How do you choose the best protein bars for diabetes management?

Choosing the best protein bar when you have diabetes can seem a little daunting. That aisle in the grocery store full of bars that are “probably full of sugar.” Well that’s not always the case! There are protein bars out there that are great options and we’ll talk about how to choose!

 

best protein bars for diabetes

Why protein bars? I know not everyone is a fan of bars. But sometimes life is just busy. And we need something to tide us over to the next meal while we’re wrangling kids or rushing to the next meeting or running errands. Bars are convenient, you can’t deny it.

Considerations When Choosing a Protein Bar

What purpose is this providing for me?

  • Is it a snack or part of a meal? Bars are typically not adequate for a full meal. While I do not focus on calories, it can give you somewhat of an indication of how filling it will be. Less does not mean better. A 90 calorie bar is NOT going to cut it.
  • How long do I need this to sustain me? If it’s several hours, consider additional foods for more satiety.
  • Do I like the taste and texture of the bar? If not, there are plenty of other snack options out there!
  • Is the bar you like actually a granola bar with very little protein? Well, let’s add something to round it out as a balanced snack. Protein helps keep blood sugars stable.
  • Do I need something sweet after a meal? That’s not necessarily the job for a protein bar. Just have a dessert that would truly satisfy that craving! Satisfaction and honoring cravings is extremely important. Eating something because you “should” or because it is seemingly “healthier” will only leave you unsatisfied, and likely to eat more food.

Reading the Nutrition Facts Label

Let’s talk about what to look for on the label. We need to look at the breakdown to decide if the bar is the best choice for diabetes and blood sugar management.

Protein

First I like to look at protein. Protein in a bar is going to slow digestion and help you feel fuller longer. Why is this good for diabetes? Slower digestion means a slower rise in blood sugar, allowing insulin to do it’s thing (ie getting the glucose into the cells) and avoiding too much of a sugar spike.

When looking at the nutrition facts label, I’m looking for something with ideally more than 12 grams of protein, but definitely at least 6 grams.

Fiber

Fiber can also be a great way to slow down digestion, so getting at least 3 grams of fiber is the goal.

Carbs

Next, I look at total carbohydrates. I don’t JUST look at sugar. Total carbohydrate is the total amount of starch, fiber, and sugar in a food. Starches become glucose eventually so we need to account for starch and sugar when deciding how a food fits into our goals.

For a snack, I would shoot for 25 grams of carbs or less, and less than 10 grams of sugar.

Sugar

Now let’s talk sugar. If a label lists sugar and added sugar, the added sugar is included in the sugar number. So you do not need to add grams of sugar and grams of added sugar.

What about sugar alcohols? They’re different than sugar, but that doesn’t mean they won’t raise blood sugar. Sugar alcohols do not raise blood sugar as much as sugar.

This can get confusing and is why I look at total carbohydrates first and foremost. Starch, some fiber, sugar, and sugar alcohols all contribute to your blood sugar.

Best Protein Bars for Diabetes

Please note: The nutrition facts provided are for the flavors I personally have tried. However, that doesn’t mean you are limited to those flavors alone! The nutrition facts are similar for most of the flavors for each brand.

 
kind protein bar
Caramel Nut: 18 g carb, 5g fiber, 8 g sugar, 12 g protein
 
These are like your typical KIND bar but bigger and more protein. I like the real-food texture and whole nuts. One of my favorite bars of the bunch.
built protein bar
Built Bars
Cookies and Cream: 18 g carb, 6 g fiber, 4 g sugar, 8 g sugar alcohol, 17 g protein
 
This little bar backs a hefty punch of protein. They have several nut-free options, which is nice if you have an allergy. It doesn’t taste exactly like cookies and cream, but it’s chocolatey enough for me. Note the sugar alcohols if that upsets your stomach!
clif protein bar
Coconut Almond Chocolate: 23 g carb, 5 g fiber, 5 g sugar, 14 g protein
 
I liked these for their puffed cereal and coconut. It gave them a nice, real-food texture.
oatmega protein bars
Chocolate Brownie: 22 g carb, 7 g fiber, 5 g sugar, 14 g protein
 
While the texture of these bars is a little dry, I like the addition of DHA omega 3’s (those fats that mostly come from fish). But no worries, they don’t taste like fish! You can buy these online through Amazon.
aloha protein bar
 
Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough: 25 g carbs, 10 g fiber, 5 g sugar, 14 g protein
 
These are probably one of my favorite bars. They reminded me of Rx bars, but much less chewy. They’re also vegan if you’re looking for something plant-based!
no cow protein bar
Birthday cake: 27 g carbs, 16 g fiber, 1 g sugar, 7 g sugar alcohol, 21 g protein
 
This bar has a lot of plant-based protein, and it’s gluten and dairy free if that’s a concern. You can see in the picture it’s quite floppy which was an interesting texture. It has a lot of fiber and some sugar alcohols, so if those upset your stomach, it might not be ideal for you.
think protein bar
Chocolate Mint: 28 g carbs, 3 g fiber, 5 g sugar, 9 g sugar alcohol, 13 g protein
 
Think! bars are pretty much what you would expect from a protein bar. They have that protein bar texture. But I think they’re decent. They do have sugar alcohols in case that upsets your stomach!
vital proteins protein bar
Brownie Sea Salt: 21 g carbs, 11 g fiber, 4 g sugar, 15 g protein
 
I like the big chocolate chips and almonds in this bar. This bar is quite chewy, which may help with satiety but I know some people don’t like really chewy bars!
special k protein bar for diabetes
Special K Protein Meal Bars
Strawberry: 21 g carbs, 9 g fiber, 9 g sugar, 12 g protein
 
I like the accessibility of these bars. They’re not too expensive and you get a box of 6. They taste decent and the fiber will help you stay full. 
power crunch protein bars for diabetes
Power Crunch Protein Energy Bars
Salted Caramel: 11 g carbs, <1 g fiber, 6 g sugar, 0 g sugar alcohol, 13 g protein
 
 
I think what I liked most about these bars is the texture. They are light and crunchy and have that wafer cookie texture.
pure protein bars for diabetes
Pure Protein Bars
Birthday Cake: 18 g carbs, 0 g fiber, 3 g sugar, 13 g sugar alcohol, 20 g protein
I’m a sucker for anything birthday cake flavor so I had to give these a try. They’re a pretty typical protein bar. A good source of protein, though a little high in the sugar alcohols if you’re sensitive to those.
 
 
 
IQ bar for diabetes
IQ Bars
Lemon Blueberry: 11 g carbs, 8 g fiber, 2 g sugar, 12 g protein
I had never heard of these bars before and was tempted to try them because of the flavor options. I like to get some fruity flavors every now and then. I thought the flavor was good. They have a decent amount of fiber and are pretty low carb (since they are advertised as a keto-friendly product).
 
 
 
 
epic jerky bar
Epic Jerky Bars
Bison Cranberry: 8 g carbs, 2 g fiber, 6 g sugar, 7 g protein
Ok, this one doesn’t quite have the protein content that I recommended (12 g or more), but I had to take a moment to highlight the benefit of jerky or meat sticks as a high protein, shelf stable option!
 
 
 
 
 

I really like these bars because of their texture. They are softer than your typical jerky and I like all the flavors available. Jerky is definitely a higher sodium option, so if sodium is a concern for you, be aware of this. I also enjoy meat sticks from companies like Chomps, Country Archer Provisions, and Vermont Smoke & Cure.

Honorable mentions: Delicious, but not as much protein

Perfect Kids Perfect Bars
Peanut Butter Cookie: 11 g carb, 2 g fiber, 7 g sugar, 7 g protein
 
Caramel Almond Sea Salt: 16 g carb, 7 g fiber, 5 g sugar, 6 g protein
 
Peanut Butter Dark Chocolate: 15 g carb, 6 g fiber, 7 g sugar, 10 g protein
 
Peanut Butter: 16 g carbs, 2 g fiber, 7 g sugar, 10 g protein
 
Peanut Butter Dark Chocolate and Sea Salt: 19 g carbs, 13 g fiber, 3 g sugar, 11 g protein

Blog reviewed and updated April 2023

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An award winning recipe developer, Dietitian Kaitlin’s mission is to empower others to reach their health goals by encouraging them to get back into the kitchen. Co-author of Nourished: 10 Ingredients to Happy, Healthy Eating and Cooking with Diabetes.