The Best Meal Replacement Bars For Healthy on the Go Nutrition
Bars are our favourite snacks. Protein bars, crunchy bars, nuts bars, cereal bars… Easy to grab, store and eat on the go. No matter if you are on top of Everest, in the rush hour trying to finally get home, or just finishing your workout at the gym; you can always eat one.
However, finding the ideal one, the best tasting bar, the bar with most protein or the bar that fits your diet and budget best is hard. Finding a bar that can you can use to replace a meal even harder. So, here I bring you the best meal replacement bars that will help you lose weight or help you achieve your nutritional goals.
Latestfuel’s Top 3 Meal Replacement Bars
How to Find A REAL Meal Replacement Bar
If you go around looking for other best meal replacement bar lists, be careful and remain critical. There are many lists out there that include protein bars and snack bars on these lists.
You can find below why a protein bar and a meal replacement bar are not the same thing; but in short, they are nutritionally lacking and unbalanced. Particularly when it comes to micronutrients and some essential fatty acids, like omega-3s.
Regarding snack bars, more often than not, these are either too sugary or high in carbohydrates (as well as not providing you all the nutrients you would need).
Therefore, any list that includes either of those, it is not giving you an honest review and real options for the best meal replacement bars that you can have.
The Best Tasting Meal Replacement Bars
For many taste might be the most important thing when looking for food. Taste and nutritional output are, undoubtedly, essential. Finding a tasty meal replacement bar can be harder than it seems; particularly if we want to be nutritionally complete and balanced at the same time.
Most bars I have tried, they were at least OK. Some bars were drier, some were more powdery, and few felt too artificial taste wise. However, there are a couple of meal replacement bars, that have stood out because of the taste.
1. Feed. Bars
- Best tasting bars
- Many flavours, and all taste different
- Nice texture and size
- Able to buy them individually
- Price on the higher end
- Can be high in sugars
- Only available in Europe
Feed. has some of the biggest offering of any meal replacement brands. However, Feed.’s bars stand out, due to their excellent taste and flavour range when compared to the competition.
In fact, I have tried over 10 different meal replacement bars, and none taste as good as Feed.’s. Not only they have great taste, but they are also available in 6 different flavours: Coconut, Chocolate, Lemon & Amaranth, Red Berries, Banana & Chocolate, and Apple & Cranberry (ordered from best to worst). On top of that, I must say that each has a distinct flavour, so no 2 bars are the same.
Besides the taste, the purchasing options are great, too. You can purchase each bar individually, without having to commit to buy 12 of a flavour, like many competitors do.
Therefore, with the Feed. bars you will be able to get a full 400kcal meal with all the nutrients your body needs; wherever you are without sacrificing taste. That is why they are my top pick.
The bars have quite a soft texture, slightly crumbly. I would describe it as something between a cookie and a sponge cake.
Coconut is simply the best tasting one, while it is a little sweet. Apple & Cranberry and Lemon & Amaranth do have a more bitter tone if you rather enjoy that.
Each bar takes a fair bit of time to eat, which help you with the satiation feeling. They are surprisingly big, and they will keep you full for 3-4h without any issues.
Feed. Bar (chocolate): agave syrup, vegetable protein (pea, soy, rice), vegetable flour (flaxseed (antioxidant: natural rosemary extract), rice, chick peas), isomaltulose, 7% almonds, 6% low-fat cocoa, buckwheat seeds, corn fibre, acacia fibre, gluten-free oat flakes, rapeseed oil, stabiliser: glycerine, mineral salts (calcium phosphate, potassium carbonate, magnesium citrate, magnesium carbonate, zinc gluconate, selenium, copper gluconate, iron gluconate or fumarate, manganese gluconate, chromium chloride, potassium iodide), flavouring, vitamins (A, D3, E, C, B1, B2, B3, B6, B5, B8, B9, B12), preservative: potassium sorbate, antioxidant: soy tocopherols and natural rosemary extract.
All Feed. bars are vegan, gluten free, and GMO free.
Feed. bars are quite sugary unfortunately, containing both agave syrup and isomaltulose (even though, this is low GI). The sugar content varies depending the flavour, and on some it can be as high as 30g per 400kcal.
The protein comes from rice, soy and pea; quite a unique combination, but great to ensure a well rounded amino acid profile.
On the plus side, Feed. bars will provide you with plenty of fiber; as well as, 33% of all the vitamins and mineral you need per 400kcal bar.
Allergens might vary with the flavours, but all bars contain soy. They might also contain almonds.
There is a significant change between the nutritional values depending the flavour, thus I recommend you checking the individual labels before purchasing.
|per serving||Feed. Bar (Chocolate)||RI (%)|
Good For: those that want tasty bars.
2. Satislent Compact
- Low sugar content
- 446kcal can fully replace a meal
- Nice crispy puffed rice texture
- Single flavour
- A little dry
- Can only be bought Europe
This perhaps is a little biased, but I do really enjoy Satislent’s Compact bar (only available in chocolate). It has a crunchy texture, filled with puffed rice that makes eating the bar very satisfactory. Plus, I love the dry chocolate flavour that Satislent Compact offers.
Besides the taste and the texture, the size of the bar is perfect to replace a meal effectively. 446kcal mean that is one of the biggest bars, against the trend of smaller 200kcal alternative, and I can grab one on the go and feel full for few hours.
The main issue with the bars is the high fiber content that might cause you some laxative effects if you consume too many; thus you have to limit your daily consumption.
Otherwise, I think Satislent Compact is the perfect balance between price, taste and bar size.
As it can be observed in the picture, it is filled with rice puffs, which make it crunchy and at the same time a little dry.
Reminds me of chocolate flavoured rice pops without the milk.
Each bar takes a fair bit of time to eat, which help you with the satiation feeling. They are surprisingly big, and they will keep you full for 3-4h without any issues.
Satislent Compact (chocolate): Oats, polydextrose, sunflower oil, pea protein, puffed rice, inverted sugar, glycerine (humectant), dark chocolate coating (cocoa, maltitol, cocoa butter, soy lecithin, flavour), minerals (potassium citrate, calcium phosphate, sodium citrate, magnesium oxide, maltodextrin, ferrous fumarate, zinc sulphate, manganese sulphate, cupric sulphate, potassium iodide, sodium selenate, chrome picolinate, sodium molybdate), vitamins (C, E, B3, A, B5, B6 K1, B2, B1, B9, B8, D2, B12), potassium sorbate.
One thing to notice is the lack of agave syrup or glucose syrup, which does lower the sugar content of the bar. In order to replace this, Satislent Compact has inverted sugar (fructose and glucose), puffed rice and polidextrose (a form of fiber).
Protein, on the other hand comes from pea, a slightly incomplete source of essential amino acid. Therefore, if you are someone who really cares about their protein content, Satislent Compact might not be the ideal bar for you.
As for vitamins and minerals, each bar will provide you with at least 18% of your daily recommended.
Satislent Compact bars have soy and gluten.
|per serving||Satislent Compact||RI (%)|
Good For: those who like their bars crunchy.
Best Meal Replacement Bar for Weight Loss
Many people that use meal replacement bars or protein bars do so because they are looking for healthy alternatives to their usual snacks. They are looking to avoid the temptations that might negatively affect their journey.
Thus, here there are a couple of my suggestions for meal replacement bars for weight loss, that will make you full while giving you a balanced nutrition.
1. Vitaminbar – Jake
- Option for a caffeinated bar
- Micronutrient dense
- Very filling
- Very good bulk discounts
- Oaty texture (fibrous)
- Price is higher outside EU
Vitaminbars are meal replacement bars from Jake, that with 333kcal each will give you 25% of your daily micronutrients. Thus, in theory you could have 4 of these (1332kcal) and have all the daily vitamins and minerals that you would need.
Despite the fact, that I would advise against doing so; it means that they are perfect to replenish your needs for micronutrients. They are very nutritious and filling at the same time, which makes them ideal as a weight loss snack or meal.
Not only that, but Vitaminbars have plenty of fibre and protein, two nutrients that help you with the satiety feeling and have been proven benefitial in weight loss.
Vitaminbars are available worldwide, but are particularly affordable in Europe. In fact, they are one of the best budget meal replacement bars, too. Each bar starts at €2.33/400kcal including shipping and can be bought as cheap as €1.98/400kcal.
While you cannot buy them individually (you need to buy 20,40 or 80), you will be able to enjoy a bulk discount.
The Vitaminbars are quite chewy and have oats on them; you might find some fibers.
The Cacao & Coffee has a fairly strong coffee taste with a raw cacao background, and I found to be the best. Forest Fruits is a little more sweet and berry-like.
You should have no problems for 3h.
Vitaminbar (Forest Fruit): Oat flakes (gluten), glucose syrup, pea protein, rice syrup, sunflower oil, hydrolysed wheat (gluten), oligofructose, rice protein, cranberries sweetened 3.0% (cranberries, sugar, sunflower oil), black currant sweetened 2.0% (black currant, apple juice concentrate, sunflower oil), minerals (dipotassium phosphate, calcium carbonate, magnesium oxide, ferric(III)diphosphate, zinc oxide, copper(II)gluconate, manganese sulphate, chromium(III)chloride, potassium iodide, sodium selenite, sodium molybdate), emulsifier: lecithin, colour: beetroot concentrate, flavours, acid: citric acid, salt, choline bitartrate, vitamins (ascorbic acid, tocopheryl acetate, nicotinamide, calcium-D-pantothenate, riboflavin, thiamin hydrochloride, pyridoxine hydrochloride, retinyl acetate, folic acid, vitamin K, biotin, ergocalciferol, cyanocobalamin), lycopene.
Notice that Cacao & Coffee will have some caffeine, while Forest Fruit Vitaminbar has none.
The protein in the bars comes from pea protein and the residual from the oat flakes. This is not the optimal combination, since it could mean that they are a little short in essential amino acids like lysine. However, with the sheer amount of protein (19g per bar), you should be ok.
Regarding carbohydrates, it is a mix of complex carbs and sugars (glucose syrup and rice syrup). Despite the fact that there is plenty of sugars, the GI should not be that high due to the relatively low carb content.
For each Vitaminbar, you will get at least 25% of your vitamins and minerals.
Vitaminbars contain gluten.
|per serving||Vitaminbar (Forest Fruit)||RI (%)|
Good For: people who are looking for a small but nutritious meal.
2. Feed. Light
- Nutrient dense
- Nice taste and texture
- Easy to eat
- Expensive and hard to find on the site
- Only available in EU
Another entry from Feed. and the truth is that they deserve it. They have put an emphasis on developing nutritious meal replacement bars like no other company has. Consequently, they have one of the best arrays of complete bars.
Feed. Light is the latest addition, aimed for those that are on a restricted caloric diet. Each bar has 250kcal, but 33% of your daily vitamins and minerals; as well as plenty of protein and fiber. Thus, you will be able to get all your micronutrients, without having to consume 2,000kcal.
Therefore, this bar is very dense nutritionally, while being quite filling. The taste of the bars is delicious; particularly the Sesame & Chocolate Light bar. They both have a chocolate coating and a more spongy inner part which reminds me of some protein bars.
Unfortunately, these bars are only available in Europe and even finding them in the website can be a challenge. You can only buy them in packs of 5 with a minimum order of 15 Light meals (they also have powder options). The bars are also more expensive than the normal bars, starting at €3.67 per bar.
Feed. Light (Sesame & Chocolate): Plant protein (soy, pea), sugar-free sweetened dark chocolate 20% (cocoa, sweetener: maltitol, cocoa butter, SOY lecithin, flavoring), fiber (fructo-oligosaccharides, polydextrose), agave syrup, rapeseed oil, corn maltodextrin, chickpea flour, stabilizer: glycerin, mineral salts (potassium and calcium phosphate, magnesium carbonate, magnesium citrate, ferrous, zinc, manganese and copper gluconate, potassium iodide, selenium yeast, chromium picolinate), sesame seeds 2.6%, sweeteners: maltitol and sucralose, flavoring and natural flavoring, konjac flour* 1.45%, vitamins (A, B1, B2, B3, B5, B6, B8, B9, B12, C, D, E, K), acidity corrector: citric acid, preservative: potassium sorbate, antioxidant: rosemary extract and soy tocopherols .
Feed.’s Light bars are vegan, gluten-free and lactose free. Therefore, they use plant based proteins, a combination of soy and pea. While very effective, this is rather unusual, since most of the time you will see pea protein paired with rice.
One thing to notice is that Feed. Light bars are fairly high in sugars with 10.7g per 255kcal. The sugar comes from the agave syrup and together with maltodextrin, is the source of most carbohydrates (besides fiber). I would rather see a more complex carbohydrate, but these help to improve the texture of the bar.
Similarly, it is really curious the high saturated fat content. While otherwise the fatty acid distributions is good, including the omega-3, each bar contains 20% of the recommended intake.
Soy is present in Feed.’s Light bars.
Based on Sesame & Chocolate. Be aware that the exact values might vary with flavours.
|per serving||Feed. Light||RI (%)|
Good For: people who are looking for lose weight, but do not want to sacrifice taste.
Most Nutritious Meal Replacement Bar
I have spoken about taste and about which I think are the best for weight loss. However, there is a bar that arguably is the most nutritionally well rounded. A combination of natural ingredients, quality components, plenty of phytonutrients and great nutrition.
1. Vitaline Carrots Turmeric
- Fully organic certified
- Most nutrients from food
- Top score at Nutriscore
- More expensive than normal bars
- Can only be bought in Europe
- Limited flavour options
This is a very unique bar in many aspects. Starting from the quality of ingredients, all of which are organic and very few highly processed. Vitaline’s meal replacement bar might be most natural bar, and this is reflected in the ingredient list and the taste.
In fact, when you try it, you will be amazed by how much you can taste each ingredient, particularly the carrot and the sweet potatoes. You will be able to see and distinguish them with your eyes and your palate. Surprisingly, the sweetness mostly comes from the vegetables and not any sugar or syrup.
The result is that they score the highest in Nutriscore (a ranking developed by the French Health Department). While this ranking system has its limitations, it does a good job showing the high value nutrients, balanced omega-3/6 profile and other important markers.
Unfortunately, this premium build is reflected on the price, starting at €2.5 per 200kcal. Nevertheless, you will be able to reduce it to €2 per bar when you buy in bulk.
Certainly a must try if you live in Europe and perhaps the best organic meal replacement bar, together with Feed.’s Bio range.
Carrots Turmeric : Cereales, nuts and seeds 45%(gluten-free oats * , pumpkin seeds*, almonds*, cashews*, flaxseeds*, toasted buckwheat seeds*), vegetables 18% (carrots*, sweet potatoes*, onions*), unrefined rice syrup*, pea proteins* , lemon juice*, acacia fibre *, curry*, lithothamnium, turmeric*, Guérande salt, acerola*, moringa*, roucou*, son de riz*, curry leaves*, basil*, lemons*, spinach*, parsley*, amla*, thé vert*, shitake*, lichens*. * = organic.
The lack of any artificial vitamins and minerals is worth noting. This means that they are provided by the vegetables and spices used in the bars; a very remarkable accomplishment.
A weak point of the bar, perhaps, is the low protein content and the fact that it relies on pea protein. Nevertheless, according to the brand the amino acid composition is well balanced and enough to provide you with your daily needs.
On top of that, because the natural ingredients, the bars are full of antioxidants and other beneficial non-essential compounds. All making the bar more well rounded than the rest.
Vitaline’s bar contains cashew nuts and almonds.
|per serving||Carrot Turmeric||RI (%)|
Good For: people that want the most natural bar.
Best Low Carb Meal Replacement Bars
I have covered my picks for best low carb and meal replacement shakes, where options were plentiful. However, in the case of low carb bars, the selection is much more limited.
Despite the fact that most bars have around 40-50% of carbohydrate content (% of energy from); it would not be consider low for people on low carb diets. There are, however, a couple of excellent outliers, one in the US and one in Europe that deliver a relatively low carb meal replacement bars.
However, I must say that if you are not concerned about the carbohydrate, I would look to buy other bars, because in my opinion taste better.
1. Meal Squares
- Only 35% of energy from carbs and 45% from fats
- One of the few US made meal replacement bars
- Affordable, for $3 dollars you get a 400kcal meal
- Dry and crumbly, need liquid
- Not vegan friendly
- Only available in the US
Meal Squares is a US based company that only produced solid meal replacements. These nutritionally complete squares, sadly, are only available in the US.
In fact, Meal Squares delivers a very interesting product, heavily based on whole foods; with only very few additives. These are mainly some vitamins and minerals, whey protein (great source of balanced amino acids) and agents for moisture and dental health.
Each square provides you with 400kcal and 20g of protein. You can buy them in boxes of 30 for $89 or subscribe for a 5% discount. With this you will get free shipping and the perfect on the go meal.
Meal Squares are know for being very dry and people do sometimes microwave them to make them softer.
Meal Squares: Whole grain oats, eggs, milk, dark chocolate chips (chocolate, sugar, cocoa butter, milkfat), whey, orange juice, rice bran, sunflower seeds, dates, pumpkin, apples, vegetable glycerin, chickpeas, carrots, coconut oil, extra virgin olive oil, xanthan gum, sunflower lecithin, xylitol, iodized sea salt, potassium citrate, cinnamon, aluminum free baking powder, Vitamin C (ascorbic acid), Vitamin D3, Vitamin K2, niacinamide (B3), calcium folinate, lactase, spices.
First and foremost, it is worth noticing that it contains eggs and milk, which means is not a vegan friendly meal.
Regarding the milk, they also add lactase for those who are lactose intolerant. This is a lactose free bar.
Besides that, it is also interesting to see ingredients such as extra virgin olive oil, a superb fat source but very rare due to its premium nature. There is also some coconut oil, but what I do not see is a good source of omega-3 fatty acids.
Meals Squares has eggs, milk (lactose-free) and oats (even though they are 99% gluten free).
Because Meal Squares is only sold in the US, this table shows Daily Values (DV) instead of recommended intakes (RI) used in the European products.
|per serving||Meal Squares||DV (%)|
|Added Sugars (g)||3|
Good For: People looking for a solid meal to eat on the go in the US.
2. Queal GO Nuts & Apricot
- 47% of energy from fat
- Good pricing and available worldwide
- Nutty texture
- 207kcal only
- High sugar content
Queal Go Bar Nuts & Apricot is the second iteration of one of my favourite bars (1.0 version). There have been many changes in the update, including a change in macronutrient distribution; lowering the carbohydrate content (35%) and increasing the fats (47%).
Sadly, for me, they have also made the bars smaller, with only 200kcal per bar. This makes them easier to snack on, but means that you have to consume at least two to have a full meal.
It is only available in one flavour, Nuts & Apricot, and each bar costs €1.5. You will be able to enjoy a 15% discount if you subscribe, and technically are available worldwide (although, you will have to pay a shipping fee outside Europe).
Sadly for low carbers, while the overall carb content might be low, half of those come from sugars (glucose syrup and the apricot). While the overal GI, it is likely to remain low, it should be something to take into consideration.
GO Bar (Nuts & Apricot): Apricot, glucose syrup, peanuts, soy protein isolate, vegetable fibre, pumpkin seeds, oat flakes, cashew nuts, vegetable oil (lineseed), vitamin & mineral mix (tri-potassium citrate, di-calcium phosphate, potassium chloride, maltodextrin, magnesium oxide, di-potassium phosphate, vitamin C, ferric pyrophosphate, vitamin E, zinc sulphate, folic acid, potassium iodide, nicotinamide, odium molybdate, sodium selenite, vitamin A, vitamin K, calcium-d-panthothenate, manganese sulphate, d-biotin, chromium-III-chloride, copper sulphate, vitamin B12, vitamin B6, vitamin B2, vitamin B1), almonds, hazelnut, chia seeds, rice flour, baker’s salt.
Each bar will provide you with 15% of your daily vitamins and minerals.
Besides the micronutrients, it is remarkable how nutty the bars are (peanuts, cashew nuts, almonds and hazelnut). These are great sources of nutrients and phytonutrients.
From the ingredients, you will also realize that the bar is vegan friendly.
The new GO bars contain soy, nuts, peanuts and oats. They are also produced in a factory that handles milk, egg and lupine so there might be some cross-contamination.
|per serving||GO Nuts & Apricot||RI (%)|
Good For: those looking for a salty meal replacement bar.
Best Meal Replacement Bars in the US
Most of the options that I given are from European brands. While some of the brand do deliver to the US (Jake and Queal); there is often an extra cost associated with the shipping as well as a delay. So what are some good options for meal replacement bars if you live in the US (besides the aforementioned Meal Squares)?
Twennybar Not Available Until October
Usually I would say Jimmyjoy’s Twennybar, a 400kcal bar; however, it is currently undergoing a transformation. Jimmyjoy is going to release new bars, called Plenny Bar, which will be vegan friendly in October (Europe).
Once they make the launch in Europe, I would expect them to ship them to their warehouse in the US and make them available for their American customers. A shame that there is a 2 month hiatus, since the Twennybars offered a great balance between nutrition, budget and taste.
What About Soylent Squared?
Perhaps some of you might be aware of the latest bar from the biggest US meal replacement company. Soylent Squared are 100kcal meal replacement snacks. In my opinion, these bars are too small to be considered a proper meal replacement; however, they are complete, so you might be interested on buying them.
I have a full review discussing the properties of Soylent Squared, however, unless desperate or looking exactly for that (a little snack), I would not buy them as meal replacement bars.
They are too small; too pricey ($1/100kcal) and very very artificial. While technically you will get all the nutrients you need, you might miss some non-essential compounds that are beneficial for your health.
On the plus side, you have 3 flavours to choose from and you can buy them in variety boxes for a good mix of all three bars.
What If I Live Outside US and EU?
If you thought the offering was limited for the US, it becomes even more scarce when you look at other places like Canada, Australia or Japan. Most of the options are from European companies that ship worldwide, like Huel (which surprisingly does not sell in the US or CAN), Jake or Queal.
There are some exceptions to this, like Ruffood, a Chinese company that sells bars in China; and, Labnosh, a South Korean company.
In New Zeeland, they have One Square Meal, a brand that focuses on meal replacement bars. They offer a variety of sizes and flavours with balanced sets of nutrients. OSM is the most affordable and convenient option, if you live in New Zeeland, and honestly a brand I would love to see in more places.
Meal Replacement Bars in the World
As seen in the table below, most of the options are from European brands, with very limited presence from elsewhere. While there are some American brands that produce meal replacement bars (Redcon, GreenBelly) that are not mentioned here, these will lack all the micronutritents.
Therefore, while they will be valid to replace you meals sporadically or in situations where better alternatives are limited (when hiking, travelling or commuting, for instance); I have decided to exclude them.
|Meal Replacement Bars Worldwide|
|Europe (prices in €)|
|From||Ships to||Kcal/bar||Price/bar||Price/400kcal||%E (C/P/F)||Vegan|
|US (prices in $)|
|Rest (prices in $)|
|One Square Meal||NZL||NZL||694||3.18||1.83||60/10/30||No|
*Twennybar will soon change to Plenny Bar. Therefore, it is only available for subscribers, until October.
As mentioned in my Best Meal Replacements of UK piece, Huel is cheaper in the UK, therefore it might be a interesting option for those living there. The bars are moister and more likable than in the past.
If you live in Europe, I strongly recommend trying the different bars and finding the one that is best suited to your needs. Most of them are significantly different among each other.
Other Solid Options
I want to make a brief mention to other solid complete food that is not delivered on the bar format. While most of you might be looking for bars, due to their convenience and portability (in which case perhaps you should look at the best RTDs); some will be browsing because they want a “chewable” complete food.
Despite the fact that meal replacements are primarily served in shakes (from powder), there has been an increasing interest for other solid alternatives. You would only have to look at the interest Vite Ramen created when they announced nutritionally complete instant ramen.
Therefore, here are some non-bar solid meal replacements:
Created by two twins, Tim and Tom Zheng, Vite Ramen are the dream of many: complete instant ramen. Currently, there are 3 flavours available, including one vegan variant and cost around $3 per 400kcal.
You will be able to prepare the ramen on the stove or on the microwave and it can be ready within 5 minutes. Very handy for those with limited cooking skills or just in a lazy mood.
Queal Ready is perhaps one of my favourite breakfast options; a nutritionally complete porridge with tons of protein. This is ideal not only because you can microwave it and have a hot meal ready in 3 minutes; but because it easily provides me the protein I want in the morning.
The taste in the two options is delicious and can easily keep you full all morning long, like a good oatmeal would. Plus, you can easily customize it, by adding some milk of your choice or some cinnamon.
Huel is a fantastic brand with great products. Huel Granola is, perhaps, the dark horse of their range; with a great nutritional output, a different texture to the shakes and easily optimizable format.
Plus, all you need to do to enjoy your granola is add them to your bowl with milk and just enjoy. Simple, nutritious and tasty.
This is the weirdest of them all, and unfortunately out of stock at the moment. Feed. Crunchy are Malteseers but with protein, fats and micronutrients. Who would have thought that chocolate balls could be a healthy meal?
While the nutritional output might not be as well rounded as other shakes, with high sugar and saturated fats, they will effectively provide you with a healthier alternative to many chocolate based snacks.
A Guide to Meal Replacement Bars
What Is a Meal Replacement Bar?
After my little rant at the start of this best of, I find my self obliged to state what I consider a meal replacement bar. It will be a complete food product that will provide you with both macronutrients and micronutrients in a balanced way, according to the health guidelines.
Thus, it will contain fats, carbohydrates and protein in sensible levels; and it will not be overly rich in any of the three macronutrients (unless it is a keto bar and it has high fat content).
Together with that, it will provide you all the essential amino acids, fatty acids (like omega-3), and fiber that your body requires to function properly and prevent long term health issues.
Finally, they will include all vitamins and minerals in the bars and not just a few. For instance, a bar with 400kcal (20% of your daily caloric income, based on a 2,000kcal diet) should include 20% of your vitamins and minerals.
Is a Protein Bar a Meal Replacement Bar?
This is a common misconception people seem to have, particularly seeing how much of a positive connotation the word “protein” carries in our society. Nevertheless, protein bars are NOT a meal replacement bar.
As the name suggests, they are but a way to boost your protein intake, a snack with considerable amounts of protein. You can skip the occasional meal with a protein bar, but you should not used them with that objective regularly.
- The macronutrient distribution will be unbalanced, they will have too much protein. E.g. Quest Protein bar: 25% of energy from carbs, 31% from fat and %44 from protein.
- Besides the quantities, there is also the issue of quality. Protein bars mostly care about providing you with good protein; thus, they will have low tier carb and fat sources. Plus, they will not give you give you essential fatty acids like omega-3s.
- Vitamins and minerals. Most protein bars will have none or close to none.
Things to Look For When Buying a Meal Replacement Bar
Then, what should I look for if I am looking to replace my meals with a bar? What would the ideal meal replacement bar have?
First and foremost, it should have an sensible spread of macronutrients. The European Food and Safety Agency has the following Acceptable Macronutrient Distribution Ranges (AMDR) for a healthy diet:
- Carbohydrates: 45-65% of the total energy.
- Fats: 20-35% of the total energy.
- Protein: 10-30% of the total energy.
Anything close to these is admissible.
Secondly, it should contain a good source of protein that will provide you with all the amino-acid you need. Equally, it should contain mostly monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats, and few saturated fats. It is primordial that includes some omega-3 fatty acids, since Western diet is deficient on it (imbalances in omega-3/6 can cause obesity and other health issues). Similarly, you should look for a bar without too many sugars, and good amount of fiber.
Finally, each bar should at least have all the vitamins and minerals that you require in relation to how many calories it has. For example, a 400kcal bar should have 20% of your vitamins and minerals.
Issues with Meal Replacement Bars
While all this sounds simple to achieve, the reality is that manufacturing a well balanced meal replacement bar is full of complications. This is partially due to the restrictions in the format and the ingredients that you can use.
For example, you will see an increase of saturated fat content in bars (when comparing to powder). The issue with fats is that monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fatty acids are liquid in room temperature, whereas saturated fatty acids are solid. Thus, they are easier to use in bars.
Similarly, when we look at carbohydrates, we will observe that not many use oats (great source of dietary fiber and complex carbs). Why, if they are so common in powders? Oats in bars would not be milled as finely and would cause issues with the texture (fibrous) and consistency of the bar.
On top of that, oats do not bind very well. In fact, binding is why you would see so many sugars, syrups and sugar alcohols. They add moisture, improve the texture and make the bars tastier. Unfortunately, high sugars are too common.
Even after all that there are multiple issues like the effect that vitamins and minerals have on the taste and texture, how to bind all the ingredients together, how to achieve a good texture, how to make sure it stays edible for long etc.
Those who are more picky with what they eat, and avoid sugars, artificial ingredients, sugar alcohols and so on; they will have a hard time finding the right meal replacement bars. Here are some of the ingredients that people find controversial (all these are deemed safe by the FDA, ESFA and other health authorities):
- Maltitol. This is a sugar alcohol, or a sugar substitute, that provides similar sweetness to sugar, but without so many calories. Among the negative effects, it can cause stomachal pain, act as laxative or cause diharrea in extreme cases.
- Agave syrup. Agave syrup is a sweetener that is 50-60% fructose and 20% glucose. The issue is that fructose is metabolized in the liver, and when excess, fructose is rapidly converted into fat.
- Glucose syrup. It is a syrup made of 90% glucose from the hydrolysis of potato, wheat or corn. Because it is easily broken down in the digestive system, it goes directly to your bloodstream causing a spike in blood sugar. Excess sugar is linked with obesity and diabetes type 2.
- Erythritol. This is a sugar alcohol with very low energy output (0.24kcal/g), when compared to normal carbs (4kcal/g). However, it still adds sweetness. While most studies have proven erythritol to be save for human consumption, excessive consumption of 50g in a meal could cause you stomachal pain.
Are Bars as Healthy as Meal Replacement Powders?
In short, no. There are multiple reasons for this, some related to previously discussed topics and the limitations of formulating a meal replacement bar.
In general terms, meal replacement bars will have one or more of the following:
- High amounts of saturated fats.
- High levels of sugars or sugar alcohols.
- Lack of complex carbohydrate sources, such as, oats.
- More artificial ingredients.
- Lack of phytonutrients.
- Limited macronutrient distributions.
Counter-intuitively, most of the meal replacement powders will be closer to “real-food” than meal replacement bars will. This is due to the fact, that you will find more synthetic components in the bars and less whole food based ingredients.
Yes, since they will provide you all the nutrients you need per meal in a balanced way. While, I personally think that they are not as healthy as the shakes; bars are still a more portable and convenient alternative.
I would strongly advise against it. Even though, they can be used to replace meals in a daily basis, they often contain high sugar levels or laxative ingredients that if consumed too much in a day can cause negative health effects.
Yes, you can get a meal replacement bar under €2/400kcal. However, they will be more expensive than meal replacement powders.
Both have pros and cons. While being the optimal meals to have on the go, bars are better for travelling (particularly air), require less space and generate less waste. RTDs on the other hand, do not require you to drink water, and tend to be nutritionally more balanced.
Most of the meal replacement bars are vegan. However, Feed. Coconut is my favourite.
This selection of the best meal replacement bars has been fairly critical. While I think that in Europe the selection is good enough, that is not the case for most of the world. Not only that, but I feel like sub par products are being promoted in certain countries (USA, for example).
I also have the general feeling that meal replacement bars are not as nutritious as their powder counterparts. Thus, in spite of their usefulness, I would recommend limited usage. I hope I cause no fear, but promote critical thinking and conscious purchasing.
1.US Health Guidelines 2015-2020.
4. More in: latestfuels.com/resources. A compilation with different governmental guidelines and references.
5. Ultimate Meal Replacement List. List with all the brands.