Use this Venn diagram to find your ultimate protein bar

Use this Venn diagram to find your ultimate protein bar
Source: Shutterstock
Source: Shutterstock

Protein bars are a dime a dozen these days. (JK, they're actually pretty pricey.) 

But really, the bars are everywhere. Drugstores, gas stations, Bed Bath & Beyond, Staples and other various stores display energy and protein bars next to the typical buffet of gum and candies in checkout lines. 

We live in a veritable protein-bar boom. There are over 1,000 nutrition bars on the market today, the Wall Street Journal reported in 2015. Yet a decade go, there were just 226 kinds. 

The way we see it, there are two kinds of protein bars: The ones that look like a protein bar but act like a candy bar (looking at you, PowerBars, with 26 grams of sugar) and the ones that are actually a good source of fuel. 

Within the latter category, not all protein bars are created equal. 

Quality protein bars can have any (or all) of these attributes: clean ingredients (more on this below), high protein and low sugar. 

Some bars are minimal when it comes to ingredients but have a good deal of sugar, while others pack a protein punch by adding not-so-clean ingredients for flavor. 

In search of one protein bar to rule them all, we decided to map out a Venn diagram with the aforementioned three attributes. 

The rules: We chose 10 bars that are widely available online or in stores. Whenever possible, we opted for chocolate or chocolate and peanut butter flavors because, well, chocolate rocks.

Here are our three criteria, defined: 

Clean ingredients: Clean means different things to different people. We think we shouldn't need to gasp for air trying to read through a laundry list of ingredients that have infinite syllables. Bars that made the "clean" cut had minimal ingredients, and bars that had over 10 ingredients were deemed unclean, even if said bars were certified organic. (For the sake of this article, we deemed whey protein isolate and soy protein isolate "clean," though arguments can be made that only plant-based proteins are clean.) 

High protein: (As in, contains more protein than the six grams you'd get from a handful of almonds). Protein helps you stay full for longer, so a bar with ample protein will stop hunger in its tracks. The best amount? It really depends on someone's gender, body weight, height and activity level. We decided to highlight bars with protein comparable to Greek yogurt, which has 15 grams of protein per serving. Bars in the "high protein" circle contain 15 grams of protein per serving. 

Low sugar: No faux candy bars allowed. Bars in the "low sugar" circle contain fewer than 10 grams of sugar. (FYI, blueberry Chobani Greek yogurt has 15 grams of sugar while a Snickers bar has 27 grams.) 

Protein bar Venn diagram (press play!)

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The winner

SimplyProtein — Double Chocolate


Why it's prize-worthy: Clean ingredients, fewer than 10 grams of sugar, more than 15 grams of protein

What's inside: 140 calories, 15 grams of protein, 1 gram of sugar

Vegan, gluten-free, non-GMO, low glycemic — this bar seemingly does it all. It's got the texture of a Rice Krispies treat but none of the sweetness — tastes like a legit health food, for better or for worse. 

The runners-up

High protein, low sugar
Source: Bob Mischo/Mic

QuestBar — Cookies and Cream

Why it's prize-worthy: More than 15 grams of protein, fewer than 10 grams of sugar

What's inside: 190 calories, 21 grams of protein, 1 gram of sugar

Shout out to all the fiber in QuestBars: A whopping 14 grams of fiber represents 56% of the daily recommended intake. The cookies-and-cream flavor has real chunks of cookies that aren't as good as Oreos, but still satisfy cookie cravings. (Some QuestBar fans rave about microwaving them or baking them in the oven.) 

Clean ingredients, high protein
Source: Bob Mischo/Mic

22 Days — Almond Butter Chocolate Chip

Why it's prize-worthy: More than 15 grams of protein, clean ingredients

What's inside: 280 calories, 20 grams protein, 16 grams sugar 

Marco Borges, a nutritionist and trainer who's worked with Beyoncé, launched the 22 Days brand, and this bar definitely tastes #Flawless. It's like a peanut butter lover's dream, and has plenty of fiber and iron, too. Its first ingredient is brown rice protein concentrate. These bars are organic, non-GMO, gluten-free and soy free. The one downside: the 16 grams of sugar per bar. 

Rise Bar — Carob Chip 

Why it's prize-worthy: More than 15 grams of protein, clean ingredients

What's inside: 260 calories, 17 grams of protein, 15 grams of sugar

Even though this bar has just four ingredients, it still manages to pack 17 grams of protein from whey protein. Legit. It gets its sweetness from honey and carob powder. WTF is carob powder? It's from carob, which is similar to cocoa. (Carob has less fat than cocoa and it's used to make healthier chocolate chips.) 

Clean ingredients, low sugar
Source: Bob Mischo/Mic

Strong & KIND — Thai Sweet Chili

Why it's prize-worthy: Clean ingredients, fewer than 10 grams of sugar

What's inside: 230 calories, 10 grams protein, 6 grams sugar

Regular KIND bars hover around 6 grams of protein, but the Strong & KIND line has roughly 10 grams per bar. The nutty texture is on point and the bold flavors leave a spicy kick in your mouth. Note: We classified this bar as clean even though it has over 10 ingredients, since many of the ingredients are spices.  

Honorable mentions, aka the leftovers

Clean ingredients
Source: Bob Mischo/Mic

RXBar Chocolate Sea Salt

Why it's noteworthy: Clean ingredients

What's inside: 200 calories, 12 grams protein, 12 grams sugar

The best part? The front of this bar's label literally lists most of the ingredients out — egg whites, almonds, cashews, dates and no BS. Other ingredients include cacao and natural chocolate flavor. 

Larabar — Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough 

Why it's noteworthy: Clean ingredients

What's inside: 210 calories, 4 grams protein, 16 grams sugar

Larabars won't be as satiating as RXBars since they have less protein, but boy, do they taste good! This clean treat is more dessert than protein bar. 

EXO — Cocoa Nut

Why it's noteworthy: Clean ingredients

What's inside: 300 calories, 10 grams protein, 15 grams sugar, cricket flour

Hop to it — crickets are a great source of iron and they're a complete source of protein. Though they aren't vegan, crickets produce 100 times fewer greenhouse gases than cows, so they're an incredibly earth-friendly protein source. These bars taste like a chocolate bar collided with a hippie grocery store, and the high amount of fat (20 grams, roughly 31% of daily recommended intake) makes them very satisfying. 

High protein
Source: Bob Mischo/Mic

Clif Builder's Bar — Chocolate

Why it's noteworthy: More than 15 grams of protein

What's inside: 270 calories, 20 grams protein, 21 grams sugar

Taste buds say yes, ingredients list makes us walk back our love for this Clif Bar. Two of the first four ingredients are rice syrup and cane syrup, aka sugar. With 20 grams of protein, you're getting as much as you'd get from eating a small Greek yogurt topped with an ounce and a half of almonds

Aloha — Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip

What's inside: 270 calories, 18 grams protein, 12 grams of sugar

Peanut butter lovers, rejoice. Eighteen grams of protein will satiate, as will the 13 grams of fat. With 12 grams of sugar, this bar narrowly missed the 10 grams of sugar cutoff for the "low sugar" classification in our Venn diagram. 

The complete results

The ultimate protein bar Venn Diagram
Source: Bob Mischo/Mic