Friday, January 17, 2014

Review: Quest protein bars

From time to time, I'm going to talk about specific products, from running gear to other equipment to foods and supplements. When I do, the title of the piece will always be "Review: [product name]." Just so there are no misunderstandings, I'll also link to a place to purchase the product, if I think it worthwhile (and this is usually going to be the case, I'm not planning on reviewing things I don't use and don't like).

One of my goals when I started running was most definitely weight loss. But really, that concern was always secondary to the goal of just getting in shape, of improving my stamina and cardio-vascular system. As I noted previously, I have never been what might be termed fat or overweight. That said, there was plenty of room for improvement (there still is), when it came to body fat. And ditto for muscle mass. I could (and still can) use some more of the latter and less of the former, which is why I did the P90X program and still do some lifting.

Needless to say, the issue of my diet was something I had to address. I increased my consumption of vegetables and fruit, while decreasing my junk food intake. Also, I have tried to eat less red meat and more turkey and fish. Still, snacking has remained a problem. Plus, I wanted to give my body plenty of good protein to maximize my exercise results. So like many people these days, I've turned to protein bars as a means to address these issues.

There are a lot of them on the market, to be sure. Supermarkets stock a huge variety of brands, while even more can be had at specialty health stores like GNC, or at stores that cater to fitness, including must running stores. And of course, there's also the internet, a great place to find those hard to get bars or flavors that no one in a particular area seems to carry. I find that Smoothie Kings (I'm a big fan of them, by the way) tend to carry some of the better bars, as well, though this may not be true everywhere, given the franchise nature of the business.

So which is best? That's going to depend on two things, more often than not: the goal behind the choice and who you are asking. Beware the reviews on the internet--and on wrappers--proclaiming one bar or another to be the best, the top choice of pros, the highest rated, or the like. Unlike in my case, some of those reviews may be coming from someone with a vested interest in selling a particular brand. And the proclamations from the companies themselves are just, well, worthless.

What I was (and still am) looking for is a high-protein, high-fiber bar made from natural ingredients, with minimal sugars that also happens to taste good, though I have one huge caveat: I don't much care for nuts, other than peanuts. The last takes a very popular and--I'm given to understand--a very healthy brand out of the running for me: Kind Bars. Though to be fair, these bars aren't really big on protein, but are more of just a healthy, all natural kind of snacking bar.

Out of all those protein bars, there are many designed primarily for weightlifters. They'e often made with less concern about sugar and carbs, and are promoted as "meal replacement" bars. They're not what I'm looking for. But there are still a ton of choices left, and I've tried a lot of them, checked out their ingredients, or looked for more info on them. At some point, I stumbled upon the one that, right now, has no peers in my opinion: Quest protein bars.

If you check out the website, you'll see--right there in huge letters--a claim: "#1 Protein Bar." And as I just noted, that's not really evidence you can take to the bank. But this is:

  • Quest Bars use whey protein isolate and milk protein isolate, protein sources that are far superior to those in many other popular bars. Both are complete proteins that are easy for the body to absorb and use.
  • Quest Bars are high in protein for their size: a 60 gram bar delivers as much as 21 grams of protein (depending on the variety).
  • Quest Bars use natural sweeteners like stevia and luohan guo (a mogroside from the Chinese monk fruit). These are very efficient sweetners; only very small amounts are needed and neither has been shown to have any ill effects.
  • Quest Bars have very few ingredients and all of them are natural.

With regard to the last, take a look at the ingredient list for my favorite, the Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough bar (I know, right, something with this name shouldn't be this good for you!):
Protein Blend (Whey Protein Isolate, Milk Protein Isolate), Isomalto-Oligosaccharides* (Prebiotic Fiber), Almonds, Water, Unsweetened Chocolate, Cocoa Butter, Erythritol. Contains Less than 2% of the following: Salt, Sucralose, Stevia, Milk Derived Ingredients, Natural Flavorings.
For a comparison, look at the ingredients in a Cookie Dough Balance Bar (which I used to eat, once upon a time):
Protein Blend (Soy Protein Isolate, Whey Protein Isolate, Partially Hydrolyzed Milk Protein Isolate, Casein, Calcium Caseinate), Fructose, Glucose Syrup, Cookies (Wheat Flour, Sugar, Canola Oil, Cocoa (Processed with Alkali), Salt, Sodium Bicarbonate), Sugar, Fractionated Palm Kernel Oil, Nonfat Milk, High Oleic Sunflower Oil. Contains less than 2% of Natural Flavor, Butter (Cream, Salt), Lactose, Cocoa (Processed with Alkali), Soy Lecithin, Maltodextrin, Inulin, Dextrose, Salt, Nonfat Yogurt Powder (Cultured Nonfat Milk), Caramel add for color, Tocopherols added to protect flavor, Soybean Oil.
While the Balance Bar does indeed use some good proteins, it also has all kinds of other stuff that my body really doesn't need, that provide no benefits. In total, it has over thirty ingredients. The Quest bar? Thirteen. The Balance Bar also has less protein (15 grams compared to 21 grams), far less dietary fiber (less than 1 gram compared to 17 grams), and far more sugar (17 grams compared to 1 gram).

Really, there's no comparison here. Other bars out there might do better than the Balance Bar here, some even substantially so, but I have yet to find one that measures up to a Quest bar.

And have I mentioned how good they taste?

Be forewarned, as is usually the case you get what you pay for. The ingredients used by Quest are not cheap. As a result, neither are the bars. On the website, they'll run you $2.39 per bar, or a pack of twelve for $24.99. That's not cheap. But it's money well spent, in my opinion.