Are Protein Bars Really a Health Food?

Are protein bars healthy for you?

By Jennifer Keirstead, Holistic Nutritionist  

Investigating “Healthy” Meal Replacements in a Wrapper  

It seems that in today’s fast-paced world, we’ve developed the need for quick snacks and meal replacements. Protein bars saturated the market in the 80’s and have since been widely accepted as a healthy snack, or a quick meal on-the-go. While these bars are indeed a quick and easy source of, “fast food”, they certainly aren’t a replacement for a healthful meal; nor do most of them substitute as a whole foods snack.  Finding a protein bar that can actually stand up to a good quality meal; loaded with vitamins, minerals and fibre, is pretty much impossible. This is because most protein bars are made from processed ingredients, preservatives and flavour enhancers. In fact, most protein bars aren’t much better for you than that Hersey’s chocolate bar, and some brands actually contain more sugar than a candy bar!  This is certainly a red flag, as after some label reading, I found some protein bars to contain upwards of 300 calories per serving. Most health bars and even protein bars also contain trans fats, simple carbs and processed sugars. Here are some common ingredients found in so called, “healthy” protein bars:

  • Genetically modified soy protein;
  • Poor quality vegetable oils such as high fructose corn syrup, canola oil, peanut oil or palm kernel oil;
  • White, processed grain;
  • Refined sugar;
  • Refined salt.

As an alternative, I suggest making protein bars at home. When you make things yourself, you have control over the ingredients going into your body. Here’s one of my favorite recipes.

Healthy Protein Bars Recipe

Home-made Protein Bars:


  • ½ c.  raw almonds, slivered
  • ½ c.  raw pecans
  • ¼ c.  raw hazelnuts, ground up into a flour (I use my coffee grinder)
  • ¼ c.  unsweetened shredded coconut
  • ¼ c.  pure almond butter
  • ¼ c.  virgin coconut oil (check your local health food store)
  • 1 tsp.  pure vanilla extract
  • 1 tbsp.  raw honey
  • ¼ tsp.  sea salt
  • ¼ c.  dried, unsweetened cranberries
  • ¼ c.  dried, unsweetened apricots
  • sprinkle of hemp seeds (on top)


  1. On a cookie sheet, lightly toast nuts and shredded coconut until just golden brown. *You may need to shake the tray once or twice to make sure they cook evenly.
  2. Once toasted, pour mixture into a food processor and pulse until nuts are chopped and mixture becomes coarsely ground.
  3. In a small pot, melt coconut oil and almond butter on medium-low, via stovetop for about 20 seconds. Remove and stir until smooth.
  4. Next, add vanilla extract, honey and sea salt. Mix thoroughly.
  5. Fold in nut mixture and hazelnut flour, until mixed thoroughly.
  6. Fold in cranberries and apricots.
  7. Press mixture into a coconut oil-greased, 8 x 4 glass loaf pan and sprinkle with hemp seeds.
  8. Refrigerate for about 20 minutes, or until firm.
  9. Cut “loaf” width wise, as this should make 6 hearty – sized protein bars.
  10. Store bars in refrigerator, covered with plastic wrap.

Enjoy!  These make an excellent snack to enjoy through-out the week. Just remember to try and stay away from not-so-healthy protein bars, thinking they all make healthful snacks, or even worse, meal replacements. After all, one of my favorite Food Rules by Michael Pollan is:  “Don’t eat anything your great grandmother wouldn’t recognize as food.”

To find more great recipes and to connect with Jennifer and ask questions about nutrition, download Mountain Trek’s Guide in your Pocket App for iPhone.

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