Quest Bars, Demystified: 6 Nutrition Experts Weigh In

Photo c/o @questnutrition on Instagram

Photo c/o @questnutrition on Instagram

Since I published blog post titled Stay Clear Of Quest Bars (and Delicious Whole-Food Alternatives), over 100,000 people have viewed the post and dozens have left comments expressing their opinions.

Truth be told, most of the comments have never been approved to appear in front of the public eye, because turns out there are a lot of people who disagree with my view of Quest bars and think it’s okay to use foul and derogatory language, as well as personal attacks when expressing their opinion. It’s not okay.

The original blog post on Quest bars is not meant to attack the brand, but rather to express my personal experience with the product as well as the result of online research I have done (and yes, online is the only way I can do it, as I don’t have a pass to go to a factory and actually inspect the ingredients). This is more of an invitation to Quest to educate its consumers better on what the product they provide is, and perhaps to offer a product that’s closer to a whole food product category.

Let me make it clear: I don’t claim to be and am not a nutrition expert, but rather a passionate advocate of intuitive eating, self-love, and whole food living, who loves sharing delicious whole-food recipes (especially breakfast, as you can guess from the name of this blog), travel inspiration, and social media tips. Oh, and kindness. I’m big on that one. And like Rainbeau Mars said,

“What comes out of your mouth is more important than what goes in it.”

So dear ones, before taking the energy to comment on this post, please remember that while eating 5 Quest bars a day won’t kill you from the inside (I think?), spreading anger and negativity very well might. If you’d like to share your opinion, please respectfully share it in the comments.

To bring in educated opinions into this story, I interviewed several nutrition experts to answer the most common questions/Google searches that have brought people to the original Quest bars blog post, including:

  • “are quest bars healthy”
  • “are quest bars bad for you”
  • “quest bar for breakfast”
  • “are quest bars really as nutritious as claimed”
  • “quest bars cause gas”
  • “how many quest bars a day”
  • “do quest bars contain soy gmo?”
  • “is it ok to eat quest bars every day”
are quest bars healthy search terms

Actual searches that brought people to Quest bars blog post

This post does not intend to tell you what you should or should not eat, but rather, to get the full picture and make your own (educated) choices. The opinions come from a perspective of whole food eating as an essential part of wellbeing. If you’re not sure why whole foods and organic is important, check outHungry for Change and Food Matters, the two movies that changed the way I think about food and health completely.

And now ladies and gents, please meet our panel.

 

Klara Mudge is a functional medicine nutritionist and Neuro-Linguistic Programming certified health coach with an honours degree in personalized nutrition. Klara is on a reckless and delectable quest to heal the manic modern world, one hungry overworked urbanite at a time. bothsidesbuttered.com | @bothsidesbuttered

Willow Jarosh is a registered dietitian (RD), speaker, coach, consultant, and writer. She holds a bachelor of science degree in Human Nutrition from the University of New Mexico, a masters degree in Nutrition Communications from Tufts University, and is a nutrition expert for SELF Magazine, Bumble Bee Foods, and Bob Greene’s Best Life program. cjnutrition.com | @cjnutrition

Mark Malinsky is President and Founder of Sprout Living, a market-leading provider of pure and potent plant-based protein powders and functional foods that are made exclusively from raw, vegan, organic and kosher superfoods. sproutliving.com | @sproutliving

Abbi Miller is a certified Holistic Health Coach and Yoga Instructor. She helps people get real, heal and feel fabulous. abbimiller.com | @abbinutritionyoga

Sasha Nelson is a certified Holistic Health Coach and Yoga Instructor who supports private clients in finding their own unique, healthy practices that are easy to maintain and will benefit mind, body and spirit. Check out her 10 Rules to Kick Start Healthy Habits on MindBodyGreen. sashayogawellness.com | @sashayogawellness

Amanda Hayes Morgan is Clinical Nutritionist, Women’s Intuitive Eating Coach and a rebel nutritionist. Stemming from her desire to use food as medicine and revitalize her clients’ relationship with food, Amanda (who overcame an eating disorder herself) maintains a focus on individuality while keeping things light, fresh, and fun. amandahayesmorgan.com | @amandahmorgan

KEY TAKEAWAYS: 

  1. No nutrition bar can replace a whole food, home-cooked meal. That being said, there’s a time and place for everything and sometimes an all-day-out physically taxing, no-kitchen-in-sight day is the time and place for a health bar.
  2. Quest bars aren’t a clean food according to the definition of “clean food” as choosing the least processed version of a food.
  3. Highly processed ingredients: Quest bars have highly processed ingredients and three high intensity sweeteners, which some research has indicated can actually lead to a person wanting more sweets/more highly sweetened foods.
  4. Quest bars and bloating: The high fiber content from an isolated fiber source could cause gastrointestinal distress.
  5. If a Quest bar doesn’t fill you, don’t eat another one. Eat a piece of real/whole food.
  6. Breakfast: Quest bars should not be eaten as breakfast, as you’re not benefiting from the variety of nutrients you’d be getting if your breakfast was a combination of whole foods.
  7. Listen to your body instead of avoiding cravings: The emphasis on being low carb, as well as the emphasis on using nutrition bars to avoid eating a food that you truly want/enjoy can lead to unsatisfied eating and a feeling that it’s “wrong” to have food that you enjoy.
  8. Stop fighting food: Quest bars are a substitute “food”. They’re wannabes. They wanna be healthy, but they wanna taste like s’mores! I find that funny. Have a meal of real food and then have a s’more and move on.

 

Have you tried Quest bars?

Amanda: Yes, had one bite.

Sasha:  Nope, and not planning on it.

Mark: Yes, just to see what they taste like.

Willow: Yes, but didn’t eat a whole bar.

Amanda: Yes. Many years ago I tried a few bites to satisfy a friend of mine and see what the hype was all about. Then, I read the ingredient list and decided I would never touch them again!

Klara: Can’t bring myself to…Have you tried Saran wrap? Joking..kind of.

Would you recommend Quest bars to your clients?

Abbi: NO!

Sasha: Never.

Mark: don’t have clients, but I wouldn’t recommend this to friends or family.

Willow: I wouldn’t recommend a client start eating these bars. Depending on how someone used them (as a snack, as a dessert, as a way to avoid eating what they really want to be eating…) I might or might not encourage someone who was already eating the bars to switch. In other words, I wouldn’t recommend someone start eating these bars if they’d never had them before but if someone came to me and truly loved the flavor/texture of an occasional Quest bar, I’d probably leave it alone and focus on other aspects of their diet/lifestyle/etc. first.

Amanda: No – there are so many other options that are more whole-food based and have the same amount of high quality protein. Not to mention protein bars are easy to make at home.

Klara: Nah. Unless they were stuck in a broken elevator for 2 days with a quest bar as their only source of almost-food. And all the Saran wrap was out :)

The truth is, you don’t need “diet” foods or high protein bars in order to be healthy/lose weight.

-Willow Jarosh

If so, why yes? If no, why?

Klara: I’m skeptical of things in packets with multiple ingredients that claim to taste like cookies and cream, minus the cookies or the cream… I wasn’t there when they were made and have trust issues. There could be all kinds of crap disguised as “natural” in there.  So If I have a choice, I would rather make my own wholesome, whole food snacks that my body would recognize as non-synthetic /from the earth. Or eat a cookie with cream and get on with life.

Sasha: No because, in my perspective, it is not made of whole ingredients. Sucralose is artificial, and I’m not a fan of their remaining ingredients – not things I would personally include in my diet (corn fiber, whey protein, palm oil etc).

Mark: It’s a pretty clear no for me and it’s for a few reasons. When you consume a protein isolate, that means that anything of any nutritional value has been stripped away. In order to properly metabolize the protein these missing nutrients will naturally be robbed from your body.

The corn fiber is likely from GMO corn. Natural flavors seem harmless to most consumers but in reality I think there is a lot of dark mystery that goes into this – chemically isolated compounds formed back together to create flavors such as “S’mores” – to call this type of flavor natural is beyond deceptive. Gums like the ones used in these bars are extremely processed. The sweeteners such as Erythritol may cause upset stomachs and other side effects.

Willow: Here are a few reasons I’m not into Quest bars:

1) More nutritious alternatives: There are so many other bars out on the market, at a similar price point and with a similar availability, that don’t contain high intensity sweeteners, sugar alcohols, and too few carbohydrates.

2) Propogation of stressful relationship with food: The diet-y nature of the brand’s advertising/packaging. I work with clients to develop a happy, kind, healthy relationship with food. Part of that work, for many clients, involves working to reduce food-fear which often surrounds carbohydrates.

The emphasis on being low carb, as well as the emphasis on using these bars to avoid eating a food that you truly want/enjoy (From the brand’s website “cheat meals without the cheating”.) can lead to unsatisfied eating and a feeling that it’s “wrong” to have food that you enjoy.

-Willow Jarosh

3) Highly processed ingredients: The bars contain three high intensity sweeteners, which some research has indicated can actually lead to a person wanting more sweets/more highly sweetened foods. Natural flavors are not always a red flag, but often make us wonder what those flavors are, why they’re there, and why the company didn’t spell out what they are (or use fruit, spices, etc. to flavor). The fiber source as well as the sugar alcohol used in the bar can lead to bloating.

4) Isolated nutrients over whole food: We work with our clients to focus on eating food, rather than nutrients — helping them to ensure they’re getting a variety and a balance of nutrients each day via fun, delicious, varied food choices. These bars tout single, isolated nutrients–namely protein and fiber. But because that protein and fiber is from a single, isolate source, rather than a whole food, you aren’t getting any additional nutrient benefits.

For instance, if you have protein from nuts/seeds then you’re also getting vitamin e, maybe omega 3s, some fiber, etc. If you have fiber from fruit then you’re also getting antioxidants and a wide range of other phytochemicals. In addition, the 20 grams of protein and 18 grams of fiber in each bar is way beyond what we’d recommend in a snack. In fact, 20 grams of protein is roughly 25-30% of what a woman would need in an entire day and 18 grams of fiber is over 70% of basic daily needs for women.

Are Quest bars healthy?

Klara: In short,  I say nah. Healthy is a huge word. The answer to your question depends on your definition of health. Cookies and cream can be ‘healthy’ for someone who is present and happy, eats a lot of organic plants, and lives an active, community-backed life, for example… Quest bars are a substitute “food”. They’re wannabes. They wanna be healthy, but they wanna taste like s’mores! I find that funny. Have a meal of real food and then have a s’more and move on, and stop fighting food!  

Sasha: I personally do not think they are a healthy option, but at least it’s not McDonald’s…

Mark:  Everything is relative, especially when it comes to “healthy” but as far as food bars go, these are not one of the better options.

Willow: Healthy is a pretty subjective concept. I’d say that if you’re trying to eat more whole, less processed foods and get more of your nutrients via the naturally occurring kind in foods, then these bars wouldn’t be your best choice. Because they contain isolated nutrients, high intensity sweeteners, and packaging/web information that touts a diet mentality, I’d be confident in saying they’re not one of the healthier bar choices available.

Amanda: The simple answer: no. Everyone has a different definition of what “healthy” means to them. But I think we can all agree that anything with “whey protein isolate” listed as the first ingredient or up to six grams of sugar alcohols per serving (regardless of the source) would not be considered healthy.

Can Quest bars be considered clean eating?

Abbi: I do not think so. Too many steps to the ingredients listed.

Sasha: I agree with Abbi – too many unfamiliar or processed ingredients.

Mark: No.

Willow: Our definition of clean eating is choosing the least processed version of a food. So, Quest bars do not fit that definition.

Amanda: No.

Can you eat more than one Quest bar a day?

Mark: Is that a dare?

Willow: A couple things to keep in mind. The high fiber content from an isolated fiber source could cause gastrointestinal distress. In addition, the sugar alcohol could cause gastrointestinal distress. Also, if you eat 2 Quest bars, you’re already at 50-60% of your daily protein needs and well over 100% of your daily fiber needs, yet you haven’t gotten in any servings of fruits, veggies, high fiber carbohydrates (whole grains, starchy veggies, beans, lentils, etc.), or healthy fats.

Amanda: I would say…absolutely not. Unless you are asking for tummy troubles. I agree with WJ – 90+% of my clients have experienced digestive discomfort (bloating, gas, indigestion) from whey protein sources and sugar alcohols.

Can you have a Quest bar for breakfast?

Abbi: I am never a fan of bars a meal replacement, I think they should be treated like, “adult cookies”, since that’s what they really are!

Sasha: I would not choose to ever eat a Quest bar, but if I do eat snack bars I am picky about the ingredients (low sugar/natural sweeteners like honey or dates, whole ingredients, as unprocessed as possible, vegan and gluten-free). I also believe in a whole foods breakfast and will often supplement snack bars with fruit or a green juice if eaten for breakfast – personal preference.

Mark: These bars lack real nutrition. Sure there is protein (isolated) and calories, but it’s missing all the other goodness you’d want to start your day off right.

Willow: We typically recommend a breakfast that combines a high fiber carbohydrate (potato, whole grains, etc.), fruit/veggie, a protein, and a healthful fat. That usually works out to roughly 350-400 calories. The Quest bars have around 190-200 calories and a relatively small volume of food (ie a Quest bar fits in your hand, while potato, kale, and onion hash topped with an egg fills a whole plate).

The calories are lower than we’d recommend for a breakfast for an active woman, so we’d recommend adding a piece of fruit and a few nuts to the bar if you were using it as a breakfast. And again, you’re getting isolated nutrients–so you’re not benefiting from the variety of nutrients you’d be getting if your breakfast was a combination of whole foods.

Amanda: If it’s true what they say – that breakfast is the most important meal of the day (and I believe it is!) – then having a Quest bar for breakfast would be doing yourself a disservice if you are truly trying to be healthy. Bars in general lack nutritional value, and should never be used to replace a meal.

Breakfast should be full of healthy fats (avocado, nut butters), protein (pasture-raised eggs, high-quality vegan protein powder), fiber (flax seed/chia), and organic veggies and fruits. My go-to breakfast is a green smoothie. You can easily hit all of your nutritional bases, and it’s possible to obtain the flavor of a Quest Bar without all of the nonsense ingredients!

Wha:  are some of your concerns in regards to Quest bars?

Abbi: I’m concerned about non-nahorganic dairy in general, and then hyper processing it to become an isolate is also a concern.

Sasha: I am also concerned about non-organic, processed ingredients, especially when the source isn’t transparent.

Mark: I’d be weary of how some of these potentially GMO ingredients, natural flavors, artificial sweeteners, etc. will react in the body.

Amanda: I can see the potential, but can’t comment on whether they are definitely linked. As mentioned above, I’m highly concerned about the conventional dairy and artificial sweeteners, among other questionable ingredients.

Do Quest bars have GMO?

Sasha: I think it’s questionable with brands who are not transparent or do not have certifications confirming the origin of their ingredients and/or business practices for that matter.

Willow: Since they don’t address this specifically on their website I don’t know. Corn, canola, soy, cotton, and sugar beets are the most prevalent GMO crops, which can find their way into feed for animals and flavor agents, etc. Since they don’t address this on their website nor do they have the Non-GMO Project certification or Organic certification, my guess would be yes, but only the company would know the answer for sure.

Why do quest bars cause gas, bloating and cramps in some people?

Abbi: Many reasons, one is the the high quantities of dairy derived proteins, means the lactose (notoriously hard to digest, unless fermented as in yogurts and kefir) levels could be high, as are the milk proteins which are all at such elevated levels, the body can have a hard time digesting easily.

Sasha: I can only guess that processed whey protein and the other additives could cause these symptoms. In my experience and opinion, highly processed ingredients are not easily recognized or digested by the gut, especially when combined together in foods like snack bars.

Mark: Erythritol and Sucralose (which is Splenda… really, this is still consumed?)

Willow: I’d guess the high fiber content from an isolated fiber as well as the sugar alcohol (erythritol–which not all the bars contain). The high-intensity sweeteners may cause unpleasant digestive effects (like gas and bloating) in some people. Since they’re much sweeter than regular sugar, foods that contain them may be even sweeter than foods sweetened with sugar or honey. Consuming foods that are extra sweet may give you a propensity for craving sweeter things more frequently.

How do Quest bars affect gut bacteria?

Mark: If you have candida or more bad bacteria than good in your gut, things like sugars and carbs are usually your enemy. In the case of these bars, they are technically low in sugar but I don’t know how the sugar alcohols found in them will affect the bacteria.

Willow: The source of fiber is a prebiotic, which technically feeds the gut bacteria (a good thing). Non-nutritive sweeteners are being looked at more closely in their potential to disrupt the balance of our natural gut bacteria. In addition, current research is pointing to a diet that is rich in plant-based foods as potentially helping to propagate our gut bacteria.

Amanda: If eaten consistently, anything you can’t qualify as a whole food will impact the balance of bacteria in your gut. Bacteria have the ability to change their behavior within just a few days! The whey protein isolate (which is dairy derived), sugar alcohols, and natural flavors are perfect examples of this. It’s no wonder that people are “googling” quest bars and gas! That’s a sign in and of itself.

What if Quest bars don’t fill me up?

Abbi: Eat real food!

Sasha: Eat real, whole foods straight from Mama Earth! Processed foods don’t fill you up like a generous serving of good old-fashioned plants, nuts, seeds etc.

Mark: I’d suggest not to eat another. There’s also nothing wrong with not being filled up all the time and just waiting until you can enjoy real food.

Can you eat Quest bars all day? (An actual Google search). 

Abbi: I would NOT recommend this.

Sasha: I would never recommend this, everything in moderation and eat WHOLE foods (or at least eat snacks/products that contain only whole foods and ingredients you can pronounce).

Mark: Please don’t.

Willow: I wouldn’t recommend someone eat a single food all day long, no matter what the food because you’re really reducing your dietary variety and therefore reducing the amount and variety of different vital nutrients. It can also lead to taste bud fatigue (ie you might just get really sick of that food!) Enjoyment is part of a healthy relationship with food.

Can you eat Quest bars every day?

Abbi: I do not recommend it.

Sasha: I would not suggest ever eating them, if so then rarely as a last resort.

Mark:  It’s not a good idea.

“Processed, packaged health bars are just not the halo food they’re dressed up as.”

-Klara Mudge

What alternatives to Quest bar can you suggest?

Klara: The neat thing about most new health bars these days is that they’re usually pretty balanced as far as protein, fiber, sugar, and fat goes. I don’t mind a bit of natural sweetness (no more than about 15g sugar) in there as long as fat, protein, and fiber are invited to the party too. Because the fat, fiber, and protein is what slows down the digestion and the glucose release (happy insulin, happy LIFE).

Abbi: I love Rawxies, Greens Plus, and Pure, all as, “healthy adult cookie substitutes”, but I eat them rarely and as treats, not meals.

Sasha: Pure, Simple Squares, Lydia’s Organics, Two Moms In The Raw, Bearded Brothers, Go Raw Real Live Food, Kit’s Organic fFuit & Nut Bar, Larabar on occasion, but have to be mindful of sugar… that being said I would suggest either making energy bars yourself or eating a mix of homemade organic trail mix instead.

I really only buy them when I’m traveling and don’t have time to make/bring my own snack, and I would never supplement them as a full meal.

Mark: A fresh fruit followed up with some nuts and seeds.

Willow: For bars in the same price range and with wide availability Cliff Kit’s Organic bar, KIND bars. For non-bars, the sky’s the limit. A piece of fruit and a small handful of nuts is easy. Half a nut butter and fruit sandwich on whole grain bread. A small smoothie. Nuts and dried fruit (really, many of the whole foods bars are basically nuts and dried fruit but the bar form is really portable and portioned.) A hard boiled egg mixed with avocado and spread on a brown rice cake. Veggies dipped in hummus.

Amanda: When it comes to bars, I recommend GoodOnYa Bars and Dale’s Raw Food Bars. I’m not a fan of Larabars or KIND bars. Many Larabars have great ingredients, but most of their bars are not organic and are high in sugar because their main ingredient is dates. The protein version of KIND bars contain soy protein isolate (a whole different issue) and many of their other flavors contain regular white table sugar as well as soy lecithin. Outside of purchased, processed bars, make your own! They are so easy to make at home. I’ve got recipes :) Otherwise, protein smoothies are a great go-to, as well as the simplicity of a piece of low-glycemic fruit with nut butter or raw nuts (think green apple with walnuts or almonds).

Are Quest bars really as nutritious as claimed?

Mark: Other than protein, I don’t see anything else nutritious about these bars. And even in the case of the protein, it’s isolated, not organic and not plant-based.

Willow: They contain a large amount of protein and fiber, a moderate amount of carbohydrate, and sodium, calcium, phosphorous, magnesium, and iron. They do have nutrients, but since those nutrients are coming in in a fairly isolated way, they nutrient profile isn’t as varied as a whole food based bar.

I think the company makes most of their claims towards being low in “net carbs” — that’s a pretty empty claim since there really isn’t a legal definition of “net carbs” (i.e. the FDA regulates total carbs and breaks that down into fiber and sugar). So their claim of being lower in carbohydrate, or containing only 5g “net carbs, is a really soft claim and doesn’t have much to do with health. Their claims that these bars help you “cheat…without cheating” is also a pretty empty claim.

Amanda: Nope. But is anything as healthy as they claim?

Are Quest bars a processed food?

Abbi: Yes!

Sasha: Sure thing.

Mark: Every ingredient in here is processed, except hopefully the almonds.

Willow: If we’re going to get technical here, almond butter is a processed food. Almonds have been processed into almond butter. We’d say that Quest bars are made using mostly highly processed, laboratory-derived ingredients.

Amanda: I don’t see them growing on trees, so I’d say so! :)

In conclusion, I spoke to one Quest bar fan, Claire to get what seems to be a very common view of the Quest bars. Registered Dietician Willow Jarosh provided expert commentary.

Claire, @ballerina_eats:

“I would not go as far to call Quest bars are a superfood, because they certainly do not give you all the micronutrients or antioxidants you can get from whole foods that come straight from the earth. However, I would say they are health food. Especially if you think about comparing it to eating actual chocolate chip cookie dough, double chocolate chunk cookies, or s’mores!

Most of the time I eat Quest bars straight from the wrapper as is because I eat them on the go. If I am at home and planning to eat a Quest bar I love to microwave them or bake them into cookies and top with nut butter to make for an even more decadent treat.”

Willow, @cjnutrition:

“If you’re eating a Quest bar to avoid eating something that you really want (i.e. a piece of dark chocolate, a brownie, a cookie, etc.) then this can lead to a feeling of being deprived which can then lead to overeating the original food you craved. Or eating a couple Quest bars at a time to try to satisfy the craving (and therefore eating more food total than if you’d just had a small portion of the food you were craving).

A lot of this comes back to your relationship with food. Are you using Quest bars to avoid foods that you’re craving? A small serving of dessert (like, real, non-diet food dessert) can absolutely fit into a person’s day even if they’re on a weight loss plan. In fact, I’d argue that these foods should fit into a person’s day so they get a little bit of what they crave each day and don’t wind up feeling deprived. This is a sustainable, happy, self-loving way of eating.

Oftentimes we fall away from intuitive eating–eating what sounds good to us, in an amount that makes us feel great, in favor of products that present themselves as being specifically for “getting lean” or fitting into a diet. Labeling can be deceiving, and because they’re “diet” or “protein-packed”, doesn’t mean they’re better than other foods.

The deeper issue is that if someone is reaching for food when they’re not hungry, but rather to avoid addressing challenging emotions that may be sprouting up (stress, sadness, a tough decision, etc.) then no type of food is a healthy choice.

The truth is, you don’t need “diet” foods or high protein bars in order to be healthy/lose weight. Eating anything when you’re feeling stressed, upset, etc. pulls you further away from getting to the bottom of the problem.

The solution? Each day we recommend our clients set aside 150-200 calories for foods that deliver pure enjoyment and fun. These foods don’t need to be nutrient-packed, they just need to provide fun and satisfaction of a craving.

For instance, a glass of wine or a piece of dark chocolate, or a cookie. If the majority of your daily food intake is whole, less-processed, nutrient-rich foods, you don’t need your dessert to provide nutrition it just needs to provide satisfaction and fun and enjoyment.”