Stay Clear Of Quest Bars (and Delicious Whole-Food Alternatives)

Wholesome nutrition bars

UPDATE: Due to an incredible popularity of this post and a lot of passionate commenters, there is now a follow-up post, Quest Bars, Demystified: 6 Nutrition Experts Weigh In.

When I have choice, I prefer to snack on whole foods – fruit, veggies or nuts, or making my own nutritious superfood snacks (like these homemade protein energy balls). But living the busy New York lifestyle, sometimes a nutrition bar is a perfect on-the-go fix.

Not all nutrition bars are equal. And not every label that said “natural” stands for what it claims. After noticing the Quest bar craze on Instagram in the fitspo community, and I decided to give it a try. And I have to tell you, the first thing that shocked me upon a little research, was the ingredients:

Protein blend (whey protein isolate, milk protein isolate), isomalto-oligosaccharides, almonds, water, natural flavors, sea salt, lo han guo, sucralose.

Truth about quest nutrition bars ingredients

Fooducate brings up a few very interesting points about Quest bars, advertised as “low carb gluten free nutrition bars”:

  • The protein sources are not something you can make at home or buy from a farmer. Whey protein isolate milk protein isolates are a byproduct of cheese production. Body builders buy them in powdered form to add to food and drink. In some cases, they may cause digestive problems such as bloating, cramps, and gas.
  •  Isomalto-oligosaccharides (IMO), the source of fiber in the bar, is also known as fakr fiber. It is a syrupy goop that tastes slightly sweet but is not considered a sugar because it is a long chain molecule. Although it is found naturally in fermented foods, it is much cheaper to manufacture it in factories by applying enzymes to various starch sources. The problem with ingesting 18 grams of this IMO, is that it feeds only a small subset of our gut bacteria. A balanced diet with a variety of fruits, vegetables, legumes, and whole grains will provide a much better fiber profile for your digestive system. Incidentally, Quest has been sued with the plaintiffs claiming that the actual fiber count is lower than stated in the package.

  • The bar claims to contain “no added sugars” but what it does have is Lo han guo and Sucralose. Lo han guo, also known as monk fruit, is the Chinese equivalent of stevia. Instead of a leaf, this is a fruit. Monk fruit extracts, called mogrosides, can be processed to manufacture a powdered sweetener that is 200 times sweeter than sugar. Sucralose is an artificial sweetener that may or may not cause cancer, bowel disease, and DNA alterations in mice. We understand that despite no added sugars, this bar is rather sweet due to the addition of processed and artificial sweeteners.
  • On to natural flavors. Added flavors are made in labs and serve to mask the lack of flavor of the other ingredients in the product. Ask yourself this – do you need to add natural flavors to food you prepare at home?

Bottom line? Low carb doesn’t equal to healthy. Neither does gluten-free. Quest bars are a highly processed food-like product that has nothing to do with wholesome nutrition. After trying just one bar, I felt unusually heavy and bloated.

RELATED: Postmodern Snacking (7 Healthy Ideas)

So where do you find an actually wholesome nutrition bar that has superfoods instead of loads of sugar and soy, making your belly and your soul happy? I’ve tried dozens of bars in the last few years, and here’s my top list of no-nonsense, all-wholesome delicious bars made from real food ingredients and superfoods.

*This list has been updated on August 7, 2016.

1. Rise Protein Bar

Rise vegan protein bar

Photo: @risebar on Instagram

Ingredients, Lemon Cashew bar: cashews, coconut nectar, pea protein, lemon extract.

Nutrition: Cal. 260, Protein 15g, Sugars 12g, Carb 23g.

What’s to love: This is currently my favorite store bought protein bar – the combo of taste (lemon and coconut go so well together!) , texture (creamy and chewy) and nutrition is hits the spot. I love the fact that the ingredients are simple, real foods with no artificial sweeteners or preservatives. The Rise lemon cashew bars are vegan, paleo, non-GMO, soy free, gluten free and kosher.

Where to get: Online on amazon.com or at Whole Foods.

2. GoMacro Organic Bar

 

Ingredients,Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip bar: organic brown rice syrup, organic peanut butter, organic protein blend (sprouted brown rice and pea protein), organic puffed brown rice, organic fair trade chocolate chips, organic peanuts.

Nutrition: Cal. 290, Protein 11g, Sugars 14g, Carb 37g.

What’s to love: This is hands down one of my favorite nutrition bars on the market. The combo of organic peanut butter and fair trade chocolate chips is dreamy. GoMacro bars are plant-based, gluten-free, USDA organic, vegan, non-GMO, kosher, and soy free. The carbs re high, however they’re complex, slow-burning carbs that give you energy.

Where to get: Online on amazon.com or at Whole Foods.

3. RX Whole Food Protein Bar

RX protein bar

Photo: @rxbar on Instagram

Ingredients, Chocolate Sea Salt bar: Dates, egg whites, almonds, cashews, cacao, sea salt, natural chocolate flavor.

Nutrition: Cal. 200, Protein 12g, Sugars 12g, Carb 22g.

What’s to love: The simple ingredients are displayed on front of each bar packaging, with no added sugar, gluten, soy, dairy or GMO, as well as paleo- and whole30-friendly. The chocolate sea salt flavor will satisfy the most intense chocolate craving!

Where to get: Online on amazon.com or at Trader Joe’s.

4. International Harvest Vegan Nutrition Bars 

international harvest nutrition bar go take a hike

Ingredients, Go Younger! bar: (*Organic) Apricot kernels*, almonds*, cashews*, agave*, mulberries*, raisins*, aronia berries*, *barberries*, *bilberries, Himalayan salt, vanilla*, star anise*.

Nutrition: Cal. 285, Protein 8g, Sugars 14g, Carb 24g.

What’s to love: This USDA organic, vegan, gluten-free bar is the most delicious nutrition bar I’ve tried. Even though I don’t know some of the berries from the ingredients list, there’s not a single thing that raises red flag. 100% wholesome and delicious. My roommate Edgar properly described the Go Brooklyn Munchie flavor (chocolate & mango) as “orgasmic”. Go Take A Hike! with pistachios is another favorite. Best part? It’s not too sweet – try it for yourself, you’ll be pleased.

Where to get: I discovered these bars at Westerly Market in NYC, and since then found that you can buy them at Whole Foods nationwide, or get a variety pack of the bars online on Amazon.com.

5. Zing Nutrition Bars

Zing nutrition bar

Ingredients, Blueberry Almond bar: (*Organic) Almond Butter*, Tapioca Syrup*, ORGANIC Agave Syrup*, Whey Protein Blend (Whey Protein Isolate, Whey Protein Concentrate, Whey Protein Hydrolysate), ORGANIC Dried Blueberries, Roasted Almonds, Chicory Root Fiber, Rice Protein Concentrate, Whey Protein Crisps (Whey Protein Isolate, Whey Protein Concentrate, Tapioca Starch, Calcium Carbonate, Sunflower Lecithin), Sunflower Lecithin, Vanilla Extract, Sea Salt, Mixed Tocopherols (Natural Vitamin E), Natural Almond Extract.

Nutrition: Cal. 220, Protein 11g, Sugars 11g, Carb 23g.

What’s to love: No wheat, no gluten, no soy protein, kosher, the almond blueberry Zing bar tastes like chewy delicious almond butter with a subtle blueberry twist. Zing bars DO contain whey, which I’m not a an of (and it also makes it non-vegan),  but it’s still wholesome compared to most bars out there. It also has. Even though it tastes a bit sweeter, it actually has less sugar than the International Harvest bars, and 3g more protein.

Where to get: Discovered at Whole Foods, this bar as available at most health food stores and online on amazon.com (buy in bulk to save money).

6. Pure Organic Nutrition Bar

Pure Organic nutrition bar

Ingredients, Chocolate Brownie Bar: (*Organic) Dates*, Agave Nectar*, Cashew Butter*, Cocoa*, *Almonds*, Walnuts*, Brown Rice Protein*, Pea Protein*.

Nutrition: Cal. 180, Protein 5g, Sugars 19g, Carb 28g.

What’s to love: Certified organic, gluten-free, non-GMO, and vegan, the Pure bar created the ultimate no-guilt brownie with a nice walnutt-y flavor and transparent ingredients. It has less protein (6g.) and will sustain your energy not as long as some of other bars higher in protein, but cocoa and wholesome pea and brown rice protein make up for it. 

Where to get: Whole foods and most health food stores, or online on Amazon.com.

7. 22 Days Nutrition Bar

Daily Mocha Mantra 22 days

Ingredients, Nut Butter Buddha bar: (*Organic) Dark Chocolate* (Evaporated Cane Juice, Cocoa Butter, Chocolate Liquor, Soya Lecithin), Organic Coconut Syrup*, Raw Cashew Butter*, Hemp Protein Concentrate*, Brown Rice Protein*, Inulin Powder (Dietary Fiber)*, Sunflower Seed Butter*, Tapioca Syrup*, Raw Almonds*, Raw Cashews*, Walnuts*, Raw Sunflower Seeds*, Inulin* (Dietary Fiber), Sea Salt.

Nutrition: Cal. 230, Protein 10g, Sugars 11g, Carb 22g.

What’s to love: USDA Organic, Vegan, Non-GMO, Gluten-free and Dairy-free, this is the ultimate indulgence for nut & seed butter lover. The chocolate coating makes it extra special, if you’re up for some sweetness in your life (without a whole lot of sugar, only 11g. compared to conventional bars that have up to 30g). In case you’re wondering about Tapioca syrup, it’s a syrup made from the cassava tuber, or yucca root, a plant that is indigenous to the tropics of South America. The syrup is made when natural enzymes are introduced to the cassava tuber. Nut butter buddha and daily mocha mantra are my favorite within the 22 Days assortment.

Where to get: Whole foods and most health food stores, or online on Amazon.com.

8. Vega One Meal Replacement Bar

Vega One Meal Replacement Bar

Ingredients, Nut Butter Buddha bar: (*Organic) Complete Protein Blend (Sprouted Whole Grain Brown Rice Protein*, Pea Protein), Brown Rice Syrup*, Tapioca Syrup*, Chocolate Liquor, Cane Sugar*, Almonds, Date Paste*, Dried Cherries (Cherries, Sunflower Oil), Cocoa Butter, Brown Rice Crisps, Agave Syrup*, Vega Blend (Vitamins & Minerals: Potassium Phosphate, Calcium Phosphate, Magnesium, Iron, Vitamin C, Zinc, Iodine, Molybdenum, Vitamin A, Niacin, Vitamin E, Copper, Selenium, Manganese, Biotin, Calcium Pantothenate, Thiamin, Riboflavin, Vitamin B6, Vitamin B12, Chromium, Vitamin D2, Folate, Greens: Alfalfa Grass, Spinach, Broccoli, Kale, Berries: Extracts of Grape Seed, Maqui Berry, Goji Juice, Acai Berry, Pomegranate Seed, Mangosteen, Probiotics: L. Acidophilus LA-14, B. Bifidum BB-06), Vega SaviSeed (Sancha Inchi) Oil, Inulin (From Chicory Root), Buckwheat, Cocoa Powder, Chia Seeds, Natural Coconut Flavor, Hemp Seeds, Organic Vanilla Extract, Sunflower Lecithin, Sea Salt, Natural Cherry Flavor.
+Kale, Broccoli, Alfalfa, Spinach

Nutrition: Cal. 260, Protein 12g, Sugars 19g, Carb 35g.

What’s to love: USDA Organic, Vegan, Non-GMO, Gluten-free and Dairy-free, the Vega One bar also has no artificial sweeteners or flavors. The ingredient list is suspiciously long, but upon inspection, it’s all good things, except for just one ingredient – the processed cane sugar. Otherwise, the Vega One bar is incredibly satisfying, providing energy for hours. It’s also full of superfoods like maqui, goji, acai, hemp seeds, buckwheatm pomegranate and alfalfa. Lots of goodness in every bite! Chocolate Cherry Almond flavor is a favorite.

Where to get: Whole foods and most health food stores, or online on Amazon.com.

9. Greens+ Chocolate Energy Bar 

Greens + Chocolate Energy Bar

Ingredients, Nut Butter Buddha bar: (*Organic) medjool dates*, almond butter*, quinoa sprout powder*, non-gmo soy protein isolate, original GREENS+ powder (non-gmo soy lecithin, Hawaiian spirulina*, apple fiber*, barley grass powder, wheat grass powder, Japanese chlorella, hydroponic soy sprouts, brown rice bran*, sprouted barley malt, alfalfa grass powder, royal jelly, Montana bee pollen, acerola berry juice, natural vitamin E, licorice root, milk thistle seed extract, echinacea root extract, siberian eleutreho root extract, astragalus root extract, licorice root extract, red beet juice*, dunaliella salina algae. nova scotia dulse*, ginkgo biloba leaf extract*, Japanese green tea extract*, grape seed and skin extract, Swedish bilberry extract*), brown rice crisps*, honey*, natural mixed tocopherols. 

Nutrition: Cal. 250, Protein 8g, Sugars 22g, Carb 34g.

What’s to love: EcoCert® Certified Organic By Ecocertico,  Non-GMO and Gluten-free, the Greens+ is made with living superfoods and high energy Herbal Extracts. You’ve probably figured out by now that I’m a dark chocolate lover. If you can get top notch nutrients from your greens along with a dose of dark chocolate, why not? This bar is made with 72% dark chocolate and tastes heavenly. My only question is when I was doing this research, what in the world is tocopherol? But upon some Wikipedia reading, it doesn’t seem bad (it’s an organic source of Vitamin E).

Where to get: Whole foods and most health food stores, or online on Amazon.com.

10. Kur Scandinavian Bite-Size Bar

Ingredients, Cacao Mint bar: (*Organic) Dates*, Cashew butter*, Cacao powder*, Cacao nibs*, Cashews*, Essential oil of peppermint*, Almonds*. 

Nutrition: Cal. 100, Protein 2.5g, Sugars 9g, Carb 12g.

What’s to love: Organic, Gluten Free, Non-GMO, Kosher, Vegan and Raw, and simple in the most wholesome way, the baby Kur bars are a new hit in the Breakfast Criminals kitchen.  With no sweeteners, no syrups and no soy, Kur is the most simple and wholesome alternative to Quest nutrition bars, along with International Harvest bars. When you want a quick delicious snack, but not a full nutrition bar (or packing your kiddo’s lunch box), Kur is the perfect answer. The combination of mint and chocolate is simply perfection. I never leave home without the cacao mint bar (or two) in my bag. 

Where to get: Online on get 10% off with code “breakfastcriminals” on www.kurfood.com (I reached out to Kur if they would share a discount on their goodness with my followers, and they kindly agreed! Take advantage while it lasts).

Want more? Here’s an assortment of some of my other favorite snacks, from whole food cookies and biscotti to raw kale crackers and savory bars. 

  1. Earthling Organics Rawnola Bar
  2. Sweet by Jana Gluten Free Raw Almond Oat Chocolate Cookies (found at Lifethyme in NYC)
  3. Rawxies Lemon Poppy Seed Heart Cookies
  4. The Perfect Bar (found in the fridge section at Whole Foods)
  5. Biscolinos Lemon & Coconut (found on AbesMarket.com)
  6. Emmy’s Organics Mint Chip Raw Macaroons
  7. Awesome Foods Raw Kale Crackers
  8. Sheffa Savory Bar