Energy bars with the best ingredients (and the least sugar)

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Energy bars — those nutrient-dense squares reminiscent of dystopian 1970s sci-fi movies — offer clear benefits. They’re convenient, providing a full serving of calories and nutrition without any prep; they are storage stable; they are perfect for busy times when preparing a more traditional meal is not possible. But while many of these bars are reasonably healthy, the term “energy bar” can be misleading: a closer look at nutrition labels will reveal that some are basically candy bars in fancy wrappers.

If your goal is healthy eating supplemented with a convenient bar if needed, you should focus on those with better ingredients and less added sugar. Here are a few options that fit the bill.

Check the ingredients

How much added sugar is too much? It depends on how many bars you eat during the day. If there’s only one bar in the afternoon to keep you going until dinner, you can handle more sugar per bar. If you’re sitting in your prep shelter drinking distilled water and surviving on energy bars alone, that’s a different story.

The recommended daily intake of added sugar is approximately 24 grams for women and 36 grams for men. Considering there are single-serving “energy” bars with as much as 28 grams sugar, it is very easy to consume too much with these products. Look for the “added sugars” line on the nutrition label: less is more. (But be aware that a candy bar with very little added sugar is likely to be high in sugar alcohols, which can lead to gastrointestinal issues if you eat more than a few bars a day.)

Also look for natural ingredients like nuts and fruit, and high amounts of protein. If some type of “syrup” is high on the ingredient list, it’s probably not the healthiest choice (warning: bars designed to give athletes a quick burst of energy may use substances like brown rice syrup to provide sugars). And the more chocolate in there, the more likely it is a candy bar in disguise.

One thing to keep in mind? An energy bar can contain simple and natural ingredients while being high in sugar. For instance, RxBar The brand’s energy bars limit their recipes to a few simple ingredients, which is great, but many of its bars contain 13 grams of sugar or more.

The best bars

Judging by the quality of the ingredients and the amount of added sugar, here are some top energy bar choices:

Quest Bar: Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough. With just 1 gram of sugar and 21 grams of protein, these bars offer plenty of nutritional value without overloading you with sugar. The list of ingredients starts with protein, fiber and almonds, and although there is chocolate in there, it’s not the main attraction.

Pure Protein Plus Apple Pie Bar. Offering a reasonable 3 grams of sugar with 20 grams of protein, the ingredients in these bars start with protein, almonds, and fiber. They use isomalto-oligosaccharides as a sweetener, which can cause gastrointestinal upset in some people, but if you tolerate it well, it’s a smart choice.

KIND energy bar, dark chocolate nuts and sea salt. KIND energy bars tend to be very good choices in general. Dark Chocolate with Nuts and Sea Salt has 5 grams of sugar and, at 180 calories, is a decent choice for snacking.

Orgain Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough Protein Snack Bar. If you’re looking for a vegan option, Orgain’s Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough Bars have 5 grams of sugar and the 10 grams of protein are plant-based.

Power Crunch Protein Energy Bar, Triple Chocolate. The Power Crunch Triple Chocolate Protein Energy Bar contains 5 grams of sugar and 13 grams of protein. Protein tops the ingredient list and the bars are sweetened with a combination of stevia and monk fruit.

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