Energy Bar Analysis and Comparison. Let the Data Speak.
Forget every other energy/protein bar review you’ve read. This is different. We dig into the nutrition data to SHOW you how the bars stack up. Taste is subjective. Numbers aren’t. And nothing beats a side-by-side comparison.
Our analysis will help determine if you’re getting the “most” out of your bar. You decide what “most” means. Is it taste? Protein? Natural ingredients? Low Sugar? All of these? This post will make you think twice about your favorite chocolate covered bar.
Our ideal bar:
• Minimizes calories/gram and % sugar/gram
• Maximizes healthy fats, fiber, protein, natural ingredients
There are two categories of energy bar eaters:
- Those who like the bar chocolate coated
- Those who don’t
I prefer chocolate coated. Our Editor in Chief likes them naked. So clip in your cycling shoes and get ready for the Athletic-Minded Traveler Energy Bar Throw Down. And for those naysayers who always retort, “that bar is just a dressed up Candy Bar”, we’ve got that angle covered too. And you’re wrong.
- Demystify the nutrition label of popular energy/protein bars
- Introduce you to new bars
- Guide your buying decision
The Data Speaks for "Naked" Bars: The bars are sorted by Energy Density: Calories/Gram
|NAKED||GNU Foods (Chocolate Brownie)||Clif (Chocolate Chip)||PowerBar Perform. (Choc PB)||Bobo's Oat Bar (Almond, full package)||Balance Bar Peanut Butter||Odwalla (Chocolate Chip Peanut)||Bonk Breaker (PB&Choc chip)||Clif Mojo (PB Pretzel)||Perfect Foods Bar (Carob Chip)||KindPlus Bar (Cranberry Almond)||Snickers|
|Sugar + Sugar Alcohols||9||23||26||20||17||14||16||9||17||12||30|
|Sugar/gram as %||20.00%||33.82%||40.00%||23.53%||34.00%||25.00%||25.81%||20.00%||23.94%||30.00%||51.11%|
|AMT's Take||Oaty, less sweet, natural. LOW density.||Travels well; sugar is high, filling||Very high sugar. ONLY for those "training"||1 package should be 1 serving NOT 2. Crumbly = messy||Original, Bare & Gold have similar nutrition data||We're fans. Nice balance of sweet & savory||Super natural flavor, tasty, filling. Cocoa butter||Don't like that first ingredient is sugar||Low sodium. Super moist. Sweet.||If you like nuts, it's a GO||Uses Cocoa Butter vs Palm Kernel Oil|
The Data Tells the Story:
- Size Matters. Don't write off a bar with a high calorie count UNTIL you look at the size of the bar. What is important is how the calories stack up gram for gram. If you are trying to keep your weight in check, then GNU Foods' 3.111 calories per gram is much more appealing than Perfect Foods Bar's 4.366! This is simply an example of a lower density food vs. a higher density food. (Lower density foods contain a smaller number of calories relative to their size.) Think popcorn. You can eat 3 cups of it or 1/4 cup of granola. Same approximate number of calories!
- Taste Test: It all depends upon you. GNU Foods are not as sweet as the BonkBreaker or Odwalla. The data supports this observation. Just look at the sugar as a percentage of weight: GNU at 20% vs Bonk at 26% & Odwalla at 25%. All three bars have a similar texture, softer vs. crispy or crunchy. And all 3 boast natural, high quality ingredients. BonkBreaker wins if taste is the only consideration. We found the Perfect Foods Bar too sweet and we prefer fewer calories per package...hard to stop eating!
- Ingredients: We compared the first 5 listed ingredients of all bars. If "natural" is your thing and you want to avoid sugar, Clif Mojo and the Clif original bars' first ingredient is brown rice syrup. PowerBar Perform is designed for training/recovery and doesn't seek to be "pure". Typically the higher protein bars have more "stuff." KindPlus lists almonds, dried cranberries, macadamias & honey. These bars are basically nuts and dried fruit in bar form. And proving that "energy bars" ARE better than candy bars, the Snickers is a calorie and sugar bomb!! Bobo's, Perfect Foods, GNU, Kind & Odwalla do well on the "natural" ingredient check.
- Our favorites: After this analysis we stopped buying Clif Chocolate Chip. Too much sugar. We stocked up on GNU Foods for the kids and ourselves. BonkBreaker remains a favorite, but more as a treat. We also buy Odwalla. The Clif Mojo was a new discovery and we like the sweet/salty mix. We wanted to like the Bobo's more. Despite good, natural flavor, they are messy/crumbly, and we don't like the 2 servings/package format. PowerBar is for those in training and they can be very sticky. Kind Bars did well in the tasting, but the sugars are high. So our money goes to GNU, Bonk & Odwalla and sometimes, Clif Mojo.
- Cost: We've always been "cheapies" with bars. It pains us to pay more than $1.50/bar. BUT, looking at the data, we are willing to pay more for GNU and BonkBreaker. They are worth it. Odwalla is a deal at around $1.25/bar.
On to the Chocolate Covered Bars! The Cocoa Butter vs Palm Kernel Oil Debate
|Chocolate Covered||Atkins (Dark Chocolate Decadence)||Kashi GoLean Dipped (PB & Choc)||Luna Bar (S'mores)||Clif Builder (Chocolate)||NuGo Dark (Chocolate Pretzel)||Balance Bar (Cookie Dough)||NuGo Slim (Brownie Crunch)||Zone Perfect Dark Cookies & Cream||Kind Plus PB & dark Chocolate + protein||Snickers|
|Sugar + Sugar Alcohols||10||17||13||20||15||17||2||14||10||30|
|Sugar/gram as %||22.73%||30.91%||27.08%||29.41%||30.00%||34.00%||4.44%||31.11%||25.00%||51.11%|
|AMT's Take||Wow fiber, but Ew ingredients, tastes good||3.5g saturated fat is 18% RDA; PKO, Sugar!||Why PKO? Taste is a plus||PKO, Sugar, Filling||We’re big NuGo fans. Some may not like salt||Original, Bare & Gold all have similar nutrition profiles. PKO||Low Sugar. Natural. No "alcohols"||PKO, Taste is a plus||palm kernel oil, all bars have nutrition add-ons||Uses Cocoa Butter vs Palm Kernel Oil. Sugar bomb|
The Data Tells the Story:
- Size Matters: The Clif Builder is the largest bar reviewed in this category at 68 grams and 270 calories, but it comes in right in the middle in terms of energy density (3.97 calories/gram) versus the lower density Atkins. Our point is that calories and the size of a serving need to be considered together.
- Taste Test: This is where the battle of the fats comes in to play. ONLY the NuGo bars & Snickers use cocoa butter for the chocolate. The others all use Palm Kernel Oil. WHY??? Some facts:
- Our tasters give an edge to a bar with cocoa butter. Less waxy, better taste.
- Cocoa butter's fats are better. The saturated fat is mostly stearic acid. Some studies indicate that this type of fat does not raise cholesterol levels as much as other saturated fats. Cocoa butter is considered the premium fat.
- 1 T cocoa butter oil contains 8g saturated fat (4.5g are from stearic acid); 4.5g monounsaturated fat, .4g polyunsaturated fat
- Cocoa solids contain antioxidants. Dark chocolate has more than milk chocolate.
- Palm Kernel Oil (NOT to be confused with Palm Oil, which is better in terms of fat allocation) packs 11.1g SATURATED fat per tablespoon and only 1.6g unsaturated fat. This grid from Culinary Arts is our source.
- PKO & Palm Oil both come under attack for sustainability issues with respect to the palm fruit. There are "sustainable" sources of the fruit, but even these are often steeped in controversy.
- Bottom line: PKO is used because it's CHEAP. The melting point is higher, so transport is easier. It's also why most chocolate covered bars don't "melt in your mouth."
- Ingredients: For the chocolate coated bars, it really is all about the fats. PKO is a saturated fat powerhouse. Boo! :( And from our research, food makers use it to save cash and ease transport. That does little for you and your taste buds. Of the bars we detail above, the ingredient winner is NuGo. Kind Bars are also very "natural". ONLY NuGo uses cocoa butter. Even the Kind Bars use PKO. That is a BIG surprise.
- Our Favorites: NuGo. If we get over the cocoa butter vs PKO issue, we give a thumbs up to the taste of all of these bars. And we give kudos to the low calorie, high fiber combo of the Atkins Bar. The sugar content relative to the size of the bar is a weakness for the Balance Bar. Take note that the NuGo Slim has only 2 grams sugar...without any funny business, e.g., sugar alcohols.
- Cost: Cost is less of a factor for these bars. All are in the $1 to $1.50/bar range. Very reasonable.
WHERE'S MY BAR? Guess what, we ran out of room in the charts. But long, long, ago, we published similar data for a number of other bars including Tiger's Milk, Detour, Lara Bar, Perfect 10, Powerbar Triple Threat, PureFit, Promax, Met-Rx Big 100. ** Scoll down to see data organized by calories/weight.
Summary: While we selected particular "flavors" for bars, keep in mind that the winning "producers" make bars in myriad flavors! We seek to maximize ingredient quality, minimize sugar and look to taste, fiber and calorie bang per gram when selecting a bar. GNU Foods, NuGo, Bonk Breaker, Odwalla and Clif Mojo cover the bar bases for our team...for now!