Top 10 Balanced Energy Bars
Author: Therese Bonanni, MS, RDN
Most of my clients find weight management and satiety success with two to three daily snacks in the 150 to 200 calorie range. That’s not to say there isn’t a place for the higher-calorie options out there—especially if you’re a mega-athlete, nursing mama or looking for an actual meal replacement.
I can talk about real food until I’m blue in the face, but the truth is, everyone likes bars. They’re easy, I get it. But snacks—yes, that’s how I categorize them—don’t need to contain excessive calories, grams of one macronutrient (here’s looking at you, protein) or sugar (real or fake). Pro tip: When shopping, it’s best to look for simple ingredient lists you can pronounce.
So, I scoured the shelves to find plant-based, dairy-free (and some even grain-free!) non-perishable picks with minimal fillers and no artificial sugar substitutes. These ten were the tastiest combinations of filling fiber, healthy fat and satisfying protein, which, when eaten together, keep metabolism balanced in between meals so you won’t overeat later.
THE NEW “KIND” BAR:
These recently upgraded to organic ingredients and taste like an old-school chocolate peanut chew (minus the peanuts!) I dubbed it the new KIND Bar because it has a similar-tasting chocolate coating and wholesome ingredients—minus the fillers! It’s also a great source of magnesium and potassium, two minerals that help decrease muscle cramping and increase blood flow, making it a good post-workout snack. Cocoa powder and cocoa extract give this bar an extra antioxidant boost.
Ingredients: Organic Pumpkin Seeds, Organic Wildflower Honey, Organic Dutch Process Cocoa Powder, Organic Milled Quinoa, Cocoa Extract, Organic Vanilla Extract, Organic Coconut Oil, Sea Salt
Standout Stats: Calories: 180 Fiber: 2g Sugars: 6g Protein: 8g
CHOCOLATE COOKIE FIX:
This thick and chewy bar is honestly delicious and includes a laundry list of nutrient-rich ingredients like pumpkin, chia and hemp seeds, almond meal and cashew butter (hello, healthy fat and protein!) The standout here is the cinnamon and sea salt combo, which I noticed on the first bite! It also contains reishi extract, a potent mushroom known as an adaptogen, which may support immunity and improve your body’s response to stress. If you’re feeling sickness coming on or trying to get better, this one might be helpful to have on hand, especially during allergy season. Early research on adaptogens suggests erring on the side of caution and skipping this one if pregnant or breastfeeding.
Ingredients: Cashews, Organic Sunflower Kernels, Organic Pumpkin Seeds, Organic Coconut Nectar, Organic Coconut, Organic Dark Chocolate Chunks (Cane Sugar, Chocolate Liquor, Cocoa Butter, Vanilla Extract), Organic Coconut Sugar, Almond Meal, Organic Raw Virgin Coconut Oil, Chia Seeds, Cashew Butter, Organic Hemp Seeds, Cocoa Powder, Sea Salt, Vanilla Extract, Cinnamon, Natural Flavor, Rosemary Extract, Organic Reishi Extract
Standout Stats: Calories: 200 Fiber: 3g Sugars: 7g Protein: 5g
MOVE OVER, MINI MUFFIN
Boasting nearly half of your daily fiber needs, this soft-baked bar promotes regularity and can help lower high cholesterol. And, because fiber-rich foods take longer to digest, they keep you extra satisfied. If you struggle with gas or bloating, however, you may want to skip foods with chicory root inulin, a prebiotic fiber that fuels probiotics in the gut. Otherwise, just make sure to enjoy it with water, and this bar can help maintain a healthy GI tract.
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Ingredients: Fiber Blend (Whole Rolled Oats, Whole Wheat Flour, Wheat Bran, Organic KAMUT® Brand Khorasan Wheat, Psyllium, Flax, Millet), Chicory Root Inulin, Fruit Juices, Rice Dextrins, Apples, Non-GMO Canola Oil, Walnuts, Rice, Plums, Banana, Wheat Protein Isolate, Natural Flavors, Baking Powder
Standout Stats: Calories: 140 Fiber: 12g Sugars: 8g Protein: 4g
As soon as I opened the wrapper, the aroma reminded me of key lime pie! This lower-calorie Go Macro spin-off is packed with stomach-soothing ginger and lemon, making it an ideal choice for those prone to travel sickness or nausea. If you’re likely not a fan of strong, zippy ginger combined with a lemony Girl Scout cookie flavor, they offer other interesting combinations like caramel coconut and blueberry lavender.
Ingredients: Organic Cashews, Organic Brown Rice Syrup, Organic Ancient Seed Blend (Organic Puffed Quinoa, Organic Sprouted Flax, Organic Hemp Hearts), Organic Crystallized Ginger (Organic Ginger, Organic Cane Sugar), Organic Pumpkin Seeds, Organic Apple Fiber, Organic Dried Brown Rice Syrup, Organic Lemon Juice Powder, Organic Sunflower Oil, Organic Natural Lemon Flavor
Standout Stats: Calories: 180 Fiber: 3g Sugars: 7g Protein: 5g
THE NEW "LARABAR"
Jonesbars are locally produced and packaged in nearby Sea Girt, NJ. Each one contains only four or five raw, whole food ingredients—they’re soft and chewy, with chunks of chopped peanuts but not baked or cooked. The taste and chunky texture is comparable to an original Larabar peanut butter cookie, just with fewer calories, less sugar and the addition of chia seeds. Chia adds brain-boosting, anti-inflammatory omega-3 fats and more filling fiber in addition to the dates. Unlike flaxseeds, chia seeds don’t need to be ground to reap their benefits. You can find Jonesbars easily at Rook Coffee shops in NJ and northeast grocery stores, or order online.
Ingredients: Organic dates, peanuts, chia seeds and himalayan pink sea salt
Standout Stats: Calories: 180 Fiber: 4 g Sugars: 15 g Protein: 4g
BEST NUT-FREE GRANOLA BAR
This brand is perfect for a classic chewy bar craving. The apple and ginger variety has the added benefit of crystallized ginger, which can help quell prenatal nausea. The gluten-free certified oats also make it a lactogenic snack for breastfeeding moms. 88 Acres also makes a FODMAP diet-friendly flavor, Chocolate Sea Salt, which is an alternative option for those with IBS. (Plus, they’re made outside of Boston, which holds a collegiate place in my heart.)
Ingredients: 88 Acres Craft Seed Blend (Organic Sunflower Seeds, Organic Pumpkin Seeds, Flax Seeds) Gluten-Free Certified Oats, Brown Rice Syrup, Maple Syrup, Unsulphured Organic Golden Raisins, Unsulphured Apples, Organic Crystallized Ginger (Organic Ginger, Organic Cane Sugar), Pumpkin Pie Spice, Sea Salt
Standout Stats: Calories: 180 Fiber: 3 g Sugars: 12 g Protein: 5 g
MOST LAFFY TAFFY- LIKE
With as much protein as an egg, this one is not just for kids! You won’t find any fillers on the ingredient list; the berry flavor contains just two egg whites, four almonds, five cashews and one date. They’re just as chewy as the larger RX Bar, which is another option for those with higher energy needs or seeking part of a balanced meal replacement. I’m still waiting for them to produce an allergen-free RX bar for kids.
Ingredients: Dates, Egg Whites, Almonds, Cashews, Strawberries, Raspberries, Blueberries, Natural flavors
Standout Stats: Calories: 130 Fiber: 3g Sugars: 9g Protein: 7g
RICE KRISPY TREAT-WORTHY
I snagged this one at a recently stocked Starbucks, but they’re also at Target (if they aren't sold out!) The texture reminded me of a Kashi TLC bar (remember those?) but has a greater mission: Ending childhood malnutrition. When you buy one bar, the company purchases a nutritional packet and donates it to their nonprofit partner Action Against Hunger. They also have a discounted monthly bar club. This was a deliciously mild flavor choice—and even toddler-approved.
Ingredients: Almonds, Flaxseeds, Chicory Root Fiber, Honey, Toasted Oats, Crisp Rice, Natural Flavors, Sunflower Oil, Madagascar Pure Vanilla Extract, Non-GMO Sunflower Lecithin, Sea Salt, Raisin Juice Concentrate, Vegetable Glycerine
Standout Stats: Calories: 180 Fiber: 7 g Sugars: 6 g Protein 4 g
SOFT OATMEAL COOKIE CRAVING (minus the oats):
I didn’t believe that the turmeric trend could be masked in a bar. You can definitely spot the bright yellow specks, but can hardly taste the anti-inflammatory, disease-fighting spice in this particular mix of fruit, nuts and seeds. Pecans and figs are the first two ingredients, which, like turmeric, are high in antioxidant compounds that help rid the body of unnecessary toxins and metabolic byproducts, while hemp boosts the protein and omega-3 content of this bar. It doesn’t include black pepper, which increases absorption of turmeric, but the spice is also fat-soluble, so the other ingredients will help out. This brand also makes other unusual flavors, like dragon fruit with spirulina.
Ingredients: Pecans, Figs, Apple, Dates, Hemp Protein Powder, Hemp Seeds, Coconut Nectar, Turmeric, Cinnamon
Standout Stats: Calories: 200 Fiber: 4 g Sugars: 9 g Protein: 7 g
CRISPY & CRUNCHY (I’ve heard):
I’ll admit: I haven’t actually tried this one, mainly because Larabar said they wouldn’t send me samples! Yet, it continues to intrigue me. It’s one of their lower-sugar options and has sprouted chia seeds, which makes them easier to digest. Cinnamon is always a winner for me, it’s an easy way to add antioxidants and sweetness without calories and may help regulate blood sugar. From the reviews, I assume they’re crumbly in a nostalgic, Nature Valley kind of way.
Ingredients: Almonds, Sprouted Chia Seeds, Honey, Maple Syrup, Coconut Oil, Cinnamon, Sea Salt
Standout Stats: Calories: 200 Fiber: 4 g Sugars: 6 g Protein: 5 g
Additional reporting by Kyra Martyn, student intern