Bars: Nutritional Meal Replacement or Glorified Candy Bar?

Sometimes life gets busy and home-prepped meals and snacks don’t always happen. There’s a bar for that….right?

Nutrition and meal replacement bars are having a “moment.”

Over the past 5 years alone, energy and nutrition bar consumption has doubled—from a $2 billion industry in 2014 to now a $4 billion industry in 2019.

Companies attribute this growth to rising demand from busy consumers who are always on move—needing convenient on-the-go meal and snack options. Today, more than any time in history, Americans are eating out more than they are cooking and eating in, with nearly 70% of middle class folks dining out several times per week and 90% of people saying they “don’t like to cook.”

Enter: Bars.


However, NOT all bars are created equal.

Bars = Glorified Adult Candy

In fact, some bars—like the chocolate chip Clif Bar— have more sugar (21 grams) than a Hershey’s candy bar (17 grams). You may as well call some bars “glorified adult candy bars!”

Other bars are chock full with:

  • Unnecessary additives and GMO’s (like Organic High Oleic Sunflower Oil and Soy Lecithin)

  • Gut-irritating ingredients (oats, peanuts)

  • False claims (like “high protein”, (when in actuality the soy protein is not bio-available or digestible for your body in the first place).

Downsides of “Healthy Bars”

  • Even “healthy” bars, with fewer ingredients and conscious, may not be the best choice if you are regularly using them as a daily meal or snack replacement.

  • Many of these bars contain large quantities of nuts, artificial sweeteners or processed protein powders, contributing to things like:

    Digestive difficulties (constipation, bloating)

    Nutrient-deficient (due to the “anti-nutrient” abilities of nuts that can prevent other nutrients from being absorbed)

    Accidental under-eating (missing out on essential nutrients you otherwise would get in real, whole foods—meats, veggies, fruits, healthy fats)
    —At least if consumed in frequent amounts.

Real Food First…Then Bars.

Above all, real food always does a body good, but when life gets busy, the occasional bar to the rescue!

So which bars should you choose?

Here’s our hit list of what bars to stock up on, and which bars think twice about…


Eat This

Primal Kitchen Protein Bars + Collagen Nut & Seed Bars

Why We Love It:

  • Quality protein powder source (collagen)

  • Variety of flavors

  • The Coconut Lime Protein Bars are “gut friendly” for those with gut and autoimmune issues (no nuts)

  • Macadamia nut option (rare to find this in bars; macadamia’s are easier to digest)


  • A little hard to chew

Perfect Keto Bars

Why We Love It

  • Cacao (chocolate)…enough said

  • 11 grams quality protein (collagen)

  • Not difficult to chew


  • Almond butter is the primary ingredient (high Omega 6 fatty acids—i.e. inflammatory—if nutrient void in Omega 3 fatty acids in the diet)

Bulletproof Collagen Bars

Why We Love It

  • Freaking delicious!

  • No sugar added

  • Melts in your mouth (like a brownie)

  • Reminds us of Girl Scout cookies (lemon and vanilla shortbread)


  • The cashew-rich bar can be difficult to digest for those who are sensitive to nuts.

Epic Bars + Jerky

Why We Love It

  • Low sugar

  • Grass-fed

  • High (real) protein


  • Some contain almonds, other nuts and eggs (again, not the best for those who have a sensitive gut or autoimmune issues)

Thunderbird Bars

Why We Love It

  • Local company

  • Many are seed-based (over nuts)


  • Date based (higher sugar)

Designs for Health Bars

Why We Love It

  • The Paleo Bar + CocoImmune Bar are nut-free

  • Contain fiber (to aid in digestion and pre-biotics in the gut)


  • Not readily available at grocery store (order online or find at People’s Pharmacy)


Not our first option…but occasionally not horrible:

Lara Bars and RX Bars

Why We DON’T Like Em All the Time

  • RX + Lara bars are Heavy on the dates (dried fruit sugar)—a little goes a long way

Not That

Clif Bars
Luna Bars
Quest Bar
GoMacro Bars
Progenex Bars
Power Bar
Think Thin Bar
Perfect Bar

Why We DON’T Like Em

  • Sneaky added sugar (corn solids, brown rice syrup, artificial sweeteners)

  • Gluten cross-contaminating irritants (corn, oats, rice, eggs, milk)

  • Peanuts (high Omega 6’s, anti-nutrients)

  • Poor quality proteins (cheap whey, soy, egg)

Need we go on?

Other Portable Snack Options

Long before bars existed, there were other real food portable options. Mix up your bar consumption with some of these nutrient-packed ideas.
Pro Tip: for snacks that need refrigeration, tote in a portable, insulated lunchbox.

Hard Boiled eggs
Beef Jerky (grass-fed, pastured)
Coconut Butter + Nut Butter Packets
Whole Fruits (Apples, Oranges, Pears, etc.)
Soaked & Dried Nuts/Seeds
Canned Wild Tuna, Salmon Mackrel or Sardines
Canned Organic Chicken
Sliced Deli Meat
Dried Kelp & Seaweed
Coconut Yogurt (like Culina)
Leftovers (protein)
Homemade Bars

You can’t beat homemade anything—be it your mom’s homemade spaghetti and meatballs, homemade chocolate chip cookies…or this homemade, low sugar energy-protein bar you can make ahead for those times when life gets busy during the week.

Pumpkin Protein Bars (Nut Free)


1/4 c + 2 tbsp coconut flour
3/4 c collagen peptides or beef isolate protein powder
1/4 cup shredded coconut, unsweetened
1/4 cup + 2 Tbsp coconut butter
2 Tbsp pumpkin puree
2.5 Tbsp pure maple syrup or raw honey
1/4 cup coconut cream
1 tsp vanilla extract (swap with vanilla powder for AIP)
1/2 tsp sea salt
1/2 tsp cinnamon

White Chocolate “drizzle” (recipe below)


Mix all ingredients together by hand in a bowl. It may take a bit of stirring before the dough comes together.

Form into 8 equal bars in a baking dish.

Place the formed bars in refrigerator for 30 minutes to set. Once they’re set, remove bars from the baking dish.

Add drizzle.

Drizzle (optional)

1.5 Tbsp coconut butter
0.5 Tbsp coconut oil
Sprinkle of cinnamon


Mix together the melted coconut butter and melted coconut oil.

Place bars on wire cooling rack. Use a piping bag or a ziploc with a small hole cut in the corner to drizzle on top of the bars. Place in the fridge to set.

Nicole Hughes