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