March is National Nutrition Month, so we plan to have a look at various food topics in the next few weeks, starting today. Back in November, our friend and fellow D-advocate Ginger Vieira did a comparison of gluten-free protein bars, which inspired us to do our own.
For those of you who haven't heard, I am also gluten-intolerant on top of having type 1 diabetes, and it is my blessing and my curse to be addicted to nutrition bars. Blessing because I really don't miss regular bread, muffins, pasta or other carb-laden foods much at all; curse because I would probably eat sweet, chewy nutrition bars for breakfast, lunch, and dinner if I could. A carb is a carb, right? That's why I loved the idea of looking into high-protein bars, which ostensibly offer more than a belly full of carbs.
I gleefully ordered boxes of five different brands, and this is how they went down, so to speak:
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boast 20g protein, 19g fiber, 6g fat, 24 carbs (only 1g sugars), and 170 calories
This bar has a very simple list of all-natural ingredients, but managed to taste artificial nonetheless (?) I tried chocolate brownie flavor, which didn't really taste very chocolatey at all, but rather had a syrupy sweetness to it that reminded me of many other gluten-free products I've tried.
It was very chewy, something I appreciate, but that syrupy sensation got to be almost too much by the end of the bar. Still, it has a nice thickness to it that fills you up well, and you have to appreciate something that provides 19 grams of fiber (almost as high as the carb count) without upsetting your stomach. The box says "Quest is the first bar you can eat guilt free," and I guess there's something to that. But the lack of actual chocolate flavor made these less appealing to me.
Nutshell: best nutritional stats, filling but bland
boast 20g protein, 2g fiber, 8g fat, 20g carbs, (10g sugars), and 230 calories
This one has more calories, but there's also more bar to enjoy, and enjoy I did. I found the peanut butter & chocolate flavor Nogii bars I tried to be reminiscent of Luna Bars, in the sense that it's sort of a gluten-free rice crispy bar, with a chocolate bottom and more chocolate drizzled on top. It's big and filling, and gave me the guilty sensation of eating a rather satisfying dessert. It doesn't have that processed mealy feeling that many bars do — as if the manufacturers put whey extract and Xanthan gum and a bunch of other healthy GF stuff in a blender and mushed it up into the dough for a bar. Nogii bars taste like real food, and I like that a lot. After inspecting the packaging, I learned that the woman behind these bars is ABC's The View co-host Elisabeth Hasselbeck, who's also author of the best-selling book "The G-Free Diet: A Gluten-Free Survival Guide." She seems to think gluten-free eating is a cure-all. I doubt that, but I do like her bars.
Nutshell: tastes like a chewy rice crispy treat, with loads of protein
PR Bars -
boast 15g protein, 1g fiber, 7g fat, 21 carbs (17g sugars), and 200 calories
As Ginger discovered, these are just plain yummy. The flavor I tried has a thin layer of chocolate coating over a sort of crunchy-yet-soft-and-chewy peanut butter flavored inside. I actually whenever I eat one of these because it tastes too good to not be bad for you. At 15 grams of protein and just 200 calories — even though that's not quite as high-protein and low calorie as the Quest bars for example — that's a pretty good ratio, and with this kind of dessert-quality flavor, the PR Bars are a winner, to my mind! The only caution would be that they're so good, you're tempted to gorge on them ;)
Nutshell: tastes like a smooth candy-bar treat, but good for you!
These are the weirdest of the bars I tested, and not because they're imported from Germany (I'm used to their gluten-free fare!)
If I'm not mistaken, these bars were developed for body builders, who are more concerned about nutrition-loading than enjoying a yummy snack. What's weird is that the "bar" is served up two separate parts, which appear to be chocolate covered with a nut-flavored filling (in this case, hazelnuts) like the PR Bars, but the consistency is harder and less sweet-tasting here. So the flavor is somewhat dull, but not entirely displeasing.
They've not only emphasized the protein, but packed the thing with soluble fiber (16 grams worth!) made out of beets (oligofructose), milk protein, and GMO-free soy lecithin. I don't know if it was the beets or the combination of unfamiliar ingredients, but although I didn't dislike eating the bars, my stomach did NOT appreciate absorbing them. Let's just say they had a laxative effect and leave it at that. If you're going hard on nutrition, however, and have a strong stomach, this bar might work well for you. Still, the Quest Bars beat them out on the basic nutritional parameters.
Nutshell: plain flavor, possibly tough on your tummy
These are surprisingly similar to Lara Bars, in the sense that they're moist mashups of nuts and natural ingredients. I realized it was somewhat unfair to compare them to the bunch here, because Hammer calls these "nutrition bars," and not necessarily "high protein." But I'll give you my 2 cents anyway, since I've got a stack of 'em in my cupboard now.
The cashew coconut chocolate chip flavor I tried really is delicious — in a way, the most natural deliciousness of any of the bars I tried here (read: not engineered to have super-high protein content). You can actually the individual chocolate chips, nuts, and dried fruit bits. But they're so moist that they almost feel greasy, which will perhaps be a turn-off to some snackers. And what I struggle with is the 11 grams of fat per bar. That's quite a whallop for a single serving of a snack food no matter what you compare it to.
Nutshell: deliciously natural tasting, but little protein and high fat
That's my GF protein bar roundup in a nutshell. Please let us know what type of protein/ energy/ nutrition bar floats your boat!