Protein Bars – What to Look For and Why QUEST is the Best

Posted: January 24, 2012 in Nutrition, Product Reviews, Supplements
Tags: , , , , , ,

I’ve gotten increasingly interested in meal replacement supplementation.  I am a college baseball player and I find myself traveling for several days a week at times during the season. It is extremely difficult to get enough nutrition and particularly difficult to get quality nutrition in the world of bus travel, fast food joints, and gas stations. I am also following a very exacting class schedule that often leads me to missing/condensing meals in the interest of time. While there are several great protein/carb powders out there to support my situation, that doesn’t quite do it. At some point, you want something solid in your stomach. It is more satisfying and just feels better. This leads me to protein bars.

Drawbacks of protein bars:

– Cost, especially cost per protein
– Excess sugars/wasted calories
– Low protein totals
– Poor protein sources (hydrolyzed collagen)
– Poor taste
– Presence of abundant, artificial sugar alcohols, causing stomach upset
– Some are sensitive to heat, chocolatey messes

Those are personal things. Some of you may have other pet peeves and/or preferences.

When you’re doing your due diligence on protein/meal replacement bars, all roads lead back to Quest. They’re amassing a huge following and at the surface, it seems to be for good reason. Their nutrition and ingredient choice is off the charts. Let’s talk about some of the stuff you’re going to recognize ostensibly as huge strengths of both their lines:
– 20g of whey/milk protein isolate
– 18g of high quality fiber
– Miniscule amounts of non-fiber carbs and sugars (no more than 6g in any flavor)
– Low calorie total (160-210)
– Competitive price ~$2 per bar (when bought in boxed sets)

Quest has recently started a new, all-natural line of bars. They will maintain their original line as well. What are the few, minimal differences between lines?
– Natural uses all natural ingredients, including no artificial sweeteners
– The original line uses sucralose as a sweetener, which is proven safe in clinical study and arguably tastes better stand-alone.
– Natural has begun using erythritol, a natural sugar alcohol, in place of sucralose

We need to talk about erythritol and differentiate it from other sugar alcohols. I’m going to quote About.com for your unbiased info:

Erythritol is the sugar alcohol (polyol) that has the least impact on blood sugar. Erythritol has almost zero calories, carbs, and glycemic index. The reason is a bit different that most sugar alcohols, which are only partially absorbed in the small intestine. Most (60-90%) of the erythritol is absorbed into the blood, but is then excreted in the urine. Because of this, erythritol tends to produce much less intestinal distress than other sugar alcohols.

 

This is important because I knocked sugar alcohols, like the common sorbitol, earlier. Not only does erythritol have an almost non-existent glycemic index just like sucralose, it is not known to cause stomach distress.

Therefore, I see no reason personally to view either line differently. I will simply choose to buy or not buy based on flavors that I like.

That may seem like a high fiber count (18 grams) and you might be wondering where the fiber comes from. All of the fiber comes from isomalto-oligosaccharide, which is an unusual source. First, does isomalto-oligosaccharide work like we want fiber to work? Here’s a quote from the conclusion of a study from men taking 10g daily:

Consumption of IO effectively improved bowel movement, stool output and microbial fermentation in the colon without any adverse effect observed in this study. Therefore, supplementation of IO into ordinary low fiber diets may be practical in relieving constipation in the elderly population.

 

I’m going to extrapolate that claim to the general population, like us . Moreover, isomalto-oligosaccharide is a prebiotic. This means it will help your GI tract cultivate more healthy bacteria to aid in digestive. The above study confirmed that as well. Another cool feature is that it has been shown to cause less flatulence (you know, farting) than other fiber sources. As a matter of fact, it is said that you should feel no side effects of fiber intake at levels as high as 40 grams. Even past that, we’re talking about side effects of pooping more, farting more. The final feature of this fiber is that it also acts a sweetener, enhancing the flavor of the product.

The combination of quality ingredients in Quest is simply unmatched. In many competitors, you’ll be happy to see 1 or 2 of the positive features of Quest at best. I want to give cliffs, here:
– Relatively high protein content (20g/bar)
– Strong protein source (whey/milk isolate)
– Low calories (160-210 cals/bar)
– Low sugars/total carbs (2-6g/bar)
– High fiber content (18g/bar)
– Great fiber source
– Great sweetener use (sucralose/erythritol)
– No harmful sugar alcohol content

There may be things that the reader is looking for that don’t mean as much to me. For instance, some are averse to artificial sweeteners. As we know, they can happily stick with the natural line.

There is just one unknown in this entire equation…TASTE

Quest All-Natural Cinnamon Roll

I was attracted to this first, because this is definitely my favorite real-life dessert of the flavors I was sent.

Cracking open the wrapper, I did not detect any scent. Not that this matters to me, but some people do want to know that. I should also note that I’ve broken my nose 3 times and my ability to smell is incredibly hit and miss.

I honestly think the look of the bar is a little odd. Hard to describe, but it may remind you of Powerbars. The difference you find is that these are actually edible Since I can’t describe it, I have a picture for you:

As inspired by another review and the recommendation on the packaging, I tried it out of the wrapper and after 15 seconds of microwaving. Out of the wrapper it is probably more filling, but it is by no means tough or overly chewy. While it looks kind of like taffy in the picture, it is in effect nothing of the sort. After microwaving, it is just the best stuff ever. Very pleasant cinnamon taste, not overly sweet. The ratio of cinnamon to sweetness to doughiness is comparable, to me, like the oatmeal I make with cinnamon and splenda for sweetening. I actually think the taste could be accurately compared to a snickerdoodle cookie, just as the texture after microwaving.

Just delicious, really. Unique from your regular protein bar and really anything else I’ve eaten. Definitely on par with a legit dessert food though, seriously. It would be a tough choice between a snickerdoodle cookie and this Quest bar. If you threw in the variable of the microwave being available, I think it may be an easy choice in favor of the Quest Cinnamon Roll on taste alone.

Needless to say, this is the best tasting protein bar I’ve ever had. On one hand I thought it seemed not too heavy while eating, which makes it pleasant to eat. However, I feared it would not be filling. Alas, after a few minutes of eating, I felt extremely physically satiated. It lasted hours, honestly.

Quest Apple Pie!


I chose this bar, again, based on my preference for real apple pie.

The look and feel of this bar is rather similar to the cinnamon roll bar. One notable difference that you’ll see is chunks of “something” in there. I believe these are in fact real pieces of apple, which turns out to be a great touch. Adds a light crunch and adds to the flavor of the bar as well.

Again, I first ate the bar out of the wrapper, then proceeded to microwave for 15 seconds and ate the rest of it. I think this bar tastes better than cinnamon roll when both are just taken out of the wrapper. While this one was still improved by the microwave, it doesn’t quite reach the level of cinnamon roll for me when both are microwaved.

It is harder to pin down what this flavor is, as there isn’t a conveniently flavored cookie to compare it to. I think there is a very sweet pie crust-ness to it, with an underlying fruity flavor throughout. The apple chunks add some subtle fruit tartness as well. It was a unique flavor and I think Quest hit it very spot on. At this point, I would probably buy this flavor, given the ones I’ve tasted.

This was indistinguishable from cinnamon roll from a satiety standpoint, as expected. After having both in a short time, I felt full for about 6 hours. I ate dinner out of a sense of obligation, but could have comfortably skipped it if I liked. I like that about these Quest bars so far – I feel full enough that I need not eat, but not uncomfortably full so that I am unable to eat. Very nice balance achieved for me. My guess is that the high fiber content is to thank for this.

Quest All-Natural Chocolate Peanut Butter


I went with this as my next flavor because I do enjoy a peanut butter cup now and then. I will preface this with the fact that I’m generally not a fan of peanut butter flavored things. I will eat some PB&Co. White Chocolate Wonderful peanut butter, but beyond that I pretty much avoid it. I occasionally eat just straight peanuts.

This bar was darker in color, which is no surprise as it is supposed to be partially chocolate flavored. I found this one to be a bit tougher consistency wise than the others, but I don’t know if that is because of the timing of production or something else. You’ll see that there are some bits of peanut, which isn’t surprising given the other bars.

Out of the wrapper, I felt a bit overwhelmed by the peanut butter taste vs chocolatiness. This could be a result of my general peanut butter aversion, I’m not sure. Still good, though. I found that this flavor benefited hugely from 15 seconds in the microwave because it brought out the chocolate in the flavor more. This also helped with that general toughness I noted earlier.

This was my least favorite flavor to this point – however, still very good. If this was the only flavor Quest offered, I’d buy it. As it stands, though, it isn’t my favorite. I will say that they hit the flavor in a very fine way, it’s just not a favorite flavor. For peanut butter lovers, this will be a very good option.

Quest Vanilla Almond


I saved this flavor for last due to the fact that vanilla is a very hit and miss flavor. Moreover, I completely avoid almonds – I don’t care for them at all.

Out of the wrapper, this was middle of the road among the bars as far as softness/toughness. None of these are bad, though. This poor guy, as you might notice in the picture, got a little smashed in shipping. No problem though, you can’t really tell once unwrapping. This has a nicer light color, as you’d expect with a vanilla.

This is a very good tasting bar straight out of the wrapper. The vanilla taste is very pleasant, not overpowering, and not artificial tasting. While I don’t think any bar is better out of the wrapper than microwaving, this one benefited least from the microwave. This is just a tribute to its very fine taste. I did not notice an almond flavor, but I’m not really familiar with what that tastes like anyway.

For someone that doesn’t like some of the more adventurous flavors, this one may be for you. It’s a somewhat neutral flavor, but is delicious nonetheless. If we want to go with a cookie analogy, this would be more like your standard sugar cookie. Not necessarily for the sweets junkie, but has a nice taste of its own.

I probably won’t buy enough flavors to buy this one, but I very well could at some point to change things up.

Quest Chocolate Brownie

Okay, I ordered this right after having my first bar because brownies are my favorite thing ever. BB.com got it to me lightning fast! I couldn’t keep my hands off, so I’m having my third bar of the day .

Out of the wrapper, this is of course rather dark, like chocolate. It has less of that shininess that some of the other bars have had. It really looks a lot like a brownie would before getting powdered sugar. My whole box of bars was rather hard, though. I don’t yet know whether this is just due to the relative timing of production or something about the bar itself. It was not inedible out of the wrapper, but it was tough enough that it would take a bit longer to eat and you might want something to drink around.

(sorry about blur, didn’t catch that until it was uploaded on photobucket)

While the taste was nice and really rather authentic, the toughness held it back a bit at first. 15 seconds in the microwave later, holy good god. It was heavenly. The chocolateness came out much more fully after heating, just like the chocolate peanut butter. It was not overly sweet, which is one fear with a chocolate flavored bar. Once again, I think Quest hit the nail on the head with flavoring. Once heated or otherwise the right temperature/rigidity, even the consistency is rather brownie-like.

Overall Flavor Comparison

This is merely my personal preference and you may come to very different conclusions.

1. Cinnamon Roll
2. Chocolate Brownie
3. Apple Pie
4. Vanilla Almond
5. Chocolate Peanut Butter

The next time I get paid, I plan on ordering a box of Apple Pie, a second box of Chocolate Brownie, and two boxes of Cinnamon Roll.

A last note about fiber intake.

During my taste testing, I consumed 2 bars one day and 3 bars the next day. I experienced no negative fiber-related side effects, despite the fact these would be astronomically high numbers for some fiber sources. When taking FiberPlus or FiberOne in about half the amount, I usually have much increased flatulence and occasional stomach upset. I’ve had less flatulence than normal in these past couple days while the bowel movement effects seem to be promising.

On that note, I want to also comment on cost. There are a handful of mediocre bars that cost less than Quest, which is around 24.99 at bb.com before a 10% discount for 12 bars. If you do your homework, you can actually find Quest for 21.49/box w/ free shipping.  Regardless, some people may be resistant to pay this much for some reason (I was, at first). Ask yourself this – do you supplement fiber? Are you getting a proper fiber intake? If you already supplement fiber or are low in fiber intake (<20g daily), you should think about how Quest can help you in this regard. I used to pay about ~1 dollar per bar for an inferior bar, but I told myself that the price made it okay to settle for less than Quest. However, I realized that I was also spending about ~1 dollar per bar on fiber bars as well, because I often need to supplement my fiber intake. You can see how Quest can double up in this regard, not to mention the nice form of fiber used with Quest.

Just some food for thought if you are hesitant. You get a meal replacement, fiber supplement, protein supplement, and a delectable snack all-in-one. This might just make you reconsider where it is you’re investing your money. Spending a little bit less on multiple other, lower quality things where you can get it all in a Quest bar ends up costing you more.

Needless to say, it will still always be preferable to get everything with “real” food. The implicit understanding here is that you’re reading protein bar reviews because you sometimes aren’t able to get what you need from so-called “real” foods.

Since my original review, I have ordered 4 boxes as described.  You can read some more user feedback on the forum version of this review.

Quest is available for purchase (and auto-delivery) from the Quest Website as well as many retailers.  It has not yet reached brick-and-mortar store shelves, but the aforementioned $21.49/box sale is at Get Ripped Nutrition.

Lastly, but not least, THANK YOU Quest for the samples!

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Comments
  1. neddo says:

    Annnddd adding a box to my cart… even though I don’t have the cash.

    Box of quest bars > metabolic nutrition textbook.

  2. To me, the best “protein bars” are hard boiled eggs… or hemp seeds. No added ingredients and pure deliciousness!

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