Energy bars—those dense squares of nutrients that bring to mind 1970s dystopian sci-fi movies—offer obvious benefits. They’re convenient, delivering a full serving of calories and nutrition without any prep; they’re shelf-stable; they’re perfect for those busy moments when preparing a more traditional meal isn’t possible. But while many of these bars are reasonably healthy, the term “energy bar” can be misleading: A closer look at the nutrition labels will reveal that some are essentially candy bars in fancy packaging.
If your goal is a healthy diet supplemented by a convenient bar when necessary, you should focus on ones with better ingredients and less added sugar. Here are some options that fit the bill.
Check the ingredients
How much added sugar is too much? This depends on how many bars you’re eating during the day. If it’s just one bar in the afternoon to tide you over until dinner, you can handle more sugar per bar. If you’re sitting in your prepper shelter drinking distilled water and surviving on nothing but energy bars, it’s a different story.
The recommended daily added sugar intake is about 24 grams for women and 36 grams for men. Considering there are single-serving “energy” bars out there with as much as 28 grams of sugar, it’s very easy to consume way too much with these products. Look for the “added sugars” line on the nutrition label: less is better. (But be aware that a sweet bar with very little added sugar is likely to be high in sugar alcohols, which can lead to gastrointestinal issues if you eat more than a few bars per day.)
Also look for natural ingredients like nuts and fruits, and high amounts of protein. If any kind of “syrup” is at the top of the ingredients list, it’s probably not the healthiest choice (caveat: Bars designed to give athletes a brief burst of energy may use stuff like brown rice syrup to deliver sugars). And the more chocolate in there, the more likely it’s a candy bar in disguise.
One thing to keep in mind? An energy bar can have simple, natural ingredients and still be high in sugar content. For example, RxBar brand energy bars restricts their recipes to a few simple ingredients, which is great—but many of its bars have 13 or more grams of sugar.
The best bars
As judged by the quality of ingredients and amount of added sugar, here are some better energy bar choices:
Quest Bar: Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough. With just 1 gram of sugar and a whopping 21 grams of protein, these bars offer a lot of nutritional bang without loading you up with sugar. The ingredients list starts with protein, fiber, and almonds, and while there is chocolate in there, it’s not the main attraction.
Pure Protein Plus’ Apple Pie Bar. Offering a reasonable 3 grams of sugar along with 20 grams of protein, these bars’ ingredients start with protein, almonds, and fiber. They do use isomalto-oligosaccharides as a sweetener, which can cause some gastrointestinal distress in some folks, but if you tolerate those well, they’re a strong choice.
KIND Energy Bar, Dark Chocolate Nuts & Sea Salt. KIND energy bars tend to be pretty good choices in general. The Dark Chocolate Nuts & Sea Salt rocks 5 grams of sugar and, at 180 calories, is a decent choice for snacking.
Orgain Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough Protein Snack Bar. If you’re looking for a vegan option, Orgain’s Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough bars have 5 grams of sugar, and the 10 grams of protein are plant-based.
Power Crunch Protein Energy Bar, Triple Chocolate. The Power Crunch Triple Chocolate Protein Energy Bar has 5 grams of sugar and 13 grams of protein. Protein leads the ingredients list, and the bars are sweetened using a combination of stevia and monk fruit.
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