How to Choose a Better Protein Bar

How to Choose a Better Protein Bar
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Those compact little snacks known as protein bars have become an on-the-run staple for a reason: They're convenient, filling, and, in most cases, pretty tasty. But some can have more sugar than you think, so we talked to Wendy Bazilian, PhD, author of The SuperFoodsRx Diet ($11; amazon.com), to find out what to look for (and what to avoid at all costs) in order to choose a better bar.

Overall, Bazilian emphasizes looking for a bar with quality, recognizable ingredients--but also suggests looking at the bar itself. “Do you actually and visibly see the ingredients?” she asks. “You don’t have to every time, but it’s a good indicator that the food is more whole and less processed.”

In general, the bar should have as little added sugar as possible (ideally less than 10 grams in a 150-calorie bar). Also, make sure it contains at least two grams of fiber and totals less than 30 percent of your daily value of fat, says Bazilian. Here are a few more tips to find your best bar.

If you missed a meal …
Busy schedules are often the cause of a missed meal here and there, but, if you choose well, a protein bar can be a completely reasonable replacement. Quality is more important than quantity, so read the ingredient list before the nutrition facts. “Determine if the bar is worth your while, meaning that you feel good about the quality of the ingredients you see,” says Bazilian. Then look at the numbers. For a meal replacement, Bazilian suggests choosing one that totals up to between 200 and 300 calories (or two 150-calorie bars) and that contains 15 to 20 grams of protein--but doesn't have any coating, like chocolate or yogurt. “If you’re replacing a meal, you should make it less candy or treat and more meal,” she explains. Bazilian suggests Organic Food Bars ($3.30; shop.organicfoodbar.com) as a good option. Quest bars ($2.40; questnutrition.com) also fall into her recommendations.

If you just finished a workout …
Bazilian recommends choosing a bar that has 10 to 15 grams of protein, as well as similar levels of carbohydrates and fats. “Don’t be afraid of fat if the fat is naturally occurring,” says Bazilian. (Nuts, seeds, and avocado are all great sources). A bar with 150 to 200 calories will ensure you don’t blow your entire workout in a few bites. She also emphasizes the necessity of hydrating post-workout. Larabar ALT bars ($1.80; shop.larabar.com) are made with pea protein and full of healthy fats and carbs to help revive you after a gym session.

If you need an afternoon snack …
They be but little, but protein bars may be packed with more calories than you need in a snack. As an afternoon pick-me-up, select one in the 130 to 200 calorie range, says Bazilian. “If you choose a bar with good ingredients, it has all the parts of a healthy and nutritious snack,” she adds. “Some carbs to help with blood sugar, protein to slow the release of blood sugar so you get sustained and long lasting energy, and healthy fat to help with absorption of certain vitamins, minerals, and phytonutrients. Kind ($20 for 12; kindsnacks.comc) and Smart For Life bars ($40 for 18; products.smartforlife.com) are great for getting over the afternoon slump.

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