As a meal replacer, pre- or post-workout treat, afternoon snack, or protein source, here are our top picks for the best tasting and most nutritious energy bars. - By Maureen Callahan, MS, RD
Photos: Beau GustafsonOur Top 7 Energy Bars
Spreading a little peanut butter on apple slices may be a healthier way to snack, but nothing beats an energy or protein bar for convenience. Trouble is, there are too many choices. So we munched and crunched numbers to find the best bars, ones that delivered on both taste and nutrition. It's a tricky business since a bar might offer lots of fiber (really good) and then negate things with trans fats (really bad). And sugars, even dried fruit, do add up. Here are our top picks for when you're ready to grab-and-go.
We set the "bar" high. Our criteria for healthy bars: Protein: 4-6 grams; Fiber: 5 grams (but 3 will work); Fat: mostly heart-healthy fats; Carbs: mostly whole grains with 10-20 grams sugar
Most Versatile: Luna Bars
- 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 Snickers candy bar has 29 grams of sugar.) Other plusses: Bars are made with 70% organic ingredients and are newly fortified with vitamin D.
- Cons: Geared just to women.
Best for Protein: Zing Bars
- Our top flavor pick: Chocolate Peanut Butter
- 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. Sound skimpy? Studies confirm that a glass of chocolate milk (8 g protein) or a bowl of whole grain cereal and milk are both effective post-workout recovery foods. 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.
Best Pre-Workout: ProBar Fruition
- Our top flavor pick: Strawberry
- 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 work out longer and do more reps.
- Cons: A little bit plain Jane in taste.
Best Natural Bar: Pure Raw Fruit & Nut Bar
- Our top flavor pick: Blueberry
- 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.
Best Meal Replacement: Clif Bars
- Our top flavor pick: Black Cherry Almond
- 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 sticks of cheese or a handful of nuts and a piece of fruit to make a nice small meal. Other plusses: it's fortified to replace nutrients missed at meals.
- Cons: Nothing beats a real meal, but good in a pinch.
Best for Mid-afternoon Snack: SoyJoy
- Our top flavor pick: Berry
- 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.
Best for Kids: Clif Z Bars
- Our top flavor pick: Z Bar Chocolate Brownie
- 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.