Let's face it—most so-called "protein bars" are really just candy bars beefed up with a heavy helping of soy, whey, or pea protein and a bunch of other ingredients you won't find in your kitchen. Drenched in chocolate or loaded with fillers that feel out of step with the healthy lifestyle they're marketed to support...it's time for a better bar. Luckily, several new companies are on the same page, offering real food bars for post-workout boosts, hiking fuel, and primal snacking.
Price: $3 gets you 200 calories, 9g protein, 10g fat, 20g carbs, 3g fiber, 8g sugar
What's the big deal? Developed at the Portland-based Oregon State University Food Innovation Center, these whole food bars blend grass-fed and grass-finished beef with sweet potatoes, oats, nut butter, and dried fruit for a full day pack-ready meal. Omnibar owners Anne and Cooper Burchenal source beef for their bars from their own family farm (Two Creek Monture Ranch in Montana), and can certify that every animal is humanely raised without antibiotics.
The downside: The texture lies somewhere between those Trader Joes fruit leather strips that tempt you at the checkout and soft, pre-chewed jerky—and can take a bit of getting used to. The first bite raised a few eyebrows around our office, but it definitely grew on us.
Flavors: Chipotle BBQ, Mango Curry, Cranberry Rosemary, and Roasted Peanut
Sample ingredient list: Ground beef, dried prunes, almonds, dried sweet potatoes, oats, brown flax seed, apricot concentrate, sugar, cranberry concentrate, salt, spices, garlic powder, onion powder.
Where to find 'em in PDX: Fred Meyer stores throughout the northwest.
Price: $3 gets you 270 calories, 10g protein, 14g fat, 28g carbs, 5g fiber, 18g sugar
What's the big deal? All right, let's just get this out of the way: these bars are made out of cricket flour. Billed by some as the protein of the future—and by others as, well, "ew"—crickets have a lot going for them when it comes to sustainability and nutrition. The little buggers are 69% protein, compared to poultry's 31% and beef's 29%, and are estimated to be twenty times more efficient as a source of protein than cattle. To some of you, the whole eating-an-insect thing may be a deal breaker, but if you're like me and rejoice about the opportunity to tick a food of of your weirdo culinary bucket list, these are a must-try. The kicker? They're really delicious—I'll definitely be packing these on my next hike.
The downside: Did we mention the whole cricket flour thing?
Flavors: PB&J and Cacao Nut
Sample ingredient list: Peanuts, strawberries, apricots, cricket flour (Acheta Domesticus), gluten-free oats, ground flaxseeds, puffed brown rice (rice flour, rice bran, raisin juice concentrate, honey, salt), honey, vanilla extract, sea salt.
Where to find 'em in PDX: Online, with free shipping.
Price: $2.83 gets you 200 calories, 11g protein, 12g fat, 10g carbs, 1g fiber, 8g sugar
What's the big deal? Paleo-friendly, dairy-free, grain-free, low in sugar, and made with grass-fed meat, pasture-raised poultry, fruit, and nuts, these certified non-GMO and gluten-free bars are basically what happens in your hiking snack pack when your trail mix and jerky get all hot and meld together into an all-in-one power meal.
The downside: These tasty bad boys sell out fast—blame it on the Paleo set, who gobble down Epic bars to fuel Cross-Fit trials and nutritional bragging rants—so they can be hard to find. Navigate the supply and demand challenge by ordering them online or calling your local store for a special order.
Flavors: Bison with bacon and cranberry, beef with habanero and cherry, lamb with currant and mint, and turkey with almond and cranberry
Sample ingredient list: Organic lamb, organic currants, sea salt, lactic acid (not from milk), celery powder, basil, marjoram, oregano, rosemary, red pepper, black pepper, sesame seeds, dehydrated spearmint leaves, dehydrated lemon peel.
Where to find 'em in PDX: New Seasons, Sheridan Fruit Co., Whole Foods, Food Front, and health and wellness offices around town.
Price: $2.50 gets you 230 calories, 6g protein, 17g fat, 16g carbs, 3g fiber, 10g sugar
What's the big deal? Organic, raw, gluten-free, soy-free, corn-free, Paleo-friendly, and verified non-GMO, these simple-ingredient bars are our whole food pick for the vegetarain set. The line is packed with eight savory-sweet flavors that are a welcome departure from the treacle treats mascarading as fruit and nut bars these days.
The downside: They pack less protein than the other bars on the list, but then again they don't have any beef or bugs in them...
Flavors: Chili pep, cinna-clove, cho-coco, coconut, coffee, ginger, rosemary, and sage.
Sample ingredient list: Organic Cashews, Organic Almonds, Organic Honey, Organic Unsweetened Coconut, Organic Vanilla, Sea Salt, Organic Ginger.
Where to find 'em in PDX: New Seasons, Market of Choice, Lamb's Market, People's Food Co-op, Barbur World Foods, and Alberta Co-op.