Why eat Protein Bars? Food on the go? Post workout snack? Meal replacement? Faithful fallback whilst travelling? Convenience? Once you have your reasons to eat them which should choose? Which are tastiest? Which have the most protein and fibre to fill you up for longer? Which are packed with sugar? Which are best value? Which have real food ingredients?
Find the answers to all those questions in this massive round up review of gluten free & vegan bars from 16 different brands! Updated March 2019!
Even while following a whole foods diet with limited processed foods from packets, boxes and wrappers there is room in my food cupboard and travel bag for a good protein bar. Some offer nutrition, flavour and convenience. Others are candy bars in disguise. It was a pleasure to taste my way through every single one of these bars. I sampled them all so you do not have to!
The BIG Protein Bar Review
To be included protein bars needed to meet three simple criteria
- Gluten Free & Dairy Free
- Minimum of 15 grams protein per 100 grams
- On sale in the UK
Snack bars from popular brands such as Nakd and Eat Natural were not included. These are lower in protein and are mainly carbohydrate. Also excluded were any bars featuring oats as an ingredient. Finally, I excluded bars with long lists of bizarre ingredients. This criteria alone eliminated the type of protein bars more heavily promoted towards bodybuilders.
From here, jump to whatever criteria appeals most. Want to talk numbers? Go to the nutrition comparison. If you have an appetite to deep dive on the numbers for comparison, jump over to a companion post Protein Bar Nutrition Comparison
Best Protein Bar Rundown
Best Tasting Protein Bars
Taste perception is an incredibly personal thing. One person’s delight is another’s love is another persons yuck, no way! Have you tried these? Do you love them? Do you prefer others. Suggest them in comments!
Best Tasting Winner – Vive Chocolate Hazelnut Bar
Vive completely revamped and relaunched their range in late 2018 and now have – honest to goodness – perfected the protein bar as delicious dessert concept. The melt in the mouth feel, smooth chocolate coating and delicious date and hazelnut filling are a marvel. Hazelnuts! Find me one other bar that offers these lovely nuts! Seriously, if you have ever been disappointed by the taste of protein bars try these and rejoice!
Best Tasting Runner Up – Tribe Coffee & Walnut
The newest ‘best tasting’ bar but it feels like an instant classic. Imagine Coffee and Walnut Cake with a generous coffee cream frosting. Think of that wonderful aromatic promise of brewed coffee. Bring to mind soft fudge chewiness punctuated by crispy crunchy bits of actual coffee beans. This bar delivers!
Best Tasting Runner Up – Naturya Berry Bar
The Naturya Berry Bar is wonderfully and creatively flavoured. Generous infusions of golden berries and goji berries offer a charismatic combination of tartness and sweetness. This bar delivers memorable flavor unlike any other bar. The texture is surprisingly creamy too, all round lovely.
Best Tasting Runner Up – Pulsin’ Orange Choc Chip
Creamy, buttery texture that almost melts in the mouth. Chocolate chips hidden within the bar provide variety. The orange aroma and flavor work really well. This is the chocolatey orange benchmark that other bars should aspire to. For maximum deliciousness warm these up before eating. They becomes almost like a dessert. 15 seconds in a microwave is enough!
Best Tasting Runner Up – Meridian Peanut & Berry
Cheers for the cranberries! Charming cranberry tartness is a fantastic companion for the juicy and chewy texture of this bar. If you like this you’ll probably enjoy the rest of the Meridian bar range too. Don’t let the others know this one is your favourite ;-)
Most Nutritious Protein Bars
The criteria I used for ‘most nutritious’ are:
- High protein
- Low sugar
- High fibre
- Whole food ingredients
- Quality of ingredients
- Free from emulsifiers
Some protein bars have all their ingredients blended together and are like a block of fudge. Others have ingredients you can actually see and recognise. The latter may seem the better choice but that is not necessarily so. Some of those fudge bars are made from whole food ingredients like hemp seeds and dates. Several of the bars with visible ingredients are held together with lots of sugar!
Nutrition Winner – Naturya Seed Bar
The Naturya Seed Bar stands out in particular as being organic whole food rich and free from cheap fillers. Hemp, Pumpkin, Chia & Flax Seeds are joined by Buckwheat and Quinoa. This bar also has the lowest sugars of any bar using only natural sugars at a mere 10 grams per 100 grams. Additional plus points for not using any emulsifiers. Your gut bacteria may not like emulsifiers!
Nutrition Runner Up – 9Bar Peanut & Pumpkin
This one does have two types of sugar and vegetable oil but the primary ingredients are mixed seeds and peanuts. 20 grams of protein and 15 grams of sugars per 100 grams compares very well against most other bars. The combination of low cost and primarily whole food ingredients make this a good deal.
Nutrition Runner Up – Sunwarrior Sol Good
Sunwarrior Sol Good Bars have the highest protein and lowest sugars count of all the bars tested. The Salted Caramel Bar has 31 grams protein, 29 grams fibre and just 5 grams of sugar per 100 grams! Those are quite incredible macros. Caveat that the ingredient list tilts far more towards the curious and unfamiliar bars. For details, jump over to a Protein Bar Nutrition Comparison
Nutrition Runner Up – Pulsin’ Protein Booster Bars
Pulsin’ Bars offer an average of around 25 grams protein and 12 grams sugars per 100 grams. Primary ingredients are nuts and protein powders. The sugars are kept low but the bars still taste pleasingly sweet thanks to use of xylitol.
Best Value Protein Bars
Bar sizes vary from 40 to 60 grams so the cost of bars was compared on a per 100 grams basis. Regularly available multi-buy deals were factored in. Cost ranges from £1.10 to £4.70 per 100 grams with an average around £3.00
There are two clear stand outs for value. These have the lowest everyday cost and also benefit from frequent special deals. Since Protein Bars have a very long shelf life it is a great idea to buy in bulk when deals are available.
Value Winner – 9 Bars
At a regular price of £2.25 for 4 x 40 gram bars these are already the lowest cost at around £1.40 per 100 grams. These bars are very often discounted too. As I write Ocado are selling 4 for £1.75 and Tesco at £1.65. Make sure to pick bars from the ‘Classic’ or ‘Original’ range for protein. The Breakfast and Double Cocoa varieties have far less protein.
Value Runner Up – Pulsin’ Protein Booster Bars
Bought direct from Pulsin’ in packs of 18 Pulsin’ Bars are available at a regular price of £1.40 per bar which works out at £2.90 per 100 grams. Although this is more than double the price of 9 Bars they also offer almost double the protein and less sugar so are a great alternative. Best places for deals are Pulsin’ direct, Dolphin Fitness, Ocado and at shows like the Allergy Show. As I write Dolphin Fitness are selling 18 Bars for £17.95. For the 50g bars this works out at £2 per 100g. My advice is to sign up for news at Pulsin’ and check Dolphin Fitness and buy in bulk when special deals arrive.
Best Free From Protein Bars
All bars tested are gluten free and vegan but most contain nuts, peanuts, soy or sesame. Two brands offering bars free from all 14 major allergens. Hail the Free 14!
Free From Winner – Naturya
All varieties of Naturya Bars are free from all 14 major allergens. Bravo Naturya! They also deliver on the label claim to have lower sugars than most other bars. The Naturya Seed Bar has the lowest sugar content, just 10 grams per 100g, of any bar not using artificial sweeteners. None contain emulsifiers. Naturya Bars are relatively costly but given the high quality ingredients together with great taste and texture they are a compelling choice.
Free From Runner Up – Sunwarrior
Sunwarrior Blueberry Blast and Salted Caramel Bars are free from all 14 major allergens. Sunwarrior Cinnamon Roll has Pecans as the only allergen and Coconut Cashew has . . . . no prizes for guessing Cashews. These are a lower cost free from alternative to Naturya.
Despite the appearance of multiple forms of sugar in the ingredients Sunwarrior bars have very low sugar content. They range from 5g to 11g per 100g which is the lowest of any bars tested. They are still sweet to taste. The secret to their combination of low sugars and sweetness is their use of non-caloric sweeteners Stevia and Erythritol.
Give Me Sugar! Protein Bars
Lets say you actually want a bar offering plenty of quick release energy. Running a marathon and need to carb up? Looking for a pre or post workout snack? Maybe you just want a bar that offers you an occasional treat. Any reason! Both bars in this category use Dates and Coconut Nectar as primary ingredients. What the heck is Coconut Nectar? Does it have a low Glycemic Index? Is it unrefined? Is it a superfood?
Coconut Nectar is made from the flower sap of Coconut trees. Coconut Nectar, Coconut Blossom Nectar (ooh, fancy!) and Coconut Sugar are all basically the same. The Nectar is in liquid and the Sugar has the liquid evaporated.
There are many claims made that Coconut Nectar has a Glycemic Index (GI) value of 35. If true this would make it a very low GI natural sugar. However other than marketing claims there appears no evidence for this. It probably is not true. It is also a refined sugar. Sap from the Coconut Tree flowers is filtered, partially evaporated, and possibly pasteurised.
Coconut Nectar or Sugar are therefore not obviously better than other natural sugars. However they are also no worse! So long as you do not think of it as a superfood or a ‘safe’ sugar go ahead and enjoy it in small quantities just like any other sugar!
Give me Sugar! Winner – Primal Pantry
Primal Pantry recently reformulated and reduced the sugar content of their bars. The lowest, Cacao Brownie, still delivers a whopping 36 grams sugar per 100g and the highest, Mixed Berries, a scale busting 40 grams! They do have candy bar like flavour to match. When I first sampled the Primal Pantry Cacao Brownie I thought to myself, wow, this tastes almost as good as a real Brownie! Think of them as candy with benefits.
Give me Sugar! Runner Up – Raw Bite
Two Raw Bite Bars made the 15 grams protein threshold. Although high in sugars the sugars do come exclusively from dates which are at least a whole food source. Raw Bite Protein Bar is dense, chewy and crunchy and has 29 grams of sugar per 100 grams. Raw Bite Peanut Bar is simply Dates, Peanuts and Sea Salt and has 36 grams sugar per 100 grams. The simple ingredients are perhaps too simple though. Why not just eat juicy medjool dates and crunchy peanuts?
All The Rest!
Planet Organic Bars (update incoming!)
In late 2018 Planet Organic Chiamp bars were replaced by a new range of Planet Organic Raw Protein Bars. I really liked the silky soft melt in the mouth quality of the Chiamp bars. The new range includes a Sour Cherry and White Chocolate bar! That is a new flavour! Will that help it into a ‘best of’ list? I hope so. Taste testing these bars are on my imminent to do list in April 2019.
NutreeLife (review incoming!)
NutreeLife are a little known brand that have some amazing bar flavors – Sticky Toffee, Lemon Chia, Strawberry! I sampled a box in 2018 but the batch I sampled had dried out and the texture had become extremely dry. I could not recommend them. Feedback was given and gratefully received. As of April 2019 the NutreeLife site is promising new and improved bars “tastier, softer and even healthier than before”. I will happily taste test them again.
Kind Protein Bars
Some of the regular Kind Bare are relatively high in protein but there is also now a dedicated Kind Protein Range. Unfortunately of the three Kind Protein Bars there is just the one – Kind Protein Double Dark Chocolate Nut, that is vegan and gluten free. The others contain milk.
Eat Natural Bars
Many Eat Natural Bars are relatively low in protein but there are five that are protein rich. These are the Eat Natural “Protein Packed” Peanuts & Chocolate and Chocolate & Orange Bars with 23 and 26 grams protein per 100 grams respectively. There is also an Extra Protein” Bar with 19 grams. However two non “Protein” branded bars, Peanut & Almond and Coffee & Chocolate also have 23 and 19 grams protein per 100 grams.
There is also a Protein Packed Salted Caramel & Peanut bar but that contains milk and is not Vegan.
They do have very different texture to all other bars. If you already like the taste and rice-crispie cake like texture of Eat Natural Bars you will surely like these too.
Creative Nature Bars
I tried the Creative Nature Peanut Protein Bar. It was simply okay. Mostly dates and peanuts with no stand out qualities. Creative Nature do have a very interesting range of flapjack protein bars which look far more enticing. Unfortunately not for me due to oats.
Protein Bar Nutrition Comparison
Instead of opinions you may like to see a direct comparison of the macro nutrients and ingredients of protein bars. I have that too! Jump over to Protein Bar Nutrition Comparison for the cold, hard numbers.
Before you go, what did I miss? What is your favourite? If you can name another bar that fit the criteria I will taste test it and gift you Amazon credit for the price of 3 of them. Promise!
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