Pop Question: What are the good nut free protein bars?
Answer: (Pin drop). There’s not many.
Protein bars are an easy go-to snack if you’re hungry and want something “clean” to eat. In fact, 1 in 5 people eat protein bars on a regular basis—daily or at least a few times per week.
While protein bars are seemingly a healthy, convenient snack however, like most manmade “healthy” marketed foods out there: not all protein bars are created equal. Many protein bars contain the same nutritional quality as a Snickers bar—with perhaps a little bit prettier and cleverly marketed packaging.
And, if you have nut or dairy allergies, gut problems or autoimmune disease, finding a soy free, dairy free, GMO free, nut free protein bar without tons of inflammatory ingredients or artificial is tough to do.
Check out the ingredient labels of 5 popular protein bars on the market to see what I mean.
The 5 Worst Protein Bars
- Quest Bar: Protein Blend (Milk Protein Isolate, Whey Protein Isolate),Soluble Corn Fiber (Prebiotic Fiber), Almonds, Water, Unsweetened Chocolate, Natural Flavors, Erythritol, Cocoa Butter, Palm Oil, Sea Salt, Calcium Carbonate, Sucralose, Steviol Glycosides (Stevia).
- Clif Bar: Organic Brown Rice Syrup, Organic Rolled Oats, Soy Protein Isolate, Organic Cane Syrup, Organic Roasted Soybeans, Rice Flour, Dried Cane Syrup, Organic Oat Fiber, Unsweetened Chocolate, Organic Soy Flour, Organic Sunflower Oil, Organic Date Paste, Cocoa Butter, Molasses Powder, Organic Soybean Oil, Barley Malt.
- Luna Bar: Protein Grain Blend (Soy Protein Isolate, Organic Rolled Oats, Organic Rice Flour, Organic Roasted Soybeans, Organic Soy Flour, Organic Milled Flaxseed), Organic Brown Rice Syrup, Organic Dried Cane Syrup, Chicory Fiber Syrup, Organic High Oleic Sunflower Oil, Vegetable Glycerin, Palm Kernel Oil, Organic Palm Kernel.
- Think Thin Bar: Protein Blend (Soy protein, Calcium Caseinate, Whey), Chocolate Coating (Maltitol, Cocoa Butter, Chocolate, Sodium Casein, Milk Fat, Soy Lecithin, Natural Flavors, Salt), Glycerin, Maltitol, Peanuts, Peanut Flour, Water, Canola Oil, Natural Flavors, Soy Leithin, Sea Salt.
- Oh Yeah! Protein Bar: Peanuts, Protein Blend [(Oh Yeah! Blend Consisting of Whey Protein Isolate, Soy Protein Isolate, Milk Protein Isolate, Milk Protein Concentrate, Calcium Caseinate), Hydrolyzed Gelatin], Chocolate Coating [Chocolate Liquor, Maltitol, Cocoa Butter, Sodium Caseinate, Milk Fat, Soy Lecithin (An Emulsifier), Sucralose, Vanillin (An Artificial Flavor), Vanilla and Salt], Caramel (Sugar, Corn Syrup, Non Fat Dry Milk, Maltitol Syrup, Cocoa Butter, Corn Starch, Butter, Sucralose, Soy Lecithin, Natural and Artificial Flavor), Soy Nuts, Glycerine, Peanut Flour, Fractionated Palm Kernel Oil, Lecithin (An Emulsifier), Natural and Artificial Flavors, Salt, Sucralose, and Potassium Sorbate Added As A Preservative.
Do you know what all those ingredients do in your body? Your body doesn’t either.
Nutrition Facts: Snickers Bar vs. Clif Bar
One look at the nutrition facts (calories, sugar, fat grams) found in a Clif protein bar and a Snicker’s Bar tells the story is the same: Many protein bars are candy bars.
Snickers Bar Nutrition Facts
Snickers vs. Clif Bar Breakdown
- Snickers: 30 grams
- Clif Bar: 22 grams
- Snickers: 280
- Clif Bar: 240Carbohydrates
- Snickers: 35 grams
- Clif Bar: 44 grams
- Snickers: 4 grams
- Clif Bar: 10
5 Downsides of Most Protein Bars
Downside #1: Your body doesn’t know what those foreign chemicals and ingredients are.
And if your body doesn’t know what those chemicals and ingredients are, chances are it also doesn’t know how to digest them.
Downside #2: You can’t digest the protein, nuts or dairy in the bar.
Indigestible bars also mean indigestible protein. Even if there is 10 to 20 grams of protein listed on the label, many protein blends contain crappy fillers, protein concentrates and non-bioavailable sources of protein that cause more GI distress than muscle building power. Additionally, a vast majority of bars contain nuts/peanuts and/or whey (dairy)—two of the top allergenic and gut-inflammatory foods, particularly for those with immune issues (autoimmune disease, mast cell activation syndrome, skin breakouts, allergies) or GI distress already (IBS, constipation, bloating). In fact, very few bars out there, if any are “immune” or “gut” friendly.
Downside #3: Most commercial protein bars are high in sugar and artificial sweeteners.
Even if it’s sugar free, your body has a similar insulin response to artificial sweeteners like it does sugar. Additionally, artificial sweeteners come with a host of side effects: nausea, bloating, loose stools, abdominal pain, headaches, brain fog, body tingling (1, 2).
Downside #4: You get “punked.”
Studies on consumer perceptions about candy bars show that most people think protein bars are healthy because they are marketed that way—such as “a good source of protein”, when in reality the bars contain few other beneficial nutrients (e.g., protein and fiber) and high levels of nutrients to limit (e.g., sugar, sodium, fat) (3).
Downside #5: You waste your money on a candy bar.
You might as well spend $2 instead of $4 on the Snickers bar with about the same amount of nutrition.
5 Healthy Nut Free Protein Bar Alternatives (AIP)
Never fear, there are healthier protein bar alternatives.
Here are my top 5 healthy NUT FREE protein bars (AIP), PLUS 2 homemade AIP-friendly, nut free protein bars you can whip up in a snap.
- Pure Paleo Bars
- Epic Bars
- Paleo Angel Power Balls
- Primal Kitchen Coconut Lime Bars
- Julian Bakery Pegan Thin® Protein Bars
- Bonus: Homemade!
2 Delicious Homemade Nut Free Protein Bar Recipes
Chocolate Coconut Butter Protein Bars
Soften coconut butter (microwave or room temp enough so it is melted). Stir in remaining ingredients and combine to thicken in a bowl. Spread out mix in a glassware baking dish and smooth out on top. Place in fridge for approx. 1-2 hours, then slice into small bite-sized squares (about 18-20). Store in fridge or freezer.
Variation Vanilla Coconut Butter Protein Bars
- Tandel, 2011. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3198517/
- Toews et al, 2018. https://www.bmj.com/content/364/bmj.k4718
- Fernana et al, 2018. https://www.bmj.com/content/364/bmj.k4718