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Protein Bars Decoded

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With so many options on the shelves it can be hard to choose a protein bar that isn’t just a glorified candy bar filled with sugar and artificial ingredients. Scroll down to view my top picks. 

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Read the ingredients first (despite what the marketing claims are). Ingredients should be minimal and recognizable.

Top ingredients may include;

  • Dates or Whole Fruits
  • Egg Whites or Egg White Protein
  • Collagen Peptides
  • Nuts/Seeds or Nut/Seed Butters
  • Coconut Shreds and/or Extra Virgin Coconut Oil
  • Spices such as Cinnamon, Cocao/Cocao Nibs, Unsweetened Chocolate Himalayan Sea Salt.
  • Pure Stevia or Monk Fruit Extract
  • Honey
  • Vanilla Extract

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WATCH OUT for prime offenders such as;

  • Soy Protein Isolate
  • Corn (High Fructose Corn Syrup, Corn Fiber
  • Maltodextrin
  • Fractionated Palm Kernel Oil
  • Vegetable glycerin
  • Soy Lecithin
  • Artificial Sweeteners (sucralose, acesulfame potassium, aspartame , saccharin and sucralose are the most common)
  • Sugar Alcohols (such as erythritol, maltitol)
  • Gums
  • “Natural Flavors”
  • Dyes such as “Red 40”

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Ingredients are listed in decending order by weight (i.e. if brown rice syrup is the first ingredient, it is probably not the best choice!) Sugar is still sugar, whether is comes from honey, maple syrup, coconut sugar, brown rice syrup or cane sugar, it still contributes to blood sugar spikes and increase in the body’s inflammation. Find a bar that is <5g of ADDED sugar (not from dates or natural fruit), but ideally you want to avoid all added sugars.

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Protein bars can be great when looking for a quick snack on the go, for travel, or pre/post workout fuel. Remember to include mostly whole foods and not depend on bars and supplements except when planning for those “food emergencies”


Disclaimer – there are numerous protein bars out there any new ones showing up on the shelves all the time. The top picks below are out of protein bars that I have personally tried and reviewed. Let me know your feedback!  

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Best for: someone limiting carbohydrates, ketogenic diet, mental performance. Texture is similar to shortbread!

11-13g protein per bar

2-4g of sugar, no added sugar

9g NET carbs

Quality fats to satisfy hunger

Collagen protein supports skin, bones and joints

Not great for: someone following a vegetarian or vegan diet (contains collagen) or with a nut allergy.

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Best for: someone looking for a healthier jerky alternative with a variety of flavors and compliant with various diets such as the Paleo Diet, Whole30, AIP, and the ketogenic diet.

7-15g protein per bar

0-6g of sugar, no added sugar

0-9g NET carbs

Minimally processed, 100% animal-based whole protein 

 Not great for: someone following a vegetarian or vegan diet or someone who likes a “sweeter” bar. 

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 Best for: endurance, keeping you going through long days. The nut and seed variety of these bars (versus the fruit and nut) are for someone looking for a lower carb option (although I still wouldn’t consider these “low carb”). Vegan/vegetarian friendly. 

6g protein per bar

12g of sugar, no added sugar

14g NET carbs

Fats from whole food sources

Not great for: someone looking for a bar for recovery (i.e. post-workout), low carb diets or nut allergies 


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 Best for: endurance, keeping you going through long days or pre-workout fuel. Rx Bars have a wide variety of flavors (as well as seasonal ones such as Pumpkin and Gingerbread)! “Rx Kids” bars also available in a smaller size and with kid-friendly flavors.

12g protein per bar

13-15g of sugar, no added sugar

18-20g NET carbs

More protein than many date-based bars due to the egg whites.

Not great for: low carb diets or nut allergies. Some also complain the texture is too sticky (bring your floss!)  


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Best for: someone looking for a treat! With flavors like “cashew cookie” and “cherry pie”, it’s sure to curb a sweet tooth with only 2 simple ingredients. Could also be a great pre-workout.

5g protein per bar

15g of sugars, no added sugar 

Higher carbs than other comparible bars with 23g NET carbs 

Limited, simple ingredients 

Not great for: strict blood sugar control (insulin resistance, diabetes, etc.), meal replacement or nut allergies.

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Keep in mind that Primal Kitchen has a few different “bar” options. This is the collagen fuel bar. 

Best for: someone looking for sweet and salty and comes in 4 different flavors 

13-15g protein per bar

3g of sugars, 2g added sugar (from honey)

5-13g NET carbs

 Quality fats to satisfy hunger

Collagen protein supports skin, bones and joints

Not great for: someone following a vegetarian or vegan diet (contains collagen) or with a nut allergy.

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I recently came across 88 Acres which is non-GMO seed products made in a bakery free of peanuts, tree nuts, gluten, dairy, eggs, soy and sesame. They have a variety of seed bars, butters, seed’nola and more! 

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By Functionally Simple Nutrition

Ariana Cucuzza, RDN, LD is the founder of She is a Registered and Licensed Dietitian Nutritionist specializing in Functional Medicine Nutrition and sports nutrition.

Ariana holds a bachelor’s degree in food and nutrition sciences from Ohio University and went on to complete her dietetic internship at The Cleveland Clinic. She currently serves on the Board of Directors for the Greater Cleveland chapter of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. She also is an active member of the Sports Cardiovascular and Wellness Nutrition (SCAN) and Dietitians in Functional Medicine (DIFM) Practice Groups of the national Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. She has been featured in Health Magazine, Live Science, Rally Health, YouBeauty, US News & World Report and Cleveland Clinic's Health Essentials as well as live appearances with WKYC news.

In her previous role as a public health and community-based dietitian, she led “food as medicine” initiatives in coordination with health care providers to provide nutritious food to low-income patients with diet-related health challenges. She also led nutrition workshops, cooking demonstrations, and assisted with menu planning for afterschool programs and senior meals.

Ariana enjoys cooking, trying new things, and staying active with yoga and Crossfit!

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