You may be starting to choose more plant-based options or be completely vegan – either way, you’re likely wondering what the most nutritious and best-tasting vegan nutrition bars are.
Typically protein bars are dominated by whey protein – for a good reason. Whey is a complete protein (meaning it contains all of the essential amino acids that humans can’t synthesize) and is high in branched chain amino acids. Whey is also rapidly driven to skeletal muscle after exercise, leading to better recovery.
However there are plant-based proteins that are comparable to whey protein. These include soy and pea protein. Recent studies have suggested soy to be as effective to whey in terms of its ability to promote gain in lean muscle mass. Soy does digest more gradually compared to whey protein, however soy protein may provide additional health benefits such as reducing risk for coronary heart disease. Soy has a high protein digestibility amino acid score.
Pea protein is considered an almost-complete protein. It is high in branched chain amino acids, which may aid in maintaining a muscle building state.
A number of vegan protein bars contain either soy or pea proteins, along with additional protein sources such as nuts and seeds.
I’ll be comparing protein bars that:
- are formulate specifically for a vegan diet and
- claim to be a significant source of plant-based protein
I’m going to compare the vegan protein bars on the bases of:
- Nutritional Value: I’m looking at the amounts and ratios of macros, along with the quality and source of nutrients such as protein and sugar.
- Ingredients: I’m looking for bars that have simple, good-quality ingredients, along with more whole ingredients than synthesized ingredients that are unrecognizable. The more REAL food, the better!
- Taste: Is the texture chewy or crunchy? What is the flavour profile like? Does it taste like ‘real’ food or more like a chocolate bar?
*Cost will be compared as per the cost on Amazon.ca on August 13th 2016.
Go Macro Bars Flavour: Prologed Power (Banana + Almond Butter)
Nutritional Value: One 65 g bar has 270 calories and has 35 g
of carbs (52%), 10 g protein (15%) and 12 g fat (40%). It also has 15 g sugar and 2 g fibre. Carb-to-protein ratio: 3.5.
Ingredients: The first ingredient
is sugar – ‘Organic Brown Rice Syrup’. This doesn’t sound like a ‘bad’ source of sugar, but bottom line is – it’s sugar. However this bar does have a number of whole/recognizable ingredients, including almond butter, bananas, puffed brown rice, sunflower seeds, etc. It has less than 10 ingredients too! The protein is from almond butter and the organic protein blend (brown rice protein and pea protein).
Taste: I quite enjoy the taste of these – they’re chewy.
Unit Cost: $4.97
Larabars – ALT Protein Flavour:Lemon Pound Cake
Nutritional Value: One 55 g bar
has 210 calories, 23 g (44 %) carbs, 1
g (19%) protein and 9 g (39%) fat. It also has a decent amount of fibre (3 g) per serving, and 14 g of sugar. Carb-to-protein ratio: 2.3.
Ingredients: These bars have 9 wholesome, recognizable ingredients, with the majority of the bar being dates, almonds and pea protein. The sugar is from the dates (especially since they are the first ingredient) and brown rice syrup. I love the fact that Lara bars are made from whole ingredients.
Taste: They have a subtle lemon flavour, but a fairly middle taste. The texture is more course than the original Lara bar – but very pleasant!
Unit Cost: $4.50
Genuine Health: Fermented Vegan Protein Bars Flavour: Dark Chocolate Almond
Nutritional Value: One 55 g bar contains 210 calories, 26g (50%) carbs, 14 g (27%) protein
and 9 g (39%) fat. There’s a whopping 10 g fibre in one serving and 9 grams of sugar. Carb-to-protein ratio: 1.8.
Ingredients:, These bars have a long ingredient list. The protein comes from a combination of pea isolate, sesame concentrate, brown rice protein concentrate, hemp protein, quinoa, alfalfa, spirulina and bean sprouts. Also to note, these bars contain an ingredient called isomalto-olgiosaccharides or IMO – which is promoted as a prebiotic dietary fibre with a light sweetness – accounts for the high amount of dietary fibre in this bar. However unlike true, intact fibre, most of this fibre is actually digested – only a small portion escapes digestion and undergoes colonic bacterial fermentation. Therefore you may not receive all of the benefits from this fibre that a true, intact fibre would give you. There is no artificial sweeteners in this bar.
Taste: This bar has a good, chewy taste without being overly sweet.
Unit Cost: $2.63
Pro Bar: Base Flavour: Peanut Butter Chocolate
Nutritional Value: One 70 g bar contains 290 calories, 32 g (44%) carbohydrates, 20 g (28%) protein and 10 g (31%) fat. It also contains 5 g dietary fibre and 15 g sugar. Carb-to-protein ratio: 1.6.
Ingredients: Protein in this bar also comes from soy protein isolate. Soy protein isolate is the most pure and refined form of soy available. This is the first ingredient, meaning it is present in the most significant amount. This bar has a longer ingredient list, however does have recognizable ingredients in them, including ground peanuts and flax seeds, chia seeds. This bar also has some added dietary fibre with inulin – a fibre that doesn’t bring all of the cholesterol-lowering and GI benefits compared to whole, intact fibre.
Taste: These are great tasting – they are crunchy and the flavour seems genuine.
Unit Cost: $4.90
Nugo Organic Flavour: Dark Chocolate Almond
Nutritional Value: One 50 g bar contains 190 calories, 26 g (55%)
carbohydrates, 10 g (21%) protein and 3.5 g (17%) fat. It has 13 g ofsugarand 3 g of fibre. Carb-to-protein ratio: 2.6.
Ingredients: This protein in this bar comes from the soy crisps, which are a combination of soy protein, rice flour and calcium carbonate. There is some pure, isolated soy protein in these bars, however it is at the bottom of the list and therefore not in large concentration. The ingredient list is a bit long with these bars and there isn’t a lot of whole-food ingredients.
Taste: These bars are a little too sweet in my opinion – it’s not a wonder though with the organic cane sugar, organic tapioca syrup and organic agave syrup.
Unit Cost: $2.83
…so how did they stack up?
Based on nutritional value, ingredients and taste, this is how the bars ranked:
1. Larabar Alt
2. Genuine Health: Fermented Vegan Protein Bars
3. Pro Bar: Base
4. Go Macro Bars
5. Nugo Organic
The LARABAR Alt won my top vote due to the combination of it’s wholesome, simple and real ingredients. It had a good carbohydrate to protein ratio, with the carbohydrates coming from mostly dates and the protein from almonds and pea protein.
The Genuine Health Bars won second because of its ideal macronutrient ratios. I wasn’t a huge fan of the long ingredient list and a few of the ingredients (IMOs, concentrates), however there was no ‘red flag’ ingredients like artificial sweeteners or sugar alchohols.
The Pro Bars have an impressive amount of protein and good carb to protein ratio. However I ranked it 3rd because I don’t think these bars are suitable for a large amount of the population. The bars provide too much calories and protein to be a between-meal snack. The bar could be used after a moderate to intense physical activity session only if you won’t be eating your next meal within an hour or two. Even then, the calories and macros provided by this bar should be subtracted from your next meal to avoid over-replenishing yourself.
Similar issue with the Go Macro bars – too many calories to act as a between-meal snack and less protein in these bars. Also the first ingredient was sugar!
The NuGo Organic bars simply didn’t taste great and didn’t taste like real food. Most of the ingredients didn’t seem recognizable as food either.