If you are living with diabetes, you may be wondering if you can take protein bars as a snack. What type of protein bar, when should I take them, why should I take them, and what do they do for me? Can a person with diabetes take protein bars?
Protein bars that have at least 5 g protein, 3 g fiber, and 30 g carb or less are an exceptional choice for someone who is dealing with diabetes. These bars have an appropriate amount of carbs, adequate fiber, and the protein in the bar will slow the absorption of the carbs, favoring a slow rise in blood sugar.
I have compiled information for you about protein bars, and how they can fit into the lifestyle of someone who has diabetes. I have also included some tips I suggest when I am counseling my clients.
The key to selecting a protein bar is knowing what it’s made up of. These bars can be an attractive snack, but we must be careful because they may contain excess sugar or fat. Label reading is a must.
In this article, you will learn valuable information about protein bars and diabetes. I will also touch on what to look for on the label of your next protein bar.
Why are Protein Bars Good For People With Diabetes?
The ideal protein bar is made without added sugars. A healthful protein bar will be sufficient in protein and fiber, and will be lower in carbohydrates and saturated fat. They will consist of natural products.
Protein bars are the perfect addition to your diet when you are in need of a quick, convenient, and practical snack or you just need more protein. The protein in the bars will not cause your blood sugar to spike.
Sugar-free protein bars are less likely to contribute to weight gain. These bars have primarily natural ingredients, and the number of carbohydrates should be relatively low.
If you have diabetes, the healthiest option when buying a protein bar is one made with natural ingredients.
When Should I Eat a Protein Bar if I Have Diabetes?
Here is what I have told my clients:
- When time is scarce, grab a protein bar for a quick solution
- When you have not had breakfast, a protein bar will tide you over until lunch
- To compliment your breakfast – it’s a nice protein addition if you are eating cereal, fruit, or high carbs
- As a simple snack that adds protein, fiber, and nutrients
- Use before and/or after physical activity to help stabilize blood sugar (15-30 g carbohydrate recommended)
Consult with your diabetes care and education specialist or dietitian to formulate a meal plan. We work with your needs and create a plan that suites your lifestyle.
Valued Reasons for Taking Protein Bars:
- To have enough energy before training; Take one during your workout if you feel sluggish
- To replenish energy expended after training
- To calm hunger and avoid fatigue before meals
- As a substitute for a candy bar
- During travel
- To use as a meal replacement
- To take an alternative food to avoid skipping meals when there is not enough time
What Does a Person with Diabetes Look for on the Nutrition Label?
My first recommendation is to ignore the percentages on all nutrition labels. They are based on someone who consumes 2000 calories per day.
First of all, not everyone consumes 2000 calories per day. Secondly, even if a person consumes 2000 calories in one day, it is not going to be 2000 calories every day.
Focus on the actual units, grams (g), to evaluate what you are eating. For example, a popular diabetic meal plan utilizes “carb counting.”
Your meal plan might recommend that you consume 45-60 g carbohydrate per meal and 15-30 g carbohydrate per snack.
If you are not counting carbs, you can better balance your meals with the plate method.
Items on Your Nutrition Label You’ll Want to Pay Attention to:
Generally speaking, try to keep your total calories of your protein bar to less than 250 calories.
If you are selecting a protein bar for a pre-workout snack, I recommend 200-300 calories.
If you are planning on using your protein bar as an actual meal replacement, I suggest a 300-400 calorie bar.
Total carbohydrates should equal 30 g or less. In most diabetic meal plans, 15 to 30 g carbohydrate is suggested.
My Dietitians tip: I encourage my patients with diabetes to focus on the total carbohydrates in a product, and pay less attention to the total sugars. “Total Carbohydrate” means just that. The total sugar is included in the total carbohydrates.
Avoid sugar alcohols and artificial sweeteners (xylitol, erythritol, malitol)
Although they are low in calories and carbohydrates, they tend to cause GI (gastrointestinal) upset in some people. See my other article on diabetes and sweets for further details on this subject.
Choose protein bars with natural sweeteners.
Whole foods (i.e. fruits, dates) are not considered “added sugars,” unlike fruit juice and fruit concentrate.
Aim to select a protein bar with a minimum of 3 g fiber. Fiber will help you feel full longer, help stabilize blood sugars, and keep you regular.
Avoid synthetic fibers, such as chicory root and soluble corn fiber. These can cause abdominal distress for some people.
A protein bar should have a minimum of 5 g protein. Protein will give you a sense of satiety (make you feel full), and will not cause a rise in your blood sugar.
My Dietitians Tip: Try to find whey, milk, or egg as your protein source. Soy-based protein sources may cause stomach upset.
High quality protein sources include:
- Grass-fed whey protein
- Egg whites
- Nut butters
The saturated fat in your protein bar should be 3 g or less. Trans fats should be 0 grams.
Certain fats are essential to our bodies, and they help us feel full. Choose fats from nuts or seeds instead of vegetables.
An example of a good protein bar that covers all of the above is the RX BAR ®️.
The mixed berry flavored RX BAR ®️ contains 210 calories, 24 g carb, 5 g fiber, and 12 g protein.
Other Options for Popular Protein Bars for People with Diabetes:
It can be difficult to find a wide variety of protein bars that meet the criteria I describe above.
It’s important to add variety in your choices so that you don’t become stuck in a rut with the same product.
You will find protein bars that don’t meet all suggestions for the perfect protein bar, such as bars with low fiber.
Examples of Other Protein Bars:
KIND Protein: Crunchy Peanut Butter
- A tasty bar for those who like peanut butter
- 250 calories, 17 g carb, 5 g fiber, and 12 g protein
- 18 g of total fat, 4 g are saturated, but it has many healthful fats, as well
RX Bar: Chocolate Sea Salt
- Voted, “Best Overall” in 2020 by a panel of dietitians, published in, “Eat This, Not That”
- 210 calories, 24 g carb, 5 g fiber, and 12 g protein
- 9 g of total fat; only 2 g are saturated.
Clif Bar: Whey Protein Salted Caramel Cashew
- 250 calories, 25 g carb; 3 g fiber, and 14 g protein
- 11 g total fat, 3.5 g of which are saturated fats
I am not the one who puts foods into categories of “good” vs “bad.”
“All Foods Can Fit” was the slogan for the American Dietetic Association’s promotion for National Nutrition Month (March) some years ago. Check out National Nutrition Month for more information.
However, a couple of protein bar choices that might not be your best selection include:
Nature Valley Coconut Almond Protein Chewy Bars:
- This bar has 190 calories,14 g carb, 5 g fiber, and 10 g protein, which looks pretty good. But if you look closer at the label, you will see that the protein and fat come from soy protein isolate and palm oil.
ZONE perfect nutrition Dark Chocolate Almond:
- “Dark Chocolate” is deceiving because it is only 85% dark chocolate.
- Also uses sugar, cocoa powder, milk powder, and palm kernel oil, all of which are less than ideal.
Quest Bar: Cookies and Cream flavor:
- 1 g sugar, and 2 g erythritol (artificial sweetener)
- Advertised as, “sugar-free,” but it has many chemicals and additives, including sucralose
Relevant Points To Consider When Consuming Protein Bars:
- Do not eat protein bars as a solution to hypoglycemia (low blood sugar), especially with symptoms (sweating, trembling, confusion, irritability). To raise your blood sugar, you should eat a fast-acting carbohydrate, such as ½ cup juice, 1 cup milk, or glucose tabs.
- Energy bars are not protein bars. You will not get the large amounts of protein you are looking for in energy bars. Energy bars have a generally high amount of carbohydrates to provide a boost of energy. They are not as filling as a protein bar.
- Avoid overconsuming protein bars. Protein bars are a good option if you will miss a meal, but not recommended as a continuing meal replacement in a well-balanced diet.
- Always check the vitamin and mineral content.
- Gluten-free, nut-free, and vegan options are labeled as such.
- Consider checking your blood sugar two hours after the first bite of eating a protein bar to see how it affects you.
My Final Thoughts on Protein Bars and People with Diabetes
To sum things up, protein bars that meet the criteria I described above are an excellent choice for diabetes when you are in a pinch, or you just need a little something.
It is both my professional and personal opinion that many protein bars meet or exceed your needs, as you are dealing with diabetes and trying to manage blood sugar levels..
I currently have RX BARS ®️in my pantry. The mixed berry flavor has 5 g fiber, and the blueberry flavor has 4 g. Try a protein bar and see what you think.