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The 13 Cleanest Protein Bars on the Planet in 2020

The 13 Cleanest Protein Bars on the Planet in 2020

Eating food without a barcode (AKA fresh and unprocessed food!) is always a great idea but when you are sprinting through an airport or hiking all over the universe to work or class, barcode-free foods are often scarce. Furthermore, when you’re trying to assist with recovery, keep on track with training, or trying to achieve healthy weight gain, having clean and convenient food options between meals or on the run is crucial.

So my friends, today I will offer a quick review on some of the CLEANEST protein bars money can buy.  

How to Find a Clean Protein Bar Label

First, before we dive into the good, I’d like to show you a brief example of the bad.  

I often ask my athletes and executives to bring me labels of what they are eating so we can review the products together. I make this request because it is all too common for an individual to tell me “I found the best protein bar ever! It has ____ grams of protein and only____ grams of sugar!!” And then when I finally see the product’s ingredient list, I do my best not to mini-barf in my mouth, knowing that they are ingesting inflammatory toxins and other junk day in and day out.  I remind myself to stay calm and then prepare to politely open their eyes to all they have been ingesting.

Here is a label that was brought to us recently:

The absolute worst part about this label is the fact that it is one for a bar that is sold in just about every single grocery store in the U.S.

This company advertises most heavily to athletes looking to reach their daily protein goal, the busy executive, and the average Joe trying to curb cravings in order to achieve rapid weight loss.  It is interesting that this bar is touted as a great snack to keep you energized, yet the vast majority of its ingredients are extremely inflammatory which will run you down.

Our goal is certainly not to sit here and bash a company, but we do want you as our beloved FWDfuel readers to be an educated consumer. We want to help you feel better each day but more importantly, to help you to prevent further health complications as you age. This is done best by keeping a close eye on what you put in your mouth.   On a positive note, we are so glad this company was kind enough to let us know we may experience a laxative effect with excessive consumption.  

I could sit here all day and dissect the label but since my goal is to highlight the best quality bars, I will just touch upon the most prominent red flags to scan for when reading the labels for prospective protein bars.  

Red Flag #1: Carrageenan

Carrageenan is a thickening agent derived from seaweed. The research is unclear with mainstream food scientists with supported by the big food companies claiming it as OK and then international experts not having their pockets padded by the food companies stating we need to proceed with extreme caution with this food additive.  

In examing the research, most studies performed on carrageenan used animals, others had small sample sizes, and no one has examined its effect on the microbiome environment or bacteria in the colon.  

So, here are a few facts about carrageenan:

  1. The International Agency for Research on Cancer which states that degraded carrageenan is “possibly carcinogenic in humans ”[1] 
  2. Research performed in 2017 by a group of scientists in Israel stated, “Carrageenan may reduce protein and peptide bioaccessibility, disrupt normal epithelial function, promote intestinal inflammation, and consequently compromise consumer health.”[2,3]
  3. The Center for Science in the Public Interest lists carrageenan in its list of Chemical Cuisine food additives under the category of “caution”, well below the other categories of “Safe” and “Cut Back”.[4]

While a few bites here and there would likely not cause a problem, carrageenan is a common additive found in everything from nut milks, to salad dressings, dairy products, snack bars and beyond, therefore, you must be extra careful as the amount consumed can add up in the blink of an eye.  Even more, if you’re an athlete battling leaky gut or an endurance athlete susceptible to gut issues, you will want to steer clear to this performance-robbing, brain-fog-inducing, food additive.    

Red Flag #2: Sucralose

This artificial sweetener, commercially known as Splenda is not as “sweet” as we once thought. Sucralose is the chemical combination of sucrose and chlorine. Yes, that is correct, it is sucrose mixed with chlorine

Sucralose is made by replacing 3 components of the sugar molecule with chlorine.  So, each sucralose molecule consists of 3 atoms of chlorine

Researchers have come to the conclusion that sucralose has the ability to greatly decrease the beneficial bacteria in our gut thereby changing the composition of our microbiome and enzymes.[5,6] The long term repercussions of this may include but are not limited to poor blood sugar and body weight control, inflammatory bowel disease, changes in mood and metabolism.  

Interested in learning more interesting facts about artificial sweeteners? Check out our post 9 Artificial Sweetener Side Effects: Facts You Need to Know

Red Flag #3: Maltitol

Unless your favorite pastime is experiencing bloating, gas, and diarrhea, I would not recommend consuming maltitol on a routine basis. Yes, it does have a lower caloric value and glycemic index than table sugar BUT maltitol is a sugar alcohol that our bodies do not fully digest. As a result, many individuals experience digestive discomfort with repeated consumption (think laxative).[6.7.8??] Although it is completely possible to consume maltitol in small amounts without experiencing digestive distress, that unfortunately is not a common occurrence.  

Red Flag #4: Processed Soy

  Last but not least, there is an overwhelming amount of processed soy in this product. Now, before all my plant-based peeps throw their hands in the air with disgust, please be mindful of the fact that organic, unprocessed soy can be an awesome addition to your diet. High-quality soy is extremely nutrient-dense. I am only referring to the processed, “filler” soy laced throughout this product.

Is there strong research stating that processed soy is an issue? Nope, but I have coached several thousands of individuals and one major pattern I have noticed over the years is a reaction to processed soy.    

Posts related to our Cleanest Protein Bars post:

(Usual disclaimer: FWDfuel Sports Nutrition is a participant in the Emerson Wellevate Associates program as well as the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to amazon.com.)

The Cleanest Protein Bars on the Planet are…

#1  GoMacro MacroBars

Box of GoMacro MacroBars

Here we have it folks, the real M.V.P.! When you talk about the cleanest protein bar on the planet, it is hard to beat one with these certifications: USDA Organic, Certified GF, Non-GMO Project Verified, Kosher, Certified C.L.E.A.N., Certified R.A.W., and more.  Adding to their impressive resume is the fact that GoMacro was started by a mother-daughter team and uses 100% renewable energy to fuel their production facility.  

GoMacro MacroBars are made with 100% plant-based organic ingredients and free of gluten, dairy, and soy.  Packing 10-11g of protein and 10-11g of fat per serving, these bars will keep your blood sugar stable and hunger at bay. Adding to the excitement is their introduction of new and exciting flavors such as Maple Sea Salt, Oatmeal Chocolate Chip, Apple Cinnamon, and Mocha Chocolate Chip.  We recommend you try the GoMacro Variety Pack to figure out your favorite flavor. 

#2 Epic Meat Bars

Epic-All-Natural-Meat-Bars-Best-Protein-Bars

If a granola bar had a baby with a pile if jerky, the end result would be a meat bar and no one beats the quality and taste of Epic All Natural Meat Bars!

What makes these bars so clean?  These bars are Certified Gluten Free, Paleo friendly, Keto friendly, Whole-30 Approved, Non-GMO Project Verified,and sourced from pastured, grass-fed meats.  

With flavors like Sriracha Chicken, Lamb Currant-Mint (My favorite), Turkey Almond-Cranberry, and Habanero-Cherry Beef, your tastebuds will be having such a party that you won’t even realize you just swallowed a bar of meat. With 9-15g of high-quality protein, ZERO added sugar, and only a few clean ingredients in each bar, we keep Epic Meat Bars handy when a clean, whole-food meal is out of reach.  

#3 EPIC Performance Bars

Box of EPIC Performance Bars

Its important to remember that many of the most amazing products in society today were not originally invented by the companies that have made them famous.  For example, Apple did not invent the MP3 player or smart phone, they just came out with upgraded, better versions of them that stole the show.

The Epic Performance Bar is similar to many other companies who take a great product even better and steal the spotlight.  They’ve built a respectable reputation with health nuts in creating a super clean and great tasting meat bar, allowing them to take on Rx Bar and put their own spin on things. 

How are they doing this in such a simple product? They simply upped the anty by substituting regular egg whites with cage-free egg whites, removing the ever confusing use of “Natural Flavors” as an added ingredient, and decreasing the amount of sodium. Furthermore, while Rx Bar states that “most of their ingredients are non-GMO” so they don’t see it necessary to be Non-GMO Certified, EPIC went the extra mile and has this stamp of approval on their bar.

So, when you look for a protein bar, see if you can top thi list of ingredients compared to the label at the top of this post.  Epic Performance Almond Butter Chocolate Bar: dates, egg whites, almonds, unsweetened chocolate, sea salt, vanilla extract.  Its simply as clean as it gets!

With some really amazing flavors such as Apple Cinnamon and Lemon in addition to the traditional Peanut Butter or Chocolate, we highly recommend giving an EPIC Performance Bar Variety Pack a try.  This is a great pre-workout snack or even a post-dinner alternative to dessert!

#4  Go Raw Sprouted Protein Bars

A single protein bar from Go Raw Sprouted Protein Bars

Go Raw Sprouted Protein Bar is super unique as it is the only bars made with watermelon seeds as the base for the protein. Furthermore, they’re the only ones using sprouted ingredients and go on to claim their ingredients are, “sprouted and dried, not baked or fried.”

With just 7 organic, Non-GMO, and gluten/dairy/soy/nut-free ingredients, these convenient, on-the-go bars give you the nutrients, protein, and energy you need to power your day.  With 12g of protein from “plant-based superfoods”, the Go Raw Sprouted vegan-friendly sprouted protein bars are both one of the cleanest protein bars as well as one of the most unique you will find anywhere.

#5 Naked Nutrition Naked Bars

Naked Nutrition is a company that we’ve come to appreciate with their ultra-clean and simple products. No fillers, junk, or artificial stuff sneaks into anything they produce.

So, when you buy a “Naked Bar”, rest assured you’re eating a simple and clean bar that is one of your best options outside of having real whole-food.   

What sets them apart from the EPIC Performance Bar and RXBAR? They not only have more protein in their bar (15g worth!) but the source of their protein is of high-quality grass-fed whey protein.  With just 5 simple and clean ingredients, the Naked Bar by Naked Nutrition is a great option if you tolerate dairy and are looking for a bit more protein in your protein bar.  

#6 Health Warrior Organic Pumpkin Seed Protein Bars

Health Warrior’s Pumpkin Seed Protein Bars are the real deal. Each bar contains roughly 8 grams of protein and is made entirely of organic ingredients. Not to mention, this bar’s approximate 1:1:1: ratio of protein, carbohydrate and fat will keep your bloog sugar stable and hunger satisfied. 

A great source of iron and magnesium, these bars are delicious and portable. What more could you ask for?

 #7 RXBAR Bars

RXBar is game changer.  Literally. Since they came out with their clean and power-packed bar many years ago, they have been copied by Naked Nutrition with their Naked Bar and by Epic with their Performance Bar.  Imitation is the best form of flattery right?

RXBAR’s are simple and pure with exception to the “Natural Flavors” in the ingredients (whic his why we dropped it several spots on our list compared to others). We really can’t stand it when companies use!  Its unclear and leads to a lack of trust when a company uses the vague ingredient “Natural Flavors”. Check out EPIC Performance Bar if you prefer a bar without this ingredient.).  

Their bars typically contains just 5-7 ingredients, 0 grams of added sugar, and 12g of protein. Not to mention, the flavors and texture are on point!  

RXBAR has sought to compete with others by staying ahead of the game with a HUGE variety of creative flavors such as Pumpkin Spice, Peanut Butter & Berries, Coffee Chocolate, Mango Pinapple, Maple Sea Salt, and much much more. So, if you want to check out the OG of simple and clean protein bars, be sure to give a variety pack of RXBARs Real Food Protein Bars a try. 

#8 Tanka Buffalo Meat Bars

Produced by the Oglala Lakota Native Americans on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota, Tanka Bars with Buffalo Meat are a really unique and clean protein bar that is focused on, “buffalo-based products that are delicious and that promote a Native American way of wellness that feeds the mind, body, and spirit.”  

Certified GF and sustainably grown, buffalo meat is a clean and powerful protein source.   Tanka Bars work well for the athlete trying to manage their weight and the athlete who struggles to rotate their protein sources each day. Chicken, fish, chicken, chicken more fish. Sound familiar?    

#9 Wild Zora Meat and Veggie Bars

Many, many, many of us have heard or know already how important it is to incorporate a lot of plants and color in our diet.  Well, how do you do that with snacks on the go that still fill you up? Wild Zora is the answer. These are meats bars mixed with organic vegetables and fruit such as spinach, apricots, dates, rosemary, turmeric, basil, kale, cilantro, sage, thyme, and more depending on which variety you order.  

Started by a husband-wife team when Zora Tabin struggled to find clean snacks for her kids, these are one of the cleanest protein bars you will find and likely the ONLY ones available with real organic vegetables in them.     

Available in several varieties all with grass-fed or free-range meats such as Mediterranean Lamb Bars with Spinach, Rosemary & Turmeric and Curry Masala Turkey Bars with Spinach, Dates & Cardamom, Wild Zora Bars are well worth checking out.  All their bars are gluten/dairy/soy/dairy/nut free, Autoimmune Protocol Friendly, Paleo Certified, and Whole30 approved. Start with a variety pack of 7 different flavors to find your favorite.  

#10 Garden of Life GoL Bars

Garden of Life is a company that knows a thing or two about making products that are of high quality ingredients, nutritious, and also tasty.  Many companies do one or two of these things write but rarely do you find one that does all three well.  

The Garden of Life GoL Bars are Organic, Noin-GMO Project Verified, and packed with 12g of protein from California Grass-Fed Cows that are hormone free and American Humane Certified.

The Garden of Life GoL Bars are perfect for the active individual who has high standards for both the quality of the ingredients and the taste of their bar.  With just 7 all-organic ingredients and 4 tasty flavors including our favorite, Maple Sea Salt, these bars are definitely worth a try.  

 #11 Garden of Life SPORT Organic Plant-Based Performance Protein Bars

Are you a highly competitive athlete and looking for a protein bar that has it all?  The Garden of Life SPORT Organic Plant-Based Performance Protein Bar fills you up, packs as much or more protein in it than any other bar on our list, tastes great, contains organic ingredients, and is NSF Certified for Sport meaning it is tested and proven to be free of all banned substances.  

While this bar is Certified Organic, Non-GMO Verified, Gluten/Dairy/Soy free, Certified Vegan, and both Informed Choice.org and NSF Certified for sport, it is not perfect.  It has a bit more sugar than other bars on our list and a few ingredients like Erythritol which we are not in love with (even though it is still organic), but you will struggle to find a better tasting or more clean protein bar out there with this much protein in it.

So, if you’re ready to try the tastiest high-protein bar out there, check out the Chocolate Fudge, Chocolate Mint, Sea Salt Caramel, or Peanut Butter Chocolate

#12 Pro Bar Meal Bar 

If you’re looking for a protein bar that nearly replaces a meal (when whole-food is out of reach :)), and has unbelievable taste, this is your top option.  With two ~200 calorie bars in each wrapper, the Pro Bar Meal Bar is the most calorie packed bar on our list. However, other lower-caloaires bars may keep you full just as long since this has more sugar, which may impact blood sugar in a way that makes hunger come back sooner.   

The Pro Bar Meal Bar sets itself from other bars by being “blended, not baked”.  So, the consistency of the bar is really unique and enjoyable. Think of it like a sticky mix between cookie dough and trail mix.  

The Pro Bar Meal Bar uses organic, Non-GMO Project Certified Ingredients, and is Certified GF.  While these bars taste great, they come at a cost with more carbohydrates than most bars as and the addition of vegetable glycerin, a sugar alcohol.  The extra carbs and sugar come from a combination of dates, tapioca and brown rice syrup, as well as cane sugar. We also knock this bar down our list due to using canola oil and the vague ingredients of “Natural Flavors” as well as “Organic Flavor”. 

The Pro Bar Meal Bar is great for those who burn a lot of calories and really need something to fill them up when they can’t have a whole-food meal, or those who simply can’t stand the taste of most bars and need something that tasts satisfying.  The Pro Bar Meal has some really awesome flavors including 

#13 Pro Bar Protein Bar

While Pro Bar Protein Bars taste great, are unique compared to most bars by using chia and flax seeds, and have certifications such as Certified GF, Kosher, and Non-GMO Verified, their ingredients are not organic (unlike the Pro Bar Meal Bar which are all organic).  They also have more sugar than most. This is a great protein bar if taste is your first priority and you want to tiptoe onto the clean-eating spectrum.  

The Pro Bar Protein Bar ties the Garden of Life SPORT Performance Protein Bars in how much protein in packs (20g) and is arguably as good or better tasting.  They have tons of flavors (7 to be exact) including unique variations that you won’t find from others such as Coffee Crunch, Frosted Coconut, Frosted Peanut Butter, and Cookie Dough.  

Where is the Best Place to Buy the Cleanest Protein Bars?

Struggling to find a place to get some super clean and natural meats to cook for items like a breakfast power bowl or skillet? If so, we would encourage you to check out a place we love and use all the time called Thrive Market. Without a doubt, one of the best places to buy meats and seafood that are grass-fed, pastured or wild-caught.

After all, who doesn’t love fairly-priced all-natural food delivered to your door within 3-5 days!?

Truth be told, we were a little hesitant to register 5 years ago when we saw there was a membership fee but we decided to give Thrive Market a try. Lo and behold, we actually did end up saving a significant amount of money for the year after ordering specialized groceries like nut butters, toxin-free cleaning products and soap, clean protein bars and snacks, and even our child’s diapers (they’re the best we’ve found!).

Plus, if you do not order enough throughout the year to make your membership fee worthwhile, Thrive Market will actually credit you back what you did not use as a bonus for the following year.

Sign up for Thrive Market now to receive a $20 credit when you use this link to join.

OK so there we have it. You now not only know the cleanest and tastiest protein bars, but also the best place to buy them!

Last but not least, if you are on the hunt for a clean protein bar because you sense that you may be experiencing food sensitivities, the best place to start is an elimination diet in order to help you detect which food(s) or ingredient (s) may be causing you to react.

As we continue on this health journey with you, we will keep our eyes peeled for the cleanest protein bars on the market. Until then, we hope you enjoy the selection listed above!   What are your favorite protein bars? Have you had any bad experiences after eating a bar or felt sluggish and didn’t know why? Please post your questions and comments, we would love to hear from you!    

  1. IARCIARC Working Group!on the Evaluation of the Carcinogenic Risk of Chemicals to Humans. Carrageenan. ARC Monogr Eval Carcinog Risk Hum 31:79–94.!1983.
  2. David S, Shani Levi C, L Fahoum L, et al. Revisiting the carrageenan controversy: do we really understand the digestive fate and safety of carrageenan in our foods? Food Funct. 2018 Mar 1;9(3):1344-1352. doi: 10.1039/c7fo01721a. Epub 2018 Feb 22. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/29469913.
  3. Fahoum L, Moscovici A, David S, et al. Digestive fate of dietary carrageenan: Evidence of interference with digestive proteolysis and disruption of gut epithelial function. Mol Nutr Food Res. 2017 Mar;61(3). doi: 10.1002/mnfr.201600545. Epub 2017 Jan 25. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/27718308.
  4. The Center for Science in the Public Interest. Chemical Cuisine. Accessed December 7, 2019. Available at: https://cspinet.org/eating-healthy/chemical-cuisine#carrageenan.
  5. Suez J1, Korem T2, Zeevi D2, Zilberman-Schapira G3, Thaiss CA1, Maza O1, Israeli D4, Zmora N5, Gilad S6, Weinberger A7, Kuperman Y8, Harmelin A8, Kolodkin-Gal I9, Shapiro H1, Halpern Z10, Segal E7, Elinav E1. Artificial sweeteners induce glucose intolerance by altering the gut microbiota. Nature. 2014 Oct 9;514(7521):181-6. doi: 10.1038/nature13793. Epub 2014 Sep 17.
  6. Oku T1, Hongo R, Nakamura S. Gut Microbiome Response to Sucralose and Its Potential Role in Inducing Liver Inflammation in Mice. Front Physiol. 2017 Jul 24;8:487. doi: 10.3389/fphys.2017.00487. eCollection 2017.
  7. Ruskoné-Fourmestraux A1, Attar A, Chassard D, Coffin B, Bornet F, Bouhnik YA digestive tolerance study of maltitol after occasional and regular consumption in healthy humans.Eur J Clin Nutr. 2003 Jan;57(1):26-30.
  8. Respondek F1, Hilpipre C1, Chauveau P2, Cazaubiel M2, Gendre D2, Maudet C2, Wagner A1.  Digestive tolerance and postprandial glycaemic and insulinaemic responses after consumption of dairy desserts containing maltitol and fructo-oligosaccharides in adults.Eur J Clin Nutr. 2014 May;68(5):575-80. doi: 10.1038/ejcn.2014.30. Epub 2014 Mar 19.
  9. Oku T1, Hongo R, Nakamura S. Suppressive effect of cellulose on osmotic diarrhea caused by maltitol in healthy female subjects.J Nutr Sci Vitaminol (Tokyo). 2008 Aug;54(4):309-14.

About The Author

Michael Bogden

Michael is a residency and fellowship trained sports physical therapist. A life long advocate for exercise and nutrition, he unexpectedly ran into issues with fatigue and recovery which significantly hindered his training. After working closely with his wife, Kylene, a dietitian trained in functional nutrition, he learned an entirely new approach to eating and living a more holistic lifestyle. This dramatic life change lead to remarkable improvement in his overall energy and performance. In 2017, with the help of a Functional Sports Nutrition approach, he improved his half marathon PR by 5 minutes. These improvements inspired him to create the FWDfuel blog with Kylene in order to spread the word so that others could experience the same success.

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