How to Pick a Truly Healthy Keto-Friendly Protein Bar

29 Mar 2021

Sure, if we had to choose between snacking or not snacking we would choose the second option. Once you're fat-adapted and your blood sugar is stable, you don't feel hungry between meals. But, sometimes life happens to you (i.e. long work days, hectic mornings) and we are not perfect. Or perhaps you are a parent, looking for a clean, non-sugar snack for your children—which is very rare to find. This is where a ketogenic protein bar comes in.

You have high demands for protein bars when you're on a ketogenic or low-carb diet. You want whole food bars that are low in carbs and sugar—without fillers and synthetic flavors. You want lots of fat, but healthy fats that have not been damaged in production. In addition, the bar just has to be delicious.

If you are snacking on a ketogenic protein bar, what ingredients should you look for? Here are a few things to keep in mind:

Carbohydrates

You most likely use your keto bar as a snack. Or perhaps as a topping on your breakfast bowl or smoothie for lunch. It is therefore all the more important that this snack or meal does not lead to a high blood sugar spike. After all, you eat to get constant energy from it. We briefly explain this process: 

When you eat or drink, it causes a reaction in your blood sugar. The height of that spike depends on the glycemic load of what you consumed. You should avoid large increases in blood sugar if you want to stay in ketosis and continue to use fat as fuel. Eating a high-carbohydrate or high-sugar diet will cause blood sugar to rise quickly. When you consume protein or fat instead, it keeps your blood sugar stable. 

Which in the long run:

- maintains a stable energy level,

- stabilizes your appetite,

- improves your brain function.

Therefore, pay attention to the number of carbohydrates listed on the package. This should be less than 20 grams total per bar. The net carb number is ideally equal to less than 10 grams. Which is not as difficult to calculate as it may seem. For example, if a bar contains 20 grams of carbohydrates and 9 grams of fiber, the amount of net carbohydrates in the bar is 11 grams. With that guideline in mind, you don't exceed the daily 20-50 gram net carb mark [*] — whether your goal is on the low end of the spectrum to stay in ketosis—or to maintain a relaxed low-carb lifestyle. 

What else to look out for are added sugars and fillers such as maltodextrin. [*] A keto bar should have no more than 5 grams of sugar (hopefully less). If sugar, sucrose or high fructose corn syrup is the main ingredient, don’t buy it.

Protein

The thing to remember is: most protein bars—not all—often contain cheap whey and soy concentrates. Look for ingredients like grass-fed collagen, grass-fed whey, rice, hemp and pea proteins.

As for the NoordCode Pure Keto Bars, we chose a combination of rice protein and pea protein. Unlike whey and soy, both rice and pea protein are allergen-free. Pea protein is very low in gut-irritating lectins and phytic acid. This is due to the highly effective hydrolysis process used to extract the protein from the peas. When combined with a rice (and or hemp) protein, it is also a complete protein. Plant proteins blended together provide a unique set of amino acids. It contains high amounts of lysine, arginine, branched-chain amino acids and enzymes that help your body perform at its best. [*] [*

If you're looking for the right amount of protein, focus on the highest possible protein quality and absorbability. Rather than aiming for the highest possible protein content. [*

European Union approved sweeteners

Selecting the right natural sweetener that is both ketogenic and safe is a complicated process. In America, you often see monk fruit on the ingredient list of ketogenic products. In Europe, this sweetener is not approved yet. Erythritol and stevia are allowed, but have disadvantages. Erythritol in large quantities disturbs digestion. Stevia has a strong aftertaste. The ideal sweetener may not exist, but the right balance does. The trick is to use both stevia and erythritol in small amounts. In this way, the erythritol cancels out the aftertaste of the stevia. The low dose of erythritol will then have no effect on the intestines. The result is low carbohydrate and great taste. 

High quality fat

Pay attention to the fat content, to see what fat sources the bar contains. When you’re on the keto diet, fats are your main energy source. So a quality fat that has not been damaged during production is key.

Avoid any bars with: 

  • Palm oil
  • Peanut oil
  • Corn oil
  • Sunflower oil
  • Soybean oil
  • Rice bran oil

Look instead for:

  • Coconut butter
  • Coconut oil
  • Cacao butter
  • MCTs
  • Ghee
  • Butter
  • Nut butters [*]

 

It's particularly great when you find a bar that is combined with high-quality MCT oil powder. The added MCTs contribute to immediate energy and long-term satiety.

Emulsifiers

Emulsifiers such as soy and sunflower lecithin are added to foods to provide a smooth consistency. It ensures that the mixture stays mixed. Egg yolks are a good source of lecithin. So are soybeans and sunflower seeds. 

Soy lecithin you want to avoid because it is often negatively associated with the common allergen. It can also affect your estrogen levels in men and women. [*] Sunflower lecithin you generally want to avoid as well, but here the rule applies: 'the dose makes the poison'. In foods and supplements, these are very small amounts and can do no harm. [*] In fact, there has been research on the health benefits of lecithin. It ranges from its effect on heart health to boosting the immune system. [*

Conclusion

When looking for a whole food ketogenic protein bar for yourself on the go, or for your kids, look for healthy fats that have not been damaged during production. Pay attention to the net carbs as described on the label. If sugar, sucrose or fructose corn syrup is one of the listed ingredients, do not buy it. The same goes for fillers and synthetic flavorings. Look for an emulsifier that is not genetically modified and choose sunflower lecithin or egg lecithin instead of soy. If you're after the right amount of protein, aim for the highest possible protein quality and absorbability.

 Focus less on the highest possible protein content. After all, it all comes down to the right combination of protein sources to achieve complete essential amino acid composition, digestibility and bioavailability of amino acids.