Protein Bars: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

April 14, 2020 5 min read

Athletic male eating a protein bar after working out.

How To Find The Best Protein Bars

When you go to your local grocery or health food store, you probably see ten or twenty brands of protein bars, lined up in eye-catching packaging, each promising to supply your body with impressive levels of protein and nutrition.

But is it true? These bars are promoted as:

  • Full meal replacements,
  • Healthy snacks,
  • Delicious,
  • Natural, and
  • Great sources of protein

Let’s start with the ugly.

Most of these claims are overblown. And where they are true, the good usually contain some questionable – and very unhealthy – ingredients.

The reality is that most of these bars have more in common with a glazed donut or a candy bar than a nutritious snack.

Nutrition Facts – The Donut Comparison

Let’s see how this works. Here are the nutrition facts of a generic glazed donut compared to one of the most popular bars on the market: The Clif Bar (we’re not trying to pick on Clif, we just happened to look at the nutrition facts recently).

Glazed Donut

Clif Bar [1]

· Calories: 220

· Total fat: 12g

· Saturated fat: 5g

· Net carbs: 24g

· Sugar: 10g

· Fiber: 1g

· Protein: 3g

· Calories: 240

· Total Fat: 5g

· Saturated fat: 1g

· Net carbs: 39g

· Sugar: 22g

· Fiber: 5g

· Protein: 10g

Now, the Clif Bar is promoted as being an energy bar with 70% organic ingredients. The truth? The abundance of carbs and sugar make this product very high on the glycemic index, dangerous for diabetics, and likely to spike your blood sugar, followed by the inevitable crash.

This same problem exists with other “healthy” bars, such as the RXBAR (13 grams of sugar) [2], the Perfect Bar (18 grams of sugar) [3], and the Pro Bar Base (13 grams of added cane sugar) [4].

Okay – But So Many Bars Promote Low Sugar!

Right – the low-sugar bars. Everything from Pure Protein Bars, Muscle Milk, and the famous Built Bar promote that they are low in sugar. And while this is true, there’s a saying that applies:

“If it sounds to be too good to be true, it probably is.”

Sugar Alcohols

Most “low sugar” bars are made with compounds called sugar alcohols to provide low-carb sweetness, as sugar alcohols are partially resistant to digestion and function like dietary fiber. [5] They are called sugar alcohols because the chemical composition resembles both a sugar and an alcohol – but it isn’t either one.

Common sugar alcohols include:

  • Erythritol
  • Sorbitol
  • Xylitol

Unfortunately, the “free sugar” in sugar alcohol could be classified as too good to be true. While some forms of sugar alcohols appear naturally in various fruits and vegetables, what you get in a protein bar is usually made from plant-based carbs that have been chemically altered. [6]

Further, sugar alcohols are known to trigger an array of physical problems when consumed regularly:

  • Digestive issues: Sugar alcohols have been known to damage the healthy bacteria in your digestive system and adversely affect your metabolism. This results in a laxative effect, bloating, gas, and intestinal trouble. [7] In fact, the FDA regulates sugar alcohols and requires any product with high quantities or that may be over-consumed (like mints or gum) to have a label that reads, “Excess consumption may have a laxative effect.” [8]
  • Blood sugar spikes: Despite being promoted as safe for diabetics, the truth is that they are partially digested – which can lead to unexpected increases in blood sugar levels and insulin responses.

To give you an idea, the following popular protein bars use sugar alcohols as a sweetener:

  • Built Bar [9]
  • Quest Protein Bar [10]
  • Carb Killa [11]
  • Muscle Milk Bar [12]

And the Kicker: Hidden, Nasty Ingredients

Beyond sugar alcohols, most of these bars contain several not-so-great ingredients they use as fillers, additives, cheap protein (soy and whey), and more. Some of the worst ingredients include:

  • Soy and soy-related products: Soy is one of the cheapest and most genetically modified food sources commercially available (up to 90% of soy grown in the US is GMO). And not only is soy known for causing digestive problems and allergic reactions, but it also contains isoflavones – compounds like estrogen that are linked to ovarian cancer, impairing female fertility, and other health problems. [13,14] Common soy products in protein bars include soy protein isolate and soy lecithin.
  • Palm oil, palm kernel oil, and modified palm kernel oil: Variations of palm oil and palm kernel oil are in thousands of products – and this is not good news. This oil is often used as a low-cost substitute for trans fats. Unfortunately, all variations of palm oil contain a high concentration of saturated fats – which can increase LDL (the bad cholesterol linked to heart disease).
  • Maltodextrin:This misleading flavorless white powder is an additive in many bars to improve the texture, taste, and shelf life of various foods and bars. The catch? It is often made from genetically modified organisms (GMO), has a higher glycemic index than sugar (causes your blood sugar to spike), can negatively affect your gut bacteria, cause weight gain, gas, bloating, skin irritation, and breathing difficulties. [15] Sound bad? We think so too.

Whey Protein

Whey protein has become one of the top supplemental proteins available – partially because it is cheap and easy to produce, and partially because it has a very high bioavailability.

When milk is turned to cheese, the colorless liquid left over is whey, and when it is dried and turned into powder, you have whey protein. It comes in many forms, including:

  • Whey protein isolate: Heavily filtered and processed to include a high concentration of protein without much else
  • Whey protein concentrate:Partially filtered whey with a higher protein content than plain whey
  • Hydrolyzed whey concentrate: Whey concentrate that has been subjected to an enzymatic process that is claimed to make it easier to digest [16]

We avoid whey protein for three reasons:

  • Whey protein is known to cause digestive trouble when taken in quantity, including nausea, increased bowel movements, cramping, bloating, fatigue, headaches, and reduced appetite [17,18]
  • As it is based on milk, all forms of whey protein contain varying amounts of lactose, which is a known allergen for millions of adults and children in the US
  • Whey protein is not vegan

Okay, Enough of the Bad and Ugly – Here’s the Good:

BodyHealth Bar: The all vegan, keto-friendly snack bar that's good for you and tastes delicious!

So, now that you know all the ugly and bad, there IS a light at the end of the tunnel.

It’s called the BodyHealth Bar.

We carefully researched and developed this bar to be the ideal snack, and the best of both worlds: delicious AND healthy.

We sourced ingredients that are entirely organic, non-GMO, vegan, natural, and healthy, and this revolutionary bar provides:

  • Organic MCT oil for clean, sustained, and rapid energy
  • Soy-free, organic pea protein fortified with our proprietary PerfectAmino blend for a complete protein
  • Natural flavor
  • Honest sweetening with natural monk fruit extract – an alternative sweetener with no negative health effects [19]
  • Superfood and vegetable blend for optimal health
  • Only seven grams of net carbohydrates – we use organic chicory root to provide fibrous and healthy carbs
  • Organic sunflower tocopherol for an antioxidant boost

Let’s face the truth: if you don’t mind the sugar, you can go with one of the entirely fruit and nut-based bars like the RXBAR or Perfect Bar, which are at least honest about what’s in them.

But if you want the ideal, healthy snack for you and your family that offers low carbs, great health benefits, and is safe for virtually anyone – there’s no arguing that the BodyHealth Bar is perfect for you.

If you don’t believe us, check the ingredients and try one yourself!



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*These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. These products are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.