Protein Bars or Whole Food?

I am often asked how I feel about protein bars in a diet or when using IIFYM / flexible dieting. Here are my overall thoughts and some of my favorite bars as well.

1. Bars are AWESOME for on the go and travel. I definitely utilize these or have them on hand when I am traveling or have a super busy day as back up. I would rather eat a bar than skip meals!!

2. Bars can be great for satisfying a sweet tooth or even used as an occasional “treat”.

On the flip side…

3. Bars are LOW VOLUME. I would much rather eat a salad or bowl of oats for those macros than I would a bar.  (most bars are approx 20-25g protein/25 carb/and 8-12 g fat that’s about equivalent to a turkey sandwich with some avocado!)

4. Bars are lacking in the micronutrients that you would get in whole food. Some bars have added micros, but I believe that the best source of micronutrients and overall best nutrition is through whole foods.

Some things to be conscious with when selecting bars

When searching for bars I look at
1. protein/carbs/fats
2. sugar alcohols
3. fiber
4. Sodium

I look at protein/carbs/fats to see if it will fit into my macro goals for the day. I also assess the amount of sugar alcohols in the bar. My body doesn’t do well on sugar alcohols and so I try to avoid these.

Fiber is a big one. Sometimes I need a low fiber bar and sometimes I need one with higher fiber. Some people will bloat from bars and this is likely because of either the protein and sugar alcohols OR because the fiber can easily be 33-50% of the daily total in just one bar. Add that to everything else you’re already eating and you’re over your fiber goal which can cause issues with bowel movements, bloating and water retention.

I do check sodium just to make sure it’s not a crazy sodium bomb in there. Most are about 2-400 mg.

(ALSO- I count ALL carbs, not just “net” carbs. Often you will see things labeled low carb because of the net carbs. Here is an example
A low carb high fiber tortilla might be 15 total carbs and 8 of them are from fiber. The net carbs will be 7. (15 grams total minus 8 from fiber). I always count the total regardless of what it is! (veggies, tortillas, bars, etc.)

MY TOP PICKS:
The following are my “go to’s” depending on what I need!

low fiber
1. Square Bars – all natural and chocolate! these are delicious and a nice sweet treat while keeping my fiber low.  (lauren_Fit on their site will get you 20% off and free shipping!)
2. Rx Bars – good flavor and low fiber
3. Builder Bars – again, low fiber and are found at most places

High fiber
When I know I will be short on fiber I go for
1. Quest – high fiber, tons of flavor options. Warm these up in the microwave (approx 9-12 seconds) bake them in the oven or leave them in the sun for an extra warm tasty treat,
2. Oh Yeah! “one bars” – again, lots of flavors and a good “treat”.

Low Carb
1. power crunch bars have about the same amount of protein and fat, but are a lower carb option.

Protein Source
1. Epic Bars are grass fed animal based protein bars (think bison, turkey, etc.) for those looking for a more natural source of protein.