Six Star's bar contains protein from a blend of soy and whey isolates and milk protein concentrate, but the use of hydrolyzed collagen (an animal byproduct) and hydrogenated oil raised some eyebrows during our taste-off. Among the bars sampled, this one stood out precisely because it didn't. Most bars were too chewy or very chocolaty -- this one was just "eh." Calories: 190 | Calories from Fat: 70 | Saturated Fat: 4g | Protein: 20g | Carbs: 15g | Dietary Fiber: 1g | Sugar: 6g, plus 5g sugar alcohols
Taste Test: Best Chocolate Peanut Butter Protein Bar
One taster described the Quest Bar as "molten and chocolaty" and another noted a strong peanut butter flavor. The bar is a bit gritty and very chewy, but the low calorie count, high protein content, and high fiber-to-carb ratio make it a reasonably healthy choice. There are very few ingredients -- a strong positive -- and the protein content comes from whey and milk protein isolate. Calories: 160 | Calories from Fat: 45 | Saturated Fat: 1g | Protein: 20g | Carbs: 25g | Dietary Fiber: 17g | Sugar: 2g, plus 5g sugar alcohols
Watch out for the packaging: It proudly proclaims 2 grams of sugar while the nutrition label shows there are also 6 grams of sugar alcohol, a reduced-calorie sweetener. This bar contains milk and whey protein concentrates, as well as soy and whey protein isolates, a vitamin blend, and hydrolyzed collagen. Tasters liked the smooth texture and well-proportioned mix of chocolate and peanut butter, but the bar dried out their mouths. Calories: 200 | Calories from Fat: 60 | Saturated Fat: 3g | Protein: 20g | Carbs: 16g | Dietary Fiber: 1g | Sugar: 2g, plus 6g sugar alcohols
The Supreme Protein bar contains whey and soy protein isolates and whey protein concentrate, as well as a vitamin mix. Watch out if you're vegetarian, due to the presence of hydrolyzed collagen. Tasters thought the bar had a good consistency and several described the taste as being very similar to a Reese's Peanut Butter Cup. Calories: 190 | Calories from Fat: 80 | Saturated Fat: 5g | Protein: 15g | Carbs: 13g | Dietary Fiber: 1g | Sugar: 3g
This bar from Odwalla breaches our limit on sugar content by one gram, but it's one of the cheapest we found, so it seemed well worth including in the taste test. The bar contains soy protein isolate, no sugar alcohols, and a vitamin mix for extra nutrients. Tasters commented on the very strong chocolate taste, "almost like a brownie." A strike against the bar is its stickiness, which makes it hard to get off your teeth. Calories: 200 | Calories from Fat: 60 | Saturated Fat: 2.5g | Protein: 12g | Carbs: 24g | Dietary Fiber: 2g | Sugar: 16g
Whey and milk protein isolate are used for protein content in this bar, although with just 13 grams for the 200 calories, there may be better options if you want staying power. Still, this bar was the hands-down crowd favorite. It's a crisp wafer bar, unlike the chewy protein bars in the tasting. The chocolate flavor was strong, although one person said it could be darker. Another went so far as to call the bar "the most delicious thing I've tasted in a month." Calories: 200 | Calories from Fat: 105 | Saturated Fat: 5g | Protein: 13g | Carbs: 10g | Dietary Fiber: 1g | Sugar: 5g
Most energy bars are loaded with carbohydrates. Meal replacement bars also pack in vitamins, minerals, and a small meal's worth of calories. Protein bars aim for fewer carbs and higher protein, a nourishing, low-calorie combination that should leave you feeling sated. Many athletes eat protein bars after a workout because protein helps build lean muscle.
Two of the most common protein sources in this selection of bars are whey and soy. Both are complete proteins, meaning they contain all the essential amino acids. They come in two forms: isolate and concentrate. A protein isolate is absorbed faster and is best consumed after a workout while a protein concentrate may help you feel full longer. Many bars contain both.
Always read the nutrition label and note the serving size. Some bars contain more than one serving, even though the nutrition information reflects a single portion. Note the fat content, particularly saturated and trans fats (less is better).
While additives improve a bar's taste and consistency, several are especially bad offenders. "Hydrogenated" ingredients, for example, generally indicate the presence of trans fats. Vegetarians should watch out for hydrolyzed collagen, an animal byproduct found in some bars. Vegans also want to keep an eye on the protein source, as many bars use whey (the liquid that remains when milk is curdled).
Sugars are identified by words that end in "ose," such as dextrose, fructose, and sucrose, but can also surface as corn syrup, cane juice, maltodextrin, and a string of other names. Sugar alcohols, which have fewer calories than regular sugar, have names that end in "ol," such as glycerol, xylitol, and sorbitol. Some packaging displays "net carbs," a marketing term for simple carbohydrates minus fiber and sugar alcohols. The science is still out on the significance of this breakdown; the term is unregulated by the Food and Drug Administration and not part of the nutrition facts.