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Is Your Protein Bar Healthy? Part 3

In the final installment of this series, Get-Fit Guy lists his top 5 favorite protein bars. Plus, a super-easy recipe to make your own healthy protein bar at home!

By
Ben Greenfield
5-minute read
Episode #104

Is Your Protein Bar Healthy? Part 3

I recently published a short article called Is Your Protein Bar Healthy? Part 1, in which I warned about unhealthy ingredients found in many popular protein bars. These ingredients included:

  • High fructose corn syrup

  • Fractionated palm kernel oil, canola oil, and hydrogenated fats

  • Artificial sweeteners (sucralose, acesulfame potassium)

  • Wheat, rice, or other refined sugars such as cane syrup

  • Sugar alcohols such as maltitol syrup, xylitol, sorbitol, lactitol, mannitol, and erythritol

In a follow-up episode, Is Your Protein Bar Healthy? Part 2, I expounded on why you need to moderate the amount of sugar alcohols in your diet, even if they’re from “healthy” sources like protein bars.

Since then, I’ve been receiving lots of questions from Get-Fit Guy fans who are eager to know which protein bars I personally use or recommend. So in today’s episode, you’re going to learn which protein bars are the healthiest, how to choose the right protein bar for your needs, and get recommendations for the best vegan protein bars out there.

Healthy Protein Bars

As you learned in Part 1 of this series, it’s important to choose a protein bar that doesn’t have high amounts of additives, preservatives, and extra ingredients. So, beginning with two options that you may not traditionally think of as protein bars, but that certainly fit the same nutritional bill, here are my top recommendations:

1. Pemmican

It may take you by surprise to see this relatively uncommon food source listed as a protein bar, but with it’s extremely high levels of appetite-satiating healthy fats mixed with high quality amino acids, I just couldn’t write about protein “bars” without including pemmican, which is actually a bit more like a “tube” than a bar, but still extremely portable and a very good option as a pre or post-workout snack.

Pemmican is a concentrated mixture of fat and protein. It was invented by the Native Americans and was later adopted by European settlers as a high energy food source. The meat from pemmican is typically derived from cattle, bison, moose, elk or deer. The meat is crushed to a powder and mixed with an equal amount of rendered fat, usually from beef tallow. It also contains dried fruits, such cherry or blueberry, plus honey and sea salt, which are often added as natural preservatives and flavorings.

Pemmican tastes like very tender beef jerky, and will literally keep you full for hours on end. Like any animal product, you should try to get a grass-fed, organic version of pemmican, without added fillers like malted corn or barley. I personally eat the pemmican from a company called USWellnessMeats.

2. Beef Jerky

Falling into a similar category as pemmican is beef jerky. It is very similar in terms of animal source and protein content, but lacks the rendered fat. Because of the lower fat content, beef jerky doesn’t keep you as full for as long, but can be easier to digest for some, and is also lower in calories.

Beef jerky is actually easy to make at home. But if you’re short on time and need a more convenient option, you can buy it packaged. The key is to look for a beef jerky with no additives, preservatives, MSG or red dye, and preferably from a grass-fed beef source that is antibiotic and hormone free. Typically, curing is done in a salt brine with low heat, rather than a high heat environment with added nitrates and additives. One brand that I have been eating quite a bit of lately is Nick’s Sticks.

3. Grass Fed Whey Protein Bars

As you learned in Part 1 of this series, it is important that your protein bar be low in sugar and additives. A high quality protein source is also key, and for this reason, I avoid protein bars that rely on highly processed soy and wheat proteins, as well as whey protein from commercial dairy sources – and instead choose grass fed whey, which has an amino acid profile that is very favorable for optimizing muscle repair and recovery.

The protein bar that I personally use has the following, all-organic ingredients, with no refined sugars:

Whey Protein Blend (Grass Fed Cold Processed Whey Protein Concentrate, Grass Fed Micro-Filtered Cold Processed Whey Protein Isolate), Organic Agave, Organic Peanut Butter, Organic Inulin, Organic Brown Rice Protein, Glycerin, Organic Vanilla Powder, and Citrisweet (a low glycemic index sweetener derived from natural flavorings and citrus extract).

The chocolate coating on the bar is: Organic Dark Chocolate (Organic Evaporated Cane Juice, Organic Chocolate Liquor, Organic Coca Butter, Organic Soya (Lecithin).

While I would certainly classify this bar as less healthy and containing more “fillers” than pemmican or jerky, it certainly tastes more like traditional protein bars that you may be accustomed to and is the “least damaging” of your options. That particular brand is the Hammer Nutrition Recovery Bar.

4. Vegan Protein Bars

If you’re vegetarian or vegan, then beef jerky, pemmican and whey are not options for you. In this case, you’ll need to look for a protein bar that blends different amino acid sources such as rice protein, pea protein, or even hemp protein.

The ingredients of one vegan protein bar that would be considered a healthy option for is as follows:

Protein Blend (Sprouted Whole Grain Brown Rice Protein, Pea Protein), Dark Chocolate Coating (Sugar, Chocolate Liquor, Cocoa Butter, Sunflower Lecithin, Vanilla), Dates, Sorghum Syrup, Pumpkin Seed Butter, Sacha Inchi Seeds), Cocoa Powder, Sorghum Crisps (Sorghum, Quinoa, Rice, Tapioca), Dried Coconut, Natural Coconut Flavor.

Once again, you’ll notice the absence of chemical preservatives and refined sugars in ingredient list. This brand is called Vega.

5. Make Your Own Protein Bar

A final option, if you have a little bit of extra time on your hands, is to make your own protein bar. One recipe that I’m quite fond of are cashew and bacon rice cakes, which are an invention of sports physiologist Allen Lim, who worked as director of sports science for the RadioShack and Garmin professional cycling teams. The combination of bacon, cashews, and nut butter in these cakes is great pre and post-workout fuel, especially if you’re doing something like a long bike ride.

Here’s how to make cashew and bacon rice cakes at home:

  1. Cook two cups of Calrose or any other medium-grain sticky rice.

  2. While the rice is cooking, fry 8 ounces of bacon till crisp, then wrap in paper towels to remove grease. Crumble bacon.

  3. Drain the fat from the pan. Lightly beat 3 eggs in a small bowl and gently scramble in same pan, over medium heat.

  4. In a large bowl, combine cooked rice, bacon, and scrambled eggs. Then add in 1/2 cup cashews, 1/4 cup nut butter, and 1/2 cup raisins. Mix well and press mixture into a 9-inch-square pan to about 1.5-inch thick.

  5. Cool thoroughly in fridge, then cut into 10 individual cakes and wrap in parchment paper or aluminum foil for easy carrying.

Summary

As you can see, the options for healthy protein bars, and what I personally choose to fuel my body with, are far different from the “run-of-the-mill” packaged foods you might find at the average health food store or gym. Of course, there are other brands in addition to what I have listed that also do the job, but I thought it would be useful for you to see what I personally use.

For more information about protein, be sure to check out:

How Much Protein Should You Eat?

What Is the Best Protein Powder?

If you have more questions about how to choose the right protein bar, or you want to find out if a protein bar you’re using passes my “inspection,” then join the protein bar conversation at Facebook.com/GetFitGuy!

Beef Jerky and Woman Eating images from Shutterstock

All content here is for informational purposes only. This content does not replace the professional judgment of your own health provider. Please consult a licensed health professional for all individual questions and issues.

About the Author

Ben Greenfield

Ben Greenfield received bachelor’s and master’s degrees from University of Idaho in sports science and exercise physiology; personal training and strength and conditioning certifications from the National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA); a sports nutrition certification from the International Society of Sports Nutrition (ISSN), an advanced bicycle fitting certification from Serotta. He has over 11 years’ experience in coaching professional, collegiate, and recreational athletes from all sports, and as helped hundreds of clients achieve weight loss and fitness success.