Updated: Feb 7
It seems like every time you turn around there’s a new plant-based supplement bar on the market, making wild, life-changing claims.
Things like: “protein packed” ; “superfood bomb”; “all your daily greens” ; or “will turn you into Beyonce” (okay not that last one, but imagine though?) are all over the packaging.
But are these energy bars, really all they are cracked up to be?
Let’s do some digging:
From a nutritional perspective, these bars can help you stick to your health regiments when you’re on the go. They are loaded up with nuts, seeds and grains to give provide some plant based protein, helping you to feel fuller longer, and depending on the bar you are going with, they can also provide a good source of dietary fiber from the dates, and dried fruits and might even give you a little antioxidant boost.
BUT, it's good to be suspicious of anything packaged that comes in bar form.
When we talk about intuitive eating, it means looking at food from a holistic perspective, taking into account how its grown, how it’s made and how fresh it is. So that means examining food for it's energic qualities not just it's nutritional value.
What do we mean by that?
Try this: picture, pasta in a box. Dull, lifeless, dry, devoid of any sign of the plant it originated from. Now picture a head of kale. Fresh, shiny, vibrant and in its whole form. Regardless of their nutritional value, which food’s energy do you want to absorb into your body? Through that lens, it seems like a no-brainer.
From an energetic perspective, we are meant to eat as close to the earth as possible. This means lots of seasonal, fresh fruits and vegetables in their whole forms, harvested organically, and eaten at the peak of their ripeness as often as possible. Anything sitting on a shelf in a foil wrapper, made in a warehouse, isn’t going to transfer the same energy to your being as anything made at home with whole ingredients.
But, sometimes these bars are the lesser of two evils. Its hard to deny their convenience when you're too busy to cook or are on the go. So whether it be, that you’re stuck in back to back meetings, you're taking a road trip, find yourself stuck at an airport, or you’re scaling the side of a mountain, these little plant-based babies can provide a nutritional punch in a pinch.
So, if you must opt for a pre-made bar, here are a few things to note:
Look for all the “certifieds” (organic, vegan, non-gmo, gluten free, or whatever dietary concern is important to you) on the label.
Prioritize bars with whole, minimally processed ingredients Generally speaking, we like to stick to bars with 10 ingredients or less.
Look out for sneaky additives like emulsifiers, whey, guar gum, artificial flavors, all of which can cause inflammation and disturb your gut microbiome.
Avoid excess sugar, seems straightforward but you’d be surprised how many "healthy" bars on the shelves have as many grams of added sugar as a candy bar.
And if you need a little more help narrowing your search, we’ve vetted 9 of the best vegan, non-GMO, gluten-free bars on the market, getting a lot of buzz right now. We've ranked our favorites (from least to most), and scored them on things like taste; number of ingredients; and a little bit about why each is great.
Sugar: 20 g (0 added sugar)
Protein: 4 g
No. of Ingredients: 5
These bars are made using heart healthy flaxseed and are nut free for anyone with a nut allergy. Unfortunately, the consistency was a bit gelatinous for our taste.
Sugar: 23 g (0 added sugar)
Protein: 4 g
No of Ingredients: 6
These bars are made solely from nuts, with the exception of the dates that help to sweeten them. They are pretty high in sugar (even if it is naturally derived) and the taste was a bit bland for our liking.
Sugar: 16 grams (0 added sugars)
Protein: 5 g
No of Ingredients: 7
There just wasn't anything remarkable about these bars. They do have few ingredients, which make them a great way to stay healthy while getting your snack on, but we wouldn't rely on them for any deep nutritive value.
Sugar: 6 g
Protein: 10 g
No. of Ingredients: 15
These green bars are cold pressed, not baked and need to be refrigerated (which we like from an energetic perspective) and they contain spirulina and chlorella, giving them an extra micro-nutrient punch. They are also paleo and grain free. We were hoping for more greens for something called a "green bar" but we did like the uniqueness of the additional nutrient dense algae content.
Sugar: 12 g
Protein: 11 g
No. of Ingredients: 11
These bars are certified raw, are fodmap diet friendly and pack a protein punch. For such a small bar, these babies will keep you full long after you’ve finished them and with minimally processed ingredients you can feel good about indulging on the go. They are a bit on the chewy side, so if that's not your thing, you might want to avoid these.
Sugar: 11 g
Protein: 8 g
No. of Ingredients: 7
These bars are made with hemp seeds, delivering some powerful plant-based protein and unlike some of the others on this list, they are more nut forward than fruit forward making them a nice alternative if you're sick of dates.
Sugar: 4 g (0 added sugar)
Protein: 10 g
Ingredients List: 24
Okay these bars have a LOT of ingredients, but for good purpose. They are loaded with plant-based proteins, probiotics and adaptogens, making them a nice well-rounded meal alternative on the go.
Sugar: 24 grams (0 added sugars)
Protein: 3 grams
No of Ingredients: 7
If you like dates and figs, you’re going to love these bars! These bars are also grain free and paleo, and are made with whole minimally processed ingredients. They also taste like a candy bar and are low in caloric intake relative to the flavor they provide.
Sugar: 13 g (0 added sugar)
Protein: 9 g
Ingredients List: 13
And for our fave! - YOE!. These herbalist approved bars combine adaptogens and protein to steep you in nutrition and a mood boost. They also taste amazing and have the consistency to something of a baked good (if you're into that sort of thing).
As a takeaway, leaning on any meal replacement bar as a staple in your diet isn’t going to do your body’s wellbeing any favors. And, as with most things, in moderation they can be a great tool to help keep you on track when you're on the go.
Prioritize taking the extra time to plan your meals in advance or to pack a healthy snack for the road is going to go a long way to keeping you from needing to turn to an energy bar for assistance. Keep fresh, grab-and-go snacks handy, like apples, carrot sticks, nuts and dried fruits and if all else fails, grab one of these to keep you on track.