protein comes from egg whites, and they’re sweetened with dates. Super simple, super delicious. You can find them at your local grocery retailer.
🕣If You’re Intermittent Fasting…
- The Fast Bar. This bar was created by intermittent fasting expert Dr. Valter Longo, and it is specifically designed to keep you in a fasting state. It’s super delicious and rich in fat and fiber. Even with a little touch of honey, it’s not enough to raise blood sugar. These bars are designed to supplement a fast, and it’s recommended to eat only one in the morning or evening, along with a healthy, balanced diet for your other meals. I have this bar on an occasional basis to curb hunger but still get the benefits when I’m doing a prolonged or intermittent fast. You can get it from their online store or on Amazon.
Final Thoughts: Calories, Bars, and Whole Foods
Bars are a great snack to carry with you to avoid feeling “hangry,” and while the quality of calories matters a lot, we still need to pay attention to our total calorie consumption if we want to reach or maintain our optimal body composition.
We must remember that anything semi-processed is going to be a concentrated source of calories. And one of the biggest challenges with healthy bars is that they’re often rich in carbs and fat (and sometimes both) and can easily—and quickly—be overeaten.
That’s why they’re best used when we’re on the go or as an occasional healthy snack or meal replacement when we’re in a bind. They are not to be eaten in excess or in place of whole foods.
And if you’re not a fan of bars, don’t feel like you have to go out of your way to eat them. Stick to whatever works best for you. As long as whole foods are the focal point of your diet, you’ll be in good shape!
Here’s to your health,