9 Keto Bars Compared

A staff taste test reveals the best in healthy snacks.
Marin Magazine Keto

 

Americans are eating more meals on the go, and snacks such as energy bars are keeping up, morphing from guilty pleasure to meal replacement. The wellness trend plays a part, pushing bar brands to bulk up their products with protein, vitamins, and other nutrients consumers favor. We looked at one segment of the energy bar industry, paleo and keto bars, and spoke with local buyers at Mollie Stone’s, Mill Valley Market, and Whole Foods Market about why these single-serve bars now occupy an entire aisle at most grocery and convenience stores.

But first, let’s get a few terms out of the way.

 

What are Keto and Paleo Bars?

Keto

Short for “ketogenic,” keto or the keto diet is a way of eating designed to push the body to rely on fat for energy. To do that, eaters must deprive their body of glucose and eat either very low, or no carbohydrates. Human bodies today are typically fueled by carbohydrates like rice, bread, and cereal that are quickly digested, absorbed into the bloodstream and turned into energy. Deprive the body of carbs, and it will look elsewhere for energy. When fat is a source of energy, the liver breaks down the fat into “ketones.” This process, known as “ketosis,” means eating foods that force the body to use fats and not carbs as their primary energy source.

The ketogenic diet typically requires adherents to eat less than 10% of calories from carbohydrates, including all grains, legumes, and fruits; 15% of calories from protein such as fish and beef, and 75-80% of calories from fats such as olive and coconut oil, cheese, avocado and nuts.

Paleo

Named for the Paleolithic Era, which dates from 2.5 million to 10,000 years ago, “paleo” is a way of eating that permits foods our earliest ancestors would recognize, such as buffalo, fruits, fish, and nuts and seeds. Another way to consider this is from an evolutionary standpoint, that our bodies are not adapted to eat the foods produced by modern agriculture. The food and food by-products that emerged once humans began row cropping, such as legumes, grains, and dairy, are not on the paleo plan.

There is wide latitude in how the bar industry interprets both keto and paleo. Bars that are based on fruit such as dates are not keto but can be paleo. Bars that include whey, a derivative of the dairy industry, are not considered keto but are paleo. But neither program allows added sugars, which led the bar industry to come up with sugar alternatives. None of the sugar alternatives appealed to our tasting panel.

What is a Keto Sugar?

When following a keto diet, all sugars (from fruit, grains, or sweeteners) are to be avoided as they are instantly converted to glucose. Alternative sugars have emerged that deliver the sweetness our palates crave without all the carbohydrates in cane sugar, honey, maple syrup or other sugars.  To deliver sweetness without carbs, keto bars use the below sugar substitutes. Paleo bars use either no sugar or are naturally sweetened with fruit such as dates or bananas.

  • Stevia is a natural sugar (it comes from a plant) that contains little to no calories or carbs.
  • Monk fruit is a natural sugar derived from a plant which is up to 250 times sweeter than cane sugar. It contains no calories or carbohydrates.
  • Sucralose is an artificial sweetener that is not metabolized, meaning it simply passes through our digestive systems.
  • Erythritol is a type of sugar alcohol that is nearly as sweet as natural sugar. It stimulates the palate to mimic the taste of sugar but delivers a fraction of the calories of regular sugar.

What about XCT or MCT oil?

  • MCT Oil, or “medium-chain triglyceride oil” is an ingredient derived from coconut or palm oil which is said to boost energy by increasing ketone production and, unlike other fatty acids, is not stored as fat.
  • XCT Oil is made with only C8 & C10 MCTs, which are said to metabolize more efficiently into ketone energy than other MCT oils.

What’s happening in the Marin bar scene?

Tamira Franz, buyer for Mollie Stone’s Markets, notes that keto bars are trending. “Keto is definitely gaining popularity,” Franz says. Many bars crossing her desk for consideration, however, are ‘keto-friendly,’ but not 100% keto. “You have to really check the ingredients,” Franz says, “peanuts and cashews have a lot of carbs.”

The keto bar category remains wide open and Franz is on the hunt for better-tasting bars. The Chocolate Peanut Butter bar from Keto Bars is surging in Marin. “The bars are refrigerated,” says Franz. A true meal replacement, it clocks in at 250 calories, 21 grams fat, 8 grams protein and 6 grams fiber.  “It’s our best seller. It always seems to be peanut butter, chocolate and salt that sells.”

David Canepa, co-owner of Mill Valley Market, notes that his customers don’t visit the store for specialty bars. Though the store carries a range of bars, including KIND and Luna, “Clif Bar is far and away our best seller,” Canepa says. The best-selling flavor? Peanut Butter.

At the Whole Foods stores in San Rafael and Novato, bars from EPIC Provisions, RX Bar, and Bulletproof all do well. According to the Whole Foods buying office, Dang has emerged as a 100% plant-based keto bar.  Word on the street: they do not make any bars with peanuts. But the Toasted Coconut was a favorite of the Marin Magazine tasting panel.

Behind the Bars

Admit it: you are harboring a single-serving, protein-packed rectangular shaped food imposter in your desk drawer, backpack or purse. Don’t worry, we are, too. We did a taste test of bars found at local grocery stores to help you, dear reader, figure out the 4-1-1 on the new breed of keto and paleo bars gobbling up shelf space at your local market. We tasted nine bars (four vegetarian) that ranged from savory to sweet. Though each bar comes packaged in a non-recyclable, plastic wrapper that does not support zero waste initiatives, their convenience and satiety may convince eaters on the run to give one a try. Here’s what our tasting panel thought.

DNX Grassfed Beef Bar

Flavor

Uncured Bacon and Jalapeño

Pros

Soft texture

Nice, spicy flavor

14 g protein

Cons

360 mg sodium

Comments

This was the panel’s favorite meaty bar. The ingredient dek does include dates which added a subtle sweetness and the subtle pop of bacon and jalapeño was a hit with morning coffee. The package was also easy to open.

Epic Venison Bar

Flavor

Venison

Pros

Clean, whole ingredients

Clean flavor, easy to chew

12 g protein

Cons

390 mg sodium

Comments

This bar was a hit for its minimal ingredient dek and clean flavor.

 

Bulletproof Collagen Protein Bar

Flavor

Vanilla Shortbread

Pros

Triglyceride-balancing XCT oil

Vegetarian

13 g protein

Cons

Lingering aftertaste of stevia

Crumbly texture

Comments

The panel was surprised at the crumbly texture of the bar but did like the inclusion of MCT oil (see below for more about MCT oil).

 

Perfect Keto Bars

Flavor

Lemon Poppyseed

Pros

Triglyceride-balancing MCT oil

Smooth texture

11 g protein

Cons

Lingering aftertaste of stevia and lemon oil

Comments

The impact of stevia and lemon oil left most of our panel non-plussed. We would have liked a subtler lemon flavor without the stevia.

 

Dang Bar

Flavor

Toasted Coconut

Pros

Coconut flavor

Cons

NA

Comments

The panel was pleased to find that, although this bar does contain stevia, it is not prominent on the palate. The true flavor of coconut comes through. This was our favorite vegetarian bar.

 

Orgain Bar

Flavor

Blueberry Almond

Pros

Clean, whole ingredients

Fresh blueberry flavor

12 g protein

Cons

14 g sugar

Comments

The panel relished the fresh blueberry flavor and no added sweetener in this bar.  If the sugar number came in below 8 grams, we would have liked it even more.

 

Keto Bar

Flavor

Mint Chocolate Chip

Pros

Soft texture

Minty flavor

6 g protein

Cons

Lingering aftertaste of stevia

Contains the sugar alcohol erythritol

Comments

The further we moved into bars designed with sweeter flavors, the less our panel enjoyed them. The combination of stevia and erythritol meant this bar was too cloying for the Marin Magazine panelists.

 

Orgain Protein Bar

Flavor

Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough

Pros

Soft texture

Chocolate bits mixed in

10 g protein

Cons

Lingering aftertaste of erythritol

Comments

The added chocolate bits gave this bar a fun texture but the lingering aftertaste meant the group did not favor it.

 

Quest Protein Bar

Flavor

Cookies & Cream

Pros

Soft but firm texture

21 g protein

Cons

Lingering aftertaste of sucralose

Lingering aftertaste of stevia

Comments

The combination of sucralose and stevia was overpowering for the panel.  This was our least favorite bar.

This article originally appeared in Marin Magazine’s print edition with the headline: “Behind the Bars”.

 

Categories: Flavor