While a pack of cookies may seem like a satisfying mid-day snack, some of our go-to treats can be loaded with calories, carbs, and grams of sugar. This, of course, can lead to an energy-draining sugar crash, which isn’t fun when you have a pressing deadline resting on your shoulders. Sigh.
To trade in your daily snack for one that skips out on sweetness, provides an energy boost, but still brings exciting flavors to your taste buds, know that vegan protein bars can be a great snack choice, as some bars are chock full of nutrients and ingredients you can actually pronounce.
However, not all vegan protein bars are created equal, as while some bars are rich in flavor (peanut butter chocolate chip, cookie dough, salted caramel, etc.), they can still contain a similar sugar content to a candy bar.
To help you discover the best vegan protein bars that taste good, keep sugar levels down, and are jam-packed with vitamins and nutrition, ahead, we tapped three registered dietitians to break down what to look for in a vegan protein bar, how much protein you need, and what ingredients to avoid.
And if you want to make your very own vegan bar at home, we’re also sharing three yummy (and not to mention nutritious!) recipes worth giving a try.
What to Look For in a Protein Bar
To find the best vegan protein bars for your needs, registered dietitian Staci Gulbin, MS, RD, says first, and foremost, you’ll want to focus on choosing products with high-quality sources of plant protein. These include pea protein and protein sourced from quinoa and soy, which have also been demonstrated to meet amino acid requirements, according to a 2020 study published in Nutrients.
“Next, you’ll want to ensure that your protein bar contains antioxidant-rich ingredients. These include dried fruits and dark chocolate which provide extra nutritional value,” Gulbin explains.
“This especially applies to dried fruits, as they increase fiber and potassium levels in the body, says a 2020 study in the British Journal of Nutrition.”
And while a chocolate peanut butter protein bar may be able to satisfy your sweet tooth post-workout, Gulbin advises steering clear of protein bars packed with artificial sweeteners, as they may exacerbate gastrointestinal symptoms, particularly in those living with irritable bowel syndrome.
How much protein should be in a vegan protein bar?
Because everyone’s protein needs are not the same, registered dietitian Danielle Gaffen, MS, RDN, tells Celebribody that “a very general recommendation could be to look for snack bars that contain at least five grams of protein per serving, and meal replacement bars that contain at least 15 grams of serving.”
However, while vegan protein bars can be a great way to supplement your protein intake–don’t solely rely on them to satisfy your daily protein needs, says registered dietitian nutritionist MacKenzie Burgess, RDN.
Instead, she advises “relying on protein sources from whole foods first, and then supplementing with vegan protein bars (or protein powder) if needed.”
To ensure you’re getting adequate protein in your diet, she advises including other plant-based sources of protein throughout the day with each meal and snack. “These include nuts, beans, lentils, tofu, tempeh, chickpeas, and edamame,” she adds.
Consuming specialty speeds can also help you meet your daily protein requirements. A 2021 study published in Comprehensive Reviews in Food Science and Food Safety, for example, found that both pumpkin seeds and chia seeds not only had a rich protein content but were also able to provide healthy fats and antioxidants to the body.
Ingredients to Avoid When Buying Protein Bars
“When choosing a protein bar, be sure to turn it over, and thoroughly look at the nutrition label,” says Burgess.
“Aim to choose a bar that contains at least five grams of protein and less than ten grams of added sugar. Also choose a protein bar with ingredients you can pronounce–the smaller the list of ingredients, the better.”
Best Vegan Protein Bars
“My top vegan bar recommendation would be the plant-based RX bar, as the ingredients are simple, all-natural, and minimally processed,” Gulbin tells Celebribody. “Each bar also contains ten grams of protein, which is sure to satisfy you in-between meals, and after workouts.”
Best Low Sugar
“These bars have seven grams of sugar, which is derived from natural sugar,” Gulbin says. “Other low-sugar protein bars can contain a lot of sugar alcohols, which can cause gastrointestinal symptoms and bloat in some people.”
Best Gluten-Free: Orgain Organic Protein Bars
“These plant-based protein bars are gluten-free, contain five to seven grams of fat, and pack in ten grams of protein from a blend of brown rice protein, pea protein, rice flour, and ground chia seeds,” Gulbin explains. “To top it off, the bars come in five delicious flavors including S’mores and Chocolate Brownie.”
Best High Protein: Vega 20g Protein Bar
“Vega has a great vegan protein bar with 20 grams from plant-based protein (pea, brown rice protein, and nuts),” says Gulib. “It also contains three to four grams of natural fiber from organic agave inulin, rice starch, and nuts. Inulin is a well-tolerated fiber that has beneficial gut health properties.”
Best Low Carb: Pegan Thin Protein Bar Snap Cookie
“Initially, this bar may look high-carb, as the nutrition label shows 28 grams of total carbs,” Gaffen explains.
However, this is because the grams of dietary fiber are already included in the total carbohydrate count. “But because fiber is a type of carbohydrate that your body can digest, it does not affect your blood sugar levels,” Gaffen adds. “Also, the monk fruit inside of the bar explains how the bar can taste sweet with just one gram of sugar.”
Best Low Calorie: Health Warrior Chia Bars
“This bar is a good source of plant-based omega-3s (the omega-3s found in plant-based sources are known as ALA (alpha-linolenic acid),” Geffen says.
“Although ALA is not absorbed as efficiently in our bodies, it is still worthwhile to regularly include them in our diet. Aside from the ALA, chia seeds are a rich source of fiber (this bar contains 5 grams), minerals, and antioxidants.”
Vegan Protein Bar Recipes
If you are looking to try your hand at making your own vegan bars that don’t use sweetener and are free of dairy, below are three dietitian-backed recipes worth bookmarking stat.