Gluten-Free Food Bars: There's One for Every Special Diet
We sorted through the snack aisles to find the best packaged GF bars that you can buy!
Looking for a quick snack or some convenient protein-filled mid-day nourishment? There are a wide variety of gluten-free bars on the market to meet your needs. Nutritional snack bars are the modern answer for a meal on the go. Convenient and portable in an easy-to-grab package, a gluten-free bar can tide you over whether you’re traveling by car or plane, running between appointments or eating at your desk.
The sheer number of gluten-free bars lining the snack aisle can be overwhelming. The varieties seem almost endless—protein bars, nut bars, grain-based bars and more. Fortunately, Gluten Free & More is here to help you navigate the gluten-free packaged product landscape!
With so many snack and protein bars on the market, you are sure to find your ideal bar. Certified gluten-free, vegan and nut-free? We found that. A peanut butter chocolate bar that’s dairy-free and packed with 20 grams of protein? We found that, too. Looking for a bar with just 1 gram of sugar? High-fiber? One that tastes like a birthday cake? Found it. One with caffeine for an extra boost? Grain-free? There’s a bar for that.
According to Snack Food & Wholesale Bakery magazine, nearly half of bar sales come from three companies—KIND, Clif and Atkins (all varieties of KIND, LUNA from Clif and Atkins’ Harvest Trail bar are gluten-free). But there are hundreds of brands that account for the rest of consumer spending, and many are also gluten-free.
Food Bar Basics
Are you confused by all the different types of bars, whether protein bars, high-protein bars, snack bars, granola bars, meal replacement bars, energy bars, pre-workout bars, post-workout bars or low-sugar bars?
Unfortunately, there’s no industry standard for defining what each of these means. Our advice? Look at the ingredients to see what’s best for your needs. Opt for high fiber and high protein if you want to keep full and for lower sugar to prevent spikes in your blood sugar. Always look out for allergens like peanuts, tree nuts, soy, eggs and dairy—all prevalent in gluten-free bars.
Protein Bars, Meal Replacement Bars, and Energy Bars
Check the protein source to see if it fits your dietary needs. Does it come from soy protein, whey protein, pea protein, egg whites, nuts or another source? Are you trying to get more protein than a typical meal? If so, you might want an ultra-high protein bar with 20 grams of protein. Are you replacing a meal, like a hamburger patty, that would normally contain 10 grams of protein? If so, you might not need an ultra-high protein bar.
If you’re eating bars just for a snack (not for meal replacement), take a good look at their protein and sugar content. Some snack bars are loaded with chocolate and dried fruit and they have more sugar than a candy bar. For a more satiating snack, look for nut-based bars (if tolerated) rather than grain-based bars.
These bars tend to be grain-based, often containing oats. Look for bars that are certified gluten-free or that contain certified gluten-free oats. Many granola bars go beyond oats—they might contain nuts, seeds or dried fruit in a variety of flavors.
Sugar can come in different forms, such as added sugar, like cane sugar or tapioca syrup, or naturally occurring sugar from dried fruit like dates. Some bars have zero-calorie sugar alcohols, such as maltitol or sorbitol. If you’re looking for an easy way to reduce your sugar intake, opt for bars without added chocolate chips or chocolate drizzle.
Trends in the Food Bar Market
We’ve been walking trade shows like the Winter Fancy Foods Show and Natural Products Expo West to pick up on the latest trends in gluten-free nutritional bars. Here’s what’s trending.
▶ Bars with Benefits: Many bars contain added ingredients for extra nutritional benefits. Some of these functional bars have ingredients that address specific aspects of health. Top trends are bars that add antioxidants, superfoods, hidden veggies or adaptogenic herbs such as ginseng, said to help your body’s response to stress, or ashwagandha, an Ayurvedic ingredient said to combat anxiety and depression.
▶ Paleo: Grain-free or paleo bars continue to be popular. These bars have ingredients like nuts, seeds and dried fruit. Some paleo-friendly bars contain dark chocolate.
▶ Bite Size: While we’re talking about bars, we can’t miss bars’ other half—the bites. These snackable bites are typically high in protein and full of “clean” ingredients (without a lot of unnecessary filler ingredients).
Many readers tell us that they’re looking for high-protein bars—bars that can keep them fuller longer or address nutritional deficiencies. These are often touted as “meal replacement” bars. Some contain 20 grams (or more) of protein in one bar.
Sometimes, high protein can make a bar less palatable. But it doesn’t always mean bad taste. Added protein can come in many forms. Plant protein might be from pea, hemp, sunflower, brown rice or soy. Animal protein can come from whey, egg whites, collagen and even crickets!
Each protein has a unique taste and texture, so try a few. If nuts are tolerated, try a nut-based bar that gets its protein content from peanuts or tree nuts instead of a manufactured protein powder or isolate.
The Sugar Content in Snack Bars
Over half of our readers surveyed want a bar that is low in sugar. But some snack bars contain more sugar and calories than a candy bar! Recently, we were eating a bar and noticed that it contained 26 grams of sugar—that’s more than an Almond Joy (20 grams) or a package of Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups (22 grams).
Sweetness can come from added sugars like cane sugar or agave syrup or from natural sources like dates. For those with sensitive stomachs (like us), be careful of added sweeteners like xylitol, sorbitol, stevia and monk fruit. These may cause digestive distress for some.
Always be sure to check the serving size on the label. Look out for tricky packages that show more than one serving per bar—you may end up eating more calories, sugar and fat than you’d like.
Taste is the Most Important Review Factor
It’s no surprise that readers are looking for bars that taste good. Over 75% want their bars to taste great. (Quite frankly, we don’t know why it isn’t 100%!) However, as we gluten-free folks know, sometimes you have to compromise on taste to get what you want, such as grain-free or nut-free bars that have more protein and less sugar.
Certified Safe for Celiacs
More than 85% of our readers want a bar that is certified gluten-free. However, many of their favorite bars are not certified gluten-free. These bars may be labeled gluten-free but they don’t have third-party certifications.
The FDA requires that any product labeled gluten-free contains less than 20 ppm of gluten. Gluten-free certifications may require that the product test less than that—typically 10 ppm of gluten or lower. Certification also means that there is third-party oversight of the manufacturer’s gluten-free processes and ingredients.
Where to Buy GF Snack Bars
Natural grocery stores like Whole Foods Market, Natural Grocers and Sprouts are the best places to find a huge selection of gluten-free bars. While only 13% of our readers shop online for bars, don’t overlook websites like Amazon and Thrive Market, which offer a wide variety of bars, often at a discount.
Do-It-Yourself Granola Bars
Can’t find what you’re looking for? Make it yourself! Only a quarter of our readers have tried to make their own snack bars. Most say that they don’t have enough time or that homemade is too difficult.
Don’t fret. We promise that it’s easy to make snack bars from scratch. Turn to “Healthy Homemade Bars” for delicious recipes from Gluten Free & More’s food editor Beth Hillson. They’re quick to put together and easy on your wallet.
For a semi-homemade option, try a protein bar mix. Creation Nation recently launched a line of certified gluten-free mixes. Just add your own liquid, nut butter or oil, and sweetener to taste.
Readers’ Favorite GF Snack Bars
We asked our readers about their favorite bars. Most of these bars are not certified gluten-free, but the companies that make them have good manufacturing processes in place to test for gluten. We polled the Gluten Free & More team and everyone agreed with our readers’ favorites.
Here’s a closer look at some of our readers’ favorite brands of gluten-free bar. See our chart for nutritional details and for GF&M's reviews of other great gluten-free bars.
|Readers' Favorite GF Snack Bars|
|Pamela's Whenever Bars||4%|
|Any other brand||37%|
|Availability plays a factor. Top-pick bars are widely distibuted. Most of these bars are not certified gluten-free but the companies have good manufacturing processes in place to test for gluten.|
KIND bars are everywhere—from gas stations to airports. We love the variety and accessibility of these tasty bars. Options range from sweet and savory bars to grain bars, breakfast bars, protein bars and fruit bars. Readers love KIND’s unique spices as well as the satisfying crunch of their nut and seed bars.
Allergens: Many contain peanuts and tree nuts. Some contain dairy and soy. All are processed in a facility with peanuts, soy and tree nuts.
LARABAR original bars are widely available and come in a variety of flavors including seasonal flavors like gingerbread. They’re made from a few simple ingredients with no fillers—just nuts, dates, fruit, vegetables, even chocolate. LARABARs taste like the wholesome ingredients inside—the Blueberry Muffin flavor tastes just like a blueberry muffin with only five ingredients.
Allergens: All contain peanuts and/or tree nuts.
LUNA, part of the Clif Bar family, offers a variety of gluten-free protein bars that were originally aimed at women but now appeal to all. Varieties include protein bars with soy and whey protein, low-sugar bars and the new LUNA Rica that satisfies sweet cravings. Their unusual flavors like LemonZest, S’mores and Chocolate Cupcake make them a hit.
Allergens: All bars contain or may contain dairy, peanuts, soy or tree nuts.
Pamela’s Products, celebrating its 30th anniversary this year, is a staple brand in most gluten-free pantries. The certified gluten-free Whenever bars are a perfect soft-baked mix of oats, nuts and fruits. They’re truly for “whenever” moments—for snacks between meals, a nibble at your desk or a pick-up on the plane.
Allergens: Contains eggs and tree nuts; made on equipment that processes dairy, peanuts, soy.
RXBAR offers about 30 flavors made from egg whites, nuts and dates (egg protein is a popular new way to add protein to snack bars). Their high-protein content (10 grams and over), simple wholesome ingredients and appealing flavors make RXBAR a favorite. Each bar is free from artificial colors, flavors, preservatives and fillers.
Allergens: All contain eggs, tree nuts and/or peanuts and are made in a facility with dairy, eggs, peanuts, soy, tree nuts and wheat.
thinkThin bars come in a variety of decadent flavors like Cookies and Creme, White Chocolate, Caramel Fudge and our favorite, Creamy Peanut Butter. The different varieties of thinkThin bars are high in protein with no refined sugar; they’re sweetened with maltitol. Most contain dairy. The creamy “frosting” of these bars makes them taste like a treat.
Allergens: Most contain dairy, peanuts, soy and tree nuts and are made in a facility with eggs.