Lately, the diet and wellness world has placed less concern on calories and fat and more attention to clean, readable ingredients. And unsurprisingly, the (literal) wall of protein bars at our favorite grocery stores have adapted appropriately—mirroring whatever buzzwords and trends are currently en vogue. Collagen, gluten-free, you name it. Yes, it’s great to have options, but it can get confusing. And believe it or not, there’s more to life than spending an hour of your precious time dissecting labels at the grocery store.
To offer some perspective and lend a helping hand, I reached out to Tara Condell, a dietitian at Top Balance Nutrition, and Alissa Rumsey, MS, RD, owner of Alissa Rumsey Nutrition and Wellness for some sage advice when it comes to picking out a high-quality protein bar.
Optimally, Condell told me, the best protein bars for women will have “less than 250 calories, more than 10 grams of protein, at least three grams of fiber, and less than 15 grams of sugar.” Other recommendations included a short and readable ingredient list (yellow #5, we’re looking at you), no sugar substitutes or alcohols because they can lead to tummy trouble and intense sugar cravings, and the serving size—since some labels only portray nutritional information for half of a bar.
Curious to see which bars made the cut? Keep reading to see our list of the best protein bars for women.
We’ve been taught that there’s no such thing as perfection, but when it comes to protein bars, this one comes pretty darn close, which is why we’re putting it at the very top of the list. Not only does the mix of cocoa powder and cocoa nibs make them taste incredibly decadent, but it also features glow-getters like grass-fed hydrolyzed collagen, coconut oil, almonds, and pumpkin seeds. Oh, and it’s a favorite of celebrity nutritionist Kelly LeVeque.
To be completely honest, Oatmega first caught my eye due to the wide range of drool-worthy flavors. (This one tastes like Vanilla Almond, if you’re into that kind of thing.) Convinced the gluten-free bar would be a total sugar bomb, I was surprised when I saw there were only five grams. Also admirable: The first few ingredients are healthy sources of protein and fiber in the form of grass-fed whey and chicory root.
It could be said that these nut-filled bars are a customer cult favorite. However, due to some misleading health claims, they’ve fallen victim to a touch of criticism over the years and were even written-up by the FDA. But, in true dark horse fashion, the brand has made some amends to their recipes, and though the majority of the bars were still higher in sugar and lower in protein and fiber than we’d like, this tasty flavor (filled with almonds, macadamias, walnuts, cashew nuts, and Brazil nuts), made the cut. If you’re a fan of sweet and salty, this one’s for you.
A favorite of Rumsey, this brand prides itself on a delightfully skimpy ingredient list, and in this case, less is definitely more. Made with protein-packed egg whites, vitamin-rich peanuts, sea salt, and dates (for that little bit of sweet), it passed our test with flying colors. We’re also not mad at the peanut-buttery taste, which feels reminiscent of recess and PB&Js.
Who would have thought that our lust for a mint chip ice cream cone could be solely satisfied with a pre-packaged protein bar? Yet, here we are. Free of antibiotics, hormones, and anything artificial, this plant-based bar is a top-tier pick—especially if you’re vegan and into that organic life.
In all transparency, we were slightly surprised that this protein bar made our best-of list. Just like Kind, the Clif brand has fallen under some scrutiny, most notably for its traditional bar’s sky-high sugar content that rivals that of a candy bar (more than 20 grams, to be exact). However, we like to think of ourselves as open-minded, and thus welcomed the whey-infused new kid on the block with open arms. Not only was it one of our favorites taste-wise, but the majority of ingredients also are organic, and, at only five grams, it has way less sugar than the traditional bar.
According to Condell, it’s best to rely on real food (aka nothing processed, aka not protein bars) to meet nutrition needs, but protein bars can be a helpful option when you’re on the go or pressed for time.
Why Trust Byrdie?
Byrdie contributing writer Erin Jahns tapped two well-respected nutritionists to weigh in on what to look for in the best protein bar for women. With those expert guidelines in mind, Erin conducted lengthy research to find protein bars that would meet those standards and make the cut, a process she admits was very difficult. She ensured that the first listed ingredient wasn’t a form of sugar, per dietician Tara Condell’s warning: “Read the ingredient list to make sure the sugar is coming from natural sources (usually dates) and the first three ingredients don’t include honey, brown rice, or high fructose corn syrup.” Eventually, after lots of sifting, she came up with a list that would satisfy.