In addition to quantity, you should also check the protein source in your bar of choice. Rizzo says whole-food options like eggs, seeds, and nuts are especially good, but protein isolates (which are made by isolating the protein content from a food source) like whey, which comes from milk, will do the trick, too.
What should you avoid in protein bars?
Besides any known allergens you’re sensitive to, like eggs or whey (if you have issues with dairy), there aren’t many ingredients you need to flat-out avoid in protein bars. But, there are some you should be aware of before making your picks.
First, sugar alcohols (like xylitol, erythritol, or sorbitol) and other artificial sweeteners and sugar substitutes (like sucralose, stevia, or aspartame) appear on a lot of bars’ ingredient lists in lieu of real added sugar. They help bars taste sweet without adding many calories or causing the same kind of blood sugar spikes as regular sugar, but they can also upset your stomach and cause uncomfortable GI symptoms like gas, bloating, or diarrhea. As SELF has previously reported, the degree to which they can irritate your gut varies from person to person, but it’s something to keep in mind.
Second, the amount of fiber in a protein bar can also have an impact on your stomach, Jones says. While fiber is good for you (it’s an important nutrient for regulating your digestion and increasing feelings of satiety), some bars contain a lot of it (often in the form of oats, nuts, or other plant-based sources like chicory root). And eating too many grams of fiber in one sitting may cause bloating, cramping, and gas, especially if you’re not used to it.
Finally, you may want to skip a bar if collagen is listed as its sole source of protein (and not part of a larger protein blend), Jones says. You don’t have to worry about it from a digestion standpoint, but collagen isn’t the best choice as far as protein supplements go. That’s because it isn’t a complete protein (meaning it doesn’t contain the nine essential amino acids your body needs) and won’t adequately support your body’s recovery process, she explains.
Other than that, it’s a matter of finding the flavor, texture, and ingredient combo that works for you.
The best protein bars
You can certainly use this expert-backed criteria to shop on your own, but if you want more inspo, we’ve highlighted the best protein bars available now, according to experts as well as some seriously snack-savvy SELF staffers.