Protein Bars vs. Whole Food Meals

Let’s talk protein bars today. Are they convenient? Yes. Are they tasty? Some are. Some are terrible. Can they be included in a healthful diet? Of course. Should we turn to them on a regular basis instead of whole food-based meals and snacks? No, no, no!

Protein Bars

Do I use protein (or ‘energy’) bars? Occasionally. I have certainly promoted them as a food option on this blog before (exhibit A). So why don’t I consume them regularly? 1. I prefer eating whole foods verse a candy bar in disguise (let’s be real, some have a similar nutrition profile as a Snicker’s bar). 2. Volumetrics! Protein/sports/meal replacement bars generally pack a hefty caloric punch in a small package. This can be a great reason to turn to them if you require a VERY high caloric intake each day, are out backpacking, or in a variety of other situations. However, generally they leave me unsatisfied and wanting more!

I am frequently asked about recommendations for different protein/sports nutrition bar and often it is from people trying to lose weight! While I always give some suggestions, I  put in the caveat of “use whole foods” first as much as possible. Doing so will keep you more satisfied and also supply you with more micronutrients, antioxidants, fiber, and phytonutrients for the same macronutrient breakdown. Therefore, I thought it would be fun to share with you a whole food-based meal/snack that is matched on grams of protein, carbohydrates, and fat (and therefore total calories) as some popular protein bars.

BREAKFAST: CLIF Builder Bar (Chocolate Peanut Butter) vs. Oatmeal (1/3 c. dry), peanut butter (~1 Tbsp), blueberries (~1/2 c.), and egg whites (1/2 c. before cooking). Each come in at:

  • 20 g protein
  • 29 g carbohydrate
  • 10 g fat

However, in the fiber department the oatmeal breakfast outshines the CLIF Builder Bar (6 v. 4 grams).

CLIF v Oatmeal{1 Bar vs. Traditional Breakfast}

SNACK: Simple Truth Protein Bar (Double Chocolate) vs. 190 g Chobani Plain, Non-fat Greek Yogurt (~1 and 1/3 of the single-serve 5.3 oz. containers), almonds (~9), and ~1/2 a small-medium apple. Each contains:

  • 21 g protein
  • 16 g carb (2 g fiber in each)
  • 4.5 g fat

Simple Truth v Yogurt{1 Bar vs. Yogurt, Apple, and Almonds}


LUNCH or DINNER: PowerBar Protein Plus (Chocolate Peanut butter – Reduced Sugar) vs. 3 oz. tilapia (baked), 4-5 cups Sesame Kale Salad (45 g kale, 45 g carrots, 45 g cabbage), with sesame-dressing (7g olive oil, 5 g sesame seed oil, 5g sesame seeds, 20 g rice vinegar), and 3 oz. sweet potato. Each contains:

  • 22 g protein
  • 30 g carbohydrate
  • 9 g fat

Again, the meal wins in the fiber department (1 g v. 6g)

PowerBar v. Meal{1 Bar vs. All This Food!}

So…looking at them visually, which would you rather have on a regular basis – 1 protein bar or a more cohesive meal?



6 thoughts on “Protein Bars vs. Whole Food Meals

  1. says:

    Reblogged this on | fat.kid.tweets and commented:
    Tanya (a registered dietitian and future PhD holder) has a great take on protein/meal bars here. I am definitely an advocate of food on-the-go, but pick your snack bars wisely. Most are full of sugars, additives, and ingredients that are impossible to pronounce. Some good rules of thumb: stick to bars that have 10 or less ingredients. Find bars that have protein from nuts and grains, rather than added whey and powdered isolates (I have to do this anyway, because of the headaches that I get from whey protein). Gluten free, GMO free, dairy free, soy free, and vegan are always good to see on a label. My favorite on-the-go and/or pre and post workout bars are KIND, Lara, Kit’s Organic, and ThinkThin (for when I really need high protein, post workout recovery). BUT…real food is still always better. If I am in a scenario where I can prepare a meal, I often have hummus, spinach, tomato, avocado, and Applegate organic meat roll ups. Nom nom nom!

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