- Why Blood Sugar Response Matters
- How to Establish Your Blood Sugar Baseline
- 4 Popular Low-Carb Protein Bars
- The Best Low-Carb Protein Bar for Keto
What’s the best low-carb protein bar on the market?
If you’re struggling to find one that tastes good, doesn’t kick you out of ketosis, or crumble into a million tiny pieces of granola before you even open it, this guide is for you.
Low-carb protein bars are more than just the sum of their ingredients. Their place in your low-carb diet also depends on how they affect your blood sugar levels.
When you know what to look for in a low-carb protein bar, you can perform your own personal experiments to determine which one works best for you.
And while ingredient quality absolutely matters, there’s one aspect of choosing a low-carb protein bar that might matter more: figuring out how certain foods affect your blood sugar levels.
Why does your blood glucose reaction matter when choosing the best protein bar?
The short answer: You can’t rely solely on nutrition labels because you can’t gauge the glycemic load of a snack bar from a list of ingredients.
Even though many protein bars are low in net carbs and touted as keto, they can still raise your blood sugar levels. In other words, despite the nutrition labels claiming that these bars are low-sugar and keto-friendly, the glucose response in your body might suggest otherwise.
When you eat or drink anything it naturally triggers a response in your blood sugar levels. The level of that spike depends on the glycemic load of the food you eat.
It’s a common misconception that high-carb foods are the only ones that can raise your blood sugar levels. Protein and fat can also cause your blood sugar to rise.
The difference is that when protein or fat causes a spike, it won’t be as bad as a carb- or sugar-induced spike.
But food isn’t the only way to raise or lower your blood sugar levels. Stress and a sedentary lifestyle can also cause chronic high blood sugar.
If all these factors are working against your body, you’ll end up with more sugar in your blood than your body can adequately handle.
The Problem With Chronic High Blood Sugar Levels
You may have heard in this podcast episode about glucose that chronically high blood sugar levels don’t just put you into fat storage mode — they also lead to insulin resistance.
High blood sugar levels and insulin resistance contribute to chronic inflammation throughout your body and the development of serious conditions such as heart disease, neurodegenerative diseases, and cancer[*][*][*].
So you might be consuming a low-carb protein bar that you think is keto-friendly, but in reality it’s raising your blood sugar to unnecessarily high levels. The goal with your diet is to keep your blood sugar as low as possible.
Healthy blood glucose levels are:
If you stay within this range, you’ll flip the switch for your body to:
- Burn fat
- Regulate and maintain steady energy levels
- Stabilize your appetite
- Produce ketones
- Improve your brain function
- Reduce your risk of developing chronic diseases
It’s important to understand this before diving into the comparison results below since the data comes from post-meal glucose levels.
Finding the best low-carb protein bars isn’t just about weight loss and ketosis. It’s also about helping your body return to and stay at its blood sugar baseline.
Tracking your blood sugar vs. your ketones is a much better indicator of your reaction to foods.
Ketones have a slower physiological feedback loop than blood glucose, so ketones won’t give you an immediate or accurate picture of how you react to certain foods.
For example, if you ate a serving of rice, you might not see the difference in ketone levels for a day or two. However, it’s possible to notice a spike in blood sugar within an hour of eating a high-carb meal.
Tracking your blood sugar can help you narrow down which foods work better for your body. Just because you eat the same food as someone else doesn’t mean your body will respond in the same way.
Everyone has a different baseline. That’s why it’s crucial for you to establish your own baseline so you can see how certain foods hit your system.
Ideally, you should be choosing foods that create the lowest spike in insulin and make it easy for your body to return to baseline levels quickly.
The more you do this, the easier it’ll be to track which foods are keto-friendly for your body. You can stay in ketosis without second-guessing your nutrition.
As the keto diet continues to grow in popularity, you’ve probably noticed the increase of “keto-friendly” protein bars cropping up on store shelves and online retailers alike.
For this comparison, I tried a bunch of keto bars so you don’t have to. Here’s how four of the most popular protein bars stack up, in no particular order.
#1: Bulletproof Apple Pie Collagen Protein Bar
To be clear, I’m not a Bulletproof hater by any means. I like their bars.
Before creating Perfect Keto bars, these were my favorite and they continue to be one of the leading low-carb protein bars on the market.
While I normally reach for lemon, I decided to go with their Apple Pie Collagen Protein Bar for this comparison.
Let’s look at the macros first.
Each bar contains[*]:
- 210 calories
- 12g of fat, 5g of which are from saturated fats
- 11g of net carbs thanks to the chicory
- 4g of sugar
- 0g of added sugar
- 12g of protein
Based on those stats, this bar doesn’t sound too terrible for you, despite the relatively high net carbs when you’re specifically talking keto.
As for the texture, I was pretty disappointed.
One of my biggest pet peeves when it comes to eating bars like these is that they crumble into a hundred different pieces, making it tough to eat one-handed and on-the-go.
This low-carb protein bar does score high marks with its ingredient list, which is also one of the reasons I used to eat them.
As you can see, there are many clean ingredients on the label of this gluten-free bar including[*]:
- Organic cashew butter
- Grass-fed collagen protein
- Inulin (chicory)
- Bulletproof XCT oil power
- Organic apples
- Organic cashews
- Bulletproof Brain Octane
- Organic maple extract
- Organic coconut oil
- Vanilla extract
- Organic cinnamon
- Organic stevia leaf
Again, these don’t sound too bad.
But here’s where things get interesting:
Before eating this low-carb protein bar, my blood glucose baseline measured at 80.
Within 20 minutes of consuming it, my blood sugar shot up to 108.
Just 40 minutes later, my blood sugar was 109 and eventually reached 116 at the one-hour mark.
My blood sugar dropped back down to 109 when I reached 1 hour and 20 minutes. However, it was still high three hours later when I clocked in at 93.
This means my blood sugar never got the chance to return to baseline because I became too hungry to wait any longer for it to level out.
Not only is a 36-point increase in blood sugar levels (at its max) a huge problem, but taking over three hours to get anywhere close to baseline is also troublesome.
And this is coming from a well-known and supposedly keto-friendly protein bar.
#2: Quest Bars Birthday Cake Flavor
Similar to Bulletproof, Quest nutrition protein bars have become a household name for many low-carb dieters.
Admittedly, I’ve never been a huge fan of Quest bars because of their ingredient list. I also don’t think they taste that great, so I do have a bit of a bias here.
Pushing that aside, let’s dive into the data and look at the cold hard facts.
First up is the nutritional breakdown of these gluten-free Birthday Cake Quest bars.
Each bar contains[*]:
- 180 calories
- 6g of total fat, 3.5g of saturated fat
- 24g of total carbs, technically only 4g net carbs
- 1g of sugar
- 6g of erythritol (sugar alcohol)
- 21g of protein
These bars are slightly lower in calories and more than double the protein of others on this list.
While the Bulletproof bar may be double the fat (total and saturated), it’s also more than double the net carbs of Quest bars.
That’s because the Quest manufacturers subtract 14g of fiber along with 6g of erythritol to cut the 24g of total carbs to just 4g net.
However, don’t rush to make a final decision on macros alone. The consistency and taste of this bar had some pros and cons.
On the plus side, it was a good, solid bar.
It didn’t disintegrate into tiny pieces upon opening it and I had to chew for a while. This is a good thing since chewing can make you feel like you’re eating a real meal instead of just a snack.
That said, this bar didn’t taste like a slice of birthday cake as advertised. The taste was strange and a bit off — and it was definitely too artificially sweet for me.This isn’t a surprise since you’ll find sucralose listed as one of the sweeteners in this gluten-free Quest Birthday Cake bar.
Here’s what else is lurking behind the label, which is not as clean as the Bulletproof bar:
- Protein blend consisting of milk protein isolate and whey protein isolate
- Soluble corn fiber
- Palm kernel oil
- Natural flavors
- Sodium caseinate
- Sea salt
- Gum arabic
- Spirulina extract
- Red cabbage extract
- Turmeric extract
- Radish extract
- Sunflower lecithin
The soluble corn fiber and sucralose are two questionable ingredients that I try to avoid.
Here’s how my blood sugar reacted to this popular high-protein bar:
First, my baseline started at 80 mg/dl.
Then 20 minutes after I ate the bar, my blood sugar went to 85.
At the 40-minute and 1-hour marks, it jumped to 97 and 107, respectively.
An hour and 20 minutes later, my blood sugar finally started going back down and reached 95. It eventually took my body two hours to return close to baseline at 84.
Overall, the spike in my blood sugar was pretty significant at 27 at its peak. But that’s still nine points lower than the 36-point increase the Bulletproof protein bar caused.
Before you call this one a win, taking two hours to get back to baseline should be a red flag because it’s still a more substantial spike than it needs to be.
#3: Perfect Keto Almond Butter Brownie Keto Bar
Before you claim bias on this low-carb protein bar, I’ll show you the stats before explaining my thoughts on the bar itself.
The Perfect Keto Almond Butter Brownie bar has a similar macro breakdown to Bulletproof’s Collagen Protein Apple Pie bar.
It’s not super high in protein like a Quest bar, but it’s higher in healthy fats and lower in net carbs than both bars.
You’ll see the following macros on the nutrition label:
- 230 calories
- 19g of healthy fats, 5g of which are saturated
- 12g of total carbs, 3g of net carbs
- 0g of sugar alcohols
- 10g of protein
You’ll also find a clean ingredient label with the Perfect Keto bar packed with:
- Organic almond butter
- Soluble tapioca fiber
- Cacao butter
- Collagen protein
- Organic cocoa
- Sunflower lecithin
- Organic coconut oil
- Sea salt
- Natural flavors
While there are a few similarities with the macro breakdown and high-quality ingredient list, that’s about where the similarities stop. My blood sugar results were drastically different.
Here’s what happened:
I started at an 80 baseline.
Twenty minutes after eating a Perfect Keto Almond Butter Brownie bar, my glucose rose to 84.
At the 40-minute mark, I dropped down to 83.
One hour later, I was at 81, and I returned to baseline in 1 hour and 20 minutes.
That’s the biggest difference between Perfect Keto bars and the others on the market.
Instead of raising my blood sugar by 36 points and keeping it there for over three hours, Perfect Keto bars only increased my readings by four points at its max — and for less than an hour and a half.
Now that you know the stats, you’re probably wondering what these bars taste like.
The good news is you don’t have to settle for a crumbly texture or the taste of cardboard just to stay healthy.
I admit I’m a freak about taste and it took me a solid 18 months to perfect the flavor of these bars.
But now the Perfect Keto Almond Butter Brownie bar actually tastes like a real brownie with almond butter.
And because there are no artificial sweeteners or sugars added, these bars aren’t too sweet and don’t leave you with a weird aftertaste.
As for consistency, it’s solid and compact enough that it stays together until you’re ready to eat it, but it’s also soft and chewy like a decadent brownie.
#4: Keto Almond Vanilla Dang Bar
Along with Perfect Keto bars, Dang bars are explicitly marketed to keto dieters[*].
I tested their Keto Almond Vanilla bar and here’s what the macronutrient breakdown looks like:
Each Almond Vanilla Dang bar has[*]:
- 200 calories
- 14g of total fat, 4.5g of saturated fat
- 11g of total carbs, 5g net carbs
- 9g of protein
The calorie count is similar to Bulletproof’s bar, but not as low as Quest bar’s 180.
It also has more fat than both of those bars — 14g as opposed to 12g and 6g with Bulletproof and Quest, respectively.
But they still aren’t as high fat as Perfect Keto bars, which clocks in at 19g of fat — the highest of all bars on this list.
This Dang bar also has the lowest amount of protein when compared to the rest.
For the most part, this Almond Vanilla flavor is pretty clean and contains:
- Chicory root fiber
- Pea protein
- Cocoa butter
- Sunflower seeds
- Pea protein crisps (pea protein and rice flour)
- Natural flavors
- Chia seeds
- Sea salt
- Stevia extract
- Mixed tocopherols (vitamin E)
Now, chicory root fiber stands out only because I’ve had problems with it in the past. I’m also not a giant fan of isolated pea protein and pea protein crisps.
Other than these ingredients, I’d say the Dang team did a pretty good job here. I’ll also say they nailed the consistency of these bars.
There are nice chunks of almonds and the inclusions are really visible in this bar. As for the taste, there was a strong hit of vanilla coming through, but there was also a hint of something sour. The bar itself was a bit dry.
Here’s how my blood sugar reacted when I ate this keto bar:
First, I started at 84 blood glucose.
After 20 minutes, I shot up to 99.
Another 20 minutes later, I reached 105.
This went down about 20 points after that (at the 1-hour mark), but took approximately three hours to return to baseline.
I would expect normal foods to take one to four hours to do this, but not one listed as keto-friendly.
So while the macros of this bar are ideal for a keto diet, the blood sugar response is just the opposite.
So which one wins the award for best low-carb protein bar?
Based on the results from this test, the best keto-friendly bars rank as follows:
- Perfect Keto Almond Butter Brownie bar
- Quest Birthday Cake nutritional bar
- Keto Almond Vanilla Dang bar
- Bulletproof Apple Pie Collagen Protein bar
You might be thinking: Big surprise, of course the Perfect Keto bar won.
But as demonstrated in the experiment, this isn’t a personal bias to promote my own bars.
I spent months perfecting the formula to ensure these bars taste good, don’t fall apart, meet the right keto macros, and most importantly, won’t cause unnecessarily high spikes to your blood sugar.
Remember, the lower you can keep your blood sugar and the less time it takes your body to return to baseline, the better.
Eat this way and you’ll drastically reduce your risks of developing deadly chronic diseases and inflammation.
In the end, you should test your own blood sugar after eating anything, keto-friendly foods or not. Not only will this help you narrow down the foods that react well with your body, but you’ll also uncover the supposedly healthy foods that could be kicking you out of ketosis.
Try this experiment for yourself and you might be shocked by the results too.
You can start by testing the Almond Butter Brownie bar first.