Updated: Nov 28, 2020
Over the last 15 years, energy bars have exploded onto the scene and with good reason: they’re quick, easy, and mess-free. For people without a lot of time to make breakfast, they’re a quick fix. For those long rides in the saddle, they’re easy to grab and easy to eat on the bike. For a mess-free way to fill a kid’s belly (so long as the wrapper goes in the right place), bars are the answer.
But from a nutrition and health standpoint, bars can be tricky. They are often packed with added sugars, made with cheap, unhealthy oils, and/or contain unhealthy preservatives. And when you do find a healthy bar without all of the above, it’s often as expensive as a sandwich – or not very tasty or filling.
When determining which bar is best for you, it’s best to look at both the nutritional contents (calories, protein, fat, etc.) and the ingredient list. With bars, generally speaking, the fewer ingredients, the healthier they will be for you. If the bar has a lot of sugars, be sure to look at the ingredient list to see the nature of those sugars (do they come from dates or are they added sugars, like syrups or sugar?). Avoid colors (yellow 5, red 3) at all costs, as these have been linked to some cancers.
Over the years, I’ve tried all kinds of bars and have gone through many bar obsessions: Clif Bars, Epic Bars, ProBars, Bulletproof Collagen Bars, Larabars, GoMacro Bars, Hammer Bars, Luna Bars, Honey Stinger Waffles, Vega Bars, Kind Bars, Rx Bars, No Cow Bars, & Oatmega Bars (I’m sure I’m missing a few, but this is all I could remember). All of the bars listed above have (for the most part) more natural ingredients. I went through my list and determined the Best Value, Best Taste, Best Pre-Workout, Best Nutritional Value, and Best Overall bars. Here are the winners!
BEST VALUE: LARABAR
Hands down, Larabar is the best value. They’re affordable, healthy (most contain only 2-3 ingredients), and taste good. I’ve seen Larabars as cheap as $.69. Nearly every grocery store, convenience store, and gas station sells Larabars, and you can often find good deals when you purchase in bulk. Target carries Larabars, too. I was into Larabars before General Mills purchased the company in 2008, and I must admit – the taste changed a bit, but the bars still taste good, especially with a cup of joe. My favorites are Coconut Cream Pie and Lemon. Avoid the chocolate-flavored Larabars – in my opinion, they don’t taste very good and have a tendency to melt in your back pocket or purse.
BEST TASTE: Autumn's Gold Cinnamon Almond Grain-Free Granola Bar
We stumbled on this bar while on a Costco run, and I've been pleasantly surprised ever since. They are my go-to breakfast bar because they taste great with a cup of joe. They're also my go-to, post-lunch snack because they have just the right touch of sweetness (from honey). With 10 simple ingredients (pumpkin seeds, almonds, pecans, maple syrup, honey, coconut oil, cinnamon, sea salt, and vanilla extract), this bar proves my nutrition mantra: eating whole foods yields the best flavors and taste.
BEST PRE-WORKOUT: Honey Stinger Waffle Bar
Before a hard workout, I need quick carbs without a lot of fat or protein (fat and protein pre-workout can give me digestive issues). A Honey Stinger Waffle Bar has simple sugars (honey) and if my workout is 90min or less, it’s the perfect energy fix. I’m often not hungry in the mornings, but I know I need to eat something, and the Honey Stinger Waffle is just light enough on my belly. It probably won’t fill you up, which is why it’s a great pre-workout snack and not a meal replacement. Try it with a few sips of coffee, too.
BEST NUTRITIONAL VALUE: Bulletproof Collagen Bars
I am a huge fan of the benefits of collagen, so I was a little biased in my choice for this category. When it comes to nutrition, you have to think about what your fitness goals are – the two go hand-in-hand. This bar has a high fat content (14g), a very low sugar content (2g, astoundingly low for a bar), and a fair amount of protein (13g). It probably isn’t the best pre-workout snack, but it could be a great snack or meal replacement (especially for breakfast). The combination of fat and protein will keep you satisfied longer. It also provides a good source of iron (10%). Almost all of the ingredients are organic and even includes Bulletproof’s XCT oil and Bulletproof’s Brain Octane oil. Bulletproof was founded by Dave Asprey and you can read more about his approach to nutrition here. He's also got a great podcast!
BEST OVERALL: The GoMacro Bar
I was tempted to place The GoMacro Bar in every category above, so of course, it had to win Best Overall. I love the taste of my GoMacro bars. I’m not a big chocolate-chip-in-my-bar fan, so I prefer the GoMacro bars without the chocolate chips. It has a balance of carbs 36g, protein 11g (blend of organic brown rice protein and organic pea protein, and fat 10g (mostly from organic coconut and organic almond butter). The carb content is pretty high and includes 11g of added sugars, mostly from brown rice syrup. That is a lot, so this bar may not be the best if you’re seeking fat loss. At the same time, it fills me up, is a great after-workout snack to replenish carbs and protein, and is certified organic, certified vegan, certified gluten-free, verified non-GMO, certified CLEAN, certified RAW, and FODMAP friendly. Check out this article from GoMacro.com about the nutritional value of GoMacro bars.
In conclusion, bars are a good resource for a quick, on-the-go snack or meal replacement. But it’s important to remember that while bars are good, let’s not forget about whole fruits, vegetables, dried fruits, and nuts for snacking. I also recommend making your own bars if you have time – that way, you know exactly what’s in them. See LLBalanced.com for some great recipes. And if you have any other bar suggestions, please leave in the comments below! I'm always working on my bar edification!