Are protein and energy bars worth the calories?

A reader recently asked me this question about protein bars.

Are those protein/energy bars really worth the calories? (Luna bars, Clif bars, etc.) They do fill me up, but sometimes I wonder if I shouldn’t just eat a Snickers bar. Thanks!

I turned to the Maine Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics for an expert answer. Here’s how registered dietitian/nutritionist Jenn Maynard responded.

Protein/energy bars were designed as a way for individuals to consume balanced nutrition in an easy-to-eat form  —one can’t really say that about candy bars! But, although most protein/energy bars contain adequate protein, carbohydrates, vitamins and minerals that can help meet your daily nutritional needs, some of the bars out there aren’t all that different from a candy bar. It pays to read labels and choose wisely.

Because they can be quite high in calories, some protein/energy bars make a good meal replacement in a pinch. They can also be handy as a pre-workout snack — for example, when you’re heading to the gym after work and haven’t eaten since lunchtime.

If you’re just looking for a snack, say between breakfast and lunch, look for a bar that contains no more than 200 calories with at least 5-8 grams protein (the same guidelines apply if you are just looking for something a bit more healthful to swap into your diet in place of a candy bar.)

If you are looking for a meal replacement option, opt for a bar that contains 250-350 calories and at least 10 grams of protein. For meal replacement, consider pairing your bar with a piece of fruit or some raw veggies for extra fiber, extra nutrients and a nice, crunchy textural contrast.

Another tip: when shopping for a protein or energy bar, look for nuts, seeds and whole grains as main ingredients for a bar that is the least-processed. Check the ingredient list — those listed first are used in the greatest quantity by weight.

Do you have a question for Catching Health Q & A? Send me an email or use the comment box on the bottom of the page. Please, no personal questions.

Diane Atwood

About Diane Atwood

For more than 20 years, Diane was the health reporter on WCSH 6. Before that, a radiation therapist at Maine Medical Center and after, Manager of Marketing/PR at Mercy Hospital. She now hosts and produces the Catching Health podcast and writes the award-winning blog Catching Health with Diane Atwood.