Nutritionists Say These Are the Best Protein Bars for Women

Like diets, the standards for protein bars always seem to be changing. Some are filled with superfoods and fruits (and thus sugar), and others are stuffed with protein but have some artificial sweeteners and flavorings lurking in the ingredients. Some have a whopping 20 grams of fiber (suspicious?), while others have less than three.

Lately, the diet and wellness world has taken a refreshing turn in perspective, with less concern placed on calories and fat and more attention placed on 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. 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 life 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 and creator of the free guide Three Steps to a Healthier You. As top nutritionists, they both had some sage advice when it comes to picking out a high-quality protein bar.

Optimally, Condell told me, it’s best to rely on real food (aka nothing processed) to meet nutrition needs, but protein bars can be a helpful option when you’re on the go or pressed for time. Generally, she says, 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 (which 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).

With these expert guidelines in mind, I began my research. After all, how hard could it really be to find a handful of (still tasty) protein bars that would meet my new high standards? In short, difficult—very, very difficult. And in a mad rush of apparent masochism, I also took it upon myself to ensure that the first listed ingredient wasn’t a form of sugar, per 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."

I can’t tell you how many times I found the seemingly perfect bar (10 grams of protein! 5 grams of fiber! 200 calories!) only to realize the first ingredient was honey, coconut nectar, or some type of crazy sugar alcohol. However, where there’s a will, there’s a way, and eventually, after lots of sifting and a couple of side-eye stares from employees, I came up with a list that would satisfy.

Curious to see which bars made the cut? Keep reading to see our list of the best protein bars for women.