Are Quest Bars Really as Nutritious as Claimed?

Quest bar analysis

Lately, we’ve been hearing more and more from Fooducate community members about Quest Bars. They seem to be tasty, they have an impressive nutrition facts panel, and somebody on their team is doing a kick ass job in marketing.

Quest promotes itself as the “#1 Protein Bar” and at first impression the nutrition numbers look very impressive. Take, for example, the Vanilla Almond Crunch Protein Bar. It’s a 200-calorie bar, but only has half a gram of saturated fat. It’s got 20 grams of protein, which is 40% of the recommended daily intake. The fiber count is super high at 18 grams, almost three fourths of the daily requirement. Most Americans lack woefully in fiber intake; here an individual can erase her deficit with a single bar. Quest sells itself as a low sugar, low carb solution, claiming only 2-6 “net carbs”. Indeed, only 22 grams of carbs, of which 18 are fiber, and just 1 gram of sugars. Amazing.

But then you take a look at the ingredient list, and the house of cards comes crumbling down. This product has “gamed” the nutrition facts panel by using food-like ingredients to compose the bar. Let’s have a look at the Ingredient list:

Protein blend (whey protein isolate, milk protein isolate), isomalto-oligosaccharides, almonds, water, natural flavors, sea salt, lo han guo, sucralose.

First the pros: It is a short list.

Now for the problems. The protein sources are not something you can make at home or buy from a farmer. Whey protein isolate milk protein isolates are a byproduct of cheese production. Body builders buy them in powdered form to add to food and drink. In some cases, they may cause digestive problems such as bloating, cramps, and gas.

Next are the isomalto-oligosaccharides (IMO), the source of fiber in the bar. It is a syrupy goop that tastes slightly sweet but is not considered a sugar because it is a long chain molecule. Although it is found naturally in fermented foods, it is much cheaper to manufacture it in factories by applying enzymes to various starch sources. The problem with ingesting 18 grams of this IMO, is that it feeds only a small subset of our gut bacteria.

A balanced diet with a variety of fruits, vegetables, legumes, and whole grains will provide a much better fiber profile for your digestive system. In our book, IMO is a fake fiber. Incidentally, Quest is being sued now, with the plaintiffs claiming that the actual fiber count is lower than stated in the package.

But we digress.

Whenever we see natural flavors added to a product, we try to imagine what it would taste like without them. Added flavors are made in labs and serve to mask the lack of flavor of the other ingredients in the product. Ask yourself this – do you need to add natural flavors to food you prepare at home?

On to sweeteners.

Lo han guo, also known as monk fruit, is the Chinese equivalent of stevia. Instead of a leaf, this is a fruit. Monk fruit extracts, called mogrosides, can be processed to manufacture a powdered sweetener that is 200 times sweeter than sugar.

Sucralose is an artificial sweetener that may or may not cause cancer, bowel disease, and DNA alterations in mice. We understand that despite no added sugars, this bar is rather sweet due to the addition of processed and artificial sweeteners.

Bottom line:

This product is engineered to taste good and look like a nutrition powerhouse. In fact, it is a highly processed food-like product that we would not eat.

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  • Amy

    completely agree!

  • SixCatFaerie

    Just downright scary! Every bar I’ve ever scanned with the Fooducate app gets a low score for a reason. Eat real food!

  • GG

    I have a hard time with comments noting that the protein sources are, “not something you can make at home or buy from a farmer.” Well, that goes for most protein sources! I’m very athletic so I keep an eye on making sure I get enough protein to continue building muscle, and the amount of protein I would get from non-processed food sources like nuts, seeds, tofu, peanut butter, cheese, and eggs would also be pretty high in calories. Unless you eat meat, what are your options for on-the-go, high-protein, low-calorie foods that AREN’T processed? (Incidentally, I eat a Clif brand Builder’s Bar every morning, and that works great for me.)

    • Gratefully Anonymous

      Non processed protein sources with very low calories:

      1)PB2 – powdered peanut butter (most of the fat is removed) you mix with water. Found at GNC or online.
      2)Egg whites.

      • Just an FYI

        He also added “on-the-go”…

        • Gratefully Anonymous

          Thank you, I will try to be more specific. Prepare the following in advance, at home,, pack in tupperware in a soft cooler with an ice pack if desired. Bring with you to eat at work, assuming your commute isn’t too long.

          1) Hard boiled eggs
          2) Sandwich of PB2 and sliced half banana on healthy bread
          3) Healthy “Egg McMuffin” reheated in a microwave
          4) Snack on edamame–there are plenty of plant based vegan athletes–even body builders–who get enough protein. Don’t believe the protein myth.

          Free advice done. :-) Hire a registered dietitian if you want more advice.

      • michelle

        ‘Powdered peanut butter (most of the fat is removed)’ – how is this significantly different from the protein sources picked on by the article? Both are processed and I’m pretty sure you don’t powder peanut butter and remove the fat yourself at home!

    • Dani

      If you’re athletic and work out a lot I think you can handle nutrient dense foods with a little more calories

  • Carol H

    “They have an impressive nutrition facts panel”. No, they don’t… and for the reasons you give — too much protein and fiber. Your body doesn’t need a snack with so much of either in a small 200-calorie package. Ironic that the lawsuit thinks less fiber is a problem here, when they should be complaining about too much (it isn’t healthy)! Massive amounts of fiber in one sitting will send food down your GI tract too rapidly to absorb any good nutrients (= $$ down the toilet). And the body actually prefers CARBS as a source of quick energy … not protein (it takes too long to digest and convert to energy). Save the meat/protein for one or two of your meals of the day AFTER you have done your exercise. Yes…by now, everyone should know to eat whole grains, beans, vegs/fruit to get fiber — they are loaded (but not overloaded) with it, along with other good stuff. For a nut with less fat try chestnuts; but the fat in nuts is good stuff — just don’t eat too many before strenuous exercise (fat, like protein, takes long to digest).

  • overseaschinese

    Just to add a bit on the Natural Flavours. For this particular flavour – Vanilla Almond, both flavours can be sourced naturally. Vanilla Extract can be as natural as one can make at home, it can be commercially extracted to be somewhat cost effective for manufacturers to use. For the Almond flavour, the main flavouring component would be the Benzaldehyde. While it is commonly found as synthetic, there is a growing desire for a NATURAL Benzaldehyde extracted from almonds. It is not only expensive, but can be toxic due to the remnants of cyanide if it is not processed properly.

    Whether they really used natural flavours in the product is a different subject matter although I hope the manufacturer has declared truthfully.

  • 4theluv

    I must disagree. I use Quest bars regularly specifically because of the protein bars out there it is lowest in sugar and fat, and high in protein. For me they are not a snack, but rather a meal replacement on those days I am running too much. While I prefer personally prepared whole foods, and that us my norm, these are my go to instead of the fast food places. There is not a single ingredient listed in this article that causes me any concerns (despite the hysterianic language of what things “may or may not” cause – really? Wth does that even mean?) My biggest complaint is that their cost is so high, though still much cheaper and better than the drive through.

  • Karrina

    Oh please. It’s much healthier then other protien bars out there so I’m sticking with my yummy quest bars<3 I really don't see anything wrong with them.

  • http://greeneyedguide.com/ Danielle Robertson

    While I don’t like the taste of Quest Bars, I have to disagree with the assessment of using “natural flavors”. Some natural healthy foods like wheat grass, Brussels sprouts and certain grains like quinoa don’t exactly taste yummy on their own, so in your kitchen you might add seasoning and spices to, wait for it, add more flavor. I think it’s short-sighted to judge a product on whether or not it contains natural flavor.

  • http://freeingimperfections.com/ Melissa @ Freeing Imperfection

    Finally some common sense. I got 2 of these bars for free to try and I hated them both. The taste was disgusting and way too sweet. I hate fake sugars and don’t get why “healthy” is slapped onto this label.

  • nthmost

    What? You can make whey protein at home. People have been doing so for centuries.

    http://www.wikihow.com/Make-Homemade-Whey

    And Quest actually guarantees that the whey they use will not contain lactose, which is the part that usually upsets people’s tummies.

    Whey protein is also clinically shown to feed muscle growth much better than most other proteins, reduce inflammation, and provide a nearly-optimal amino acid profile for humans.

    But, hey, eat factory farmed chicken instead, or whatever. More whey protein for me. :)

    • barless

      quest bar’s dairy source is probably factory farmed so… enjoy your factory farmed whey? doesn’t say rBGH free either.

  • michelle

    I find it interesting how naturally occurring compounds which can be synthesized to be more cost-effective are labelled as ‘fake’ like it’s such a terrible thing.. They’re identical and your body doesn’t recognize the difference between the naturally occurring source and synthesized one as long as there aren’t other undesirable side products which would be a different issue altogether.
    Make sure you’re properly informed and point to real side effects and risks so that we can take articles more seriously, instead of highlighting ‘fake fiber’ when it’s also found naturally in certain foods. I’m sure there are more sound arguments to make, don’t just use scare words.

    • Skip

      I am not a huge fan of these bars (or any “bars” for that matter) but this article is weak, at best.

  • Paula V

    Grow up!

  • JessicaHoward01

    The ingredients aren’t great, but they’re not the worst either. These would be better for most of america to eat as a meal or snack than what’s being consumed on a daily basis..i.e., McDOnald’s, BK, etc. Also, it’s got less ingredients than 90% of “food” on the shelves today. I give them a 7 out of 10.

  • Matt

    There will always be critics, doubters and the nerds who have to research, analyze and point out every scientific flaw in everything. Find out what is best for you and stick with it. Don’t let these food geeks steal your hunger for what you love. There are much worse things out there.

  • bmoney

    I think the whole impetus of this article is flawed: if you’re going to review a protein bar as it is (a protein bar), then compare it to other protein bars, not natural foods. It would be like comparing the nutritional value of an apple fruit snack to eating an apple. Obviously if I could eat a grilled chicken salad, banana and a low-calorie electrolyte drink while driving back to work from a noon workout, I would. It’s a Captain Obvious move to point out that natural proteins, fruits and vegtables are better for you than manufactured protein bars, and slam a bar because it doesn’t stack-up against a whole meal.

  • Kay

    First of all, natural flavors aren’t as “natural” as you think. The FDA lets these companies get away with so much it’s disgusting. A “natural flavor” ingredient can literally be extracted from the back end of a beaver! Read this article: http://foodbabe.com/2011/12/01/chemical-warfare-with-natural-flavor/comment-page-1/#comments
    I can’t believe companies get away with this. Don’t trust anything labeled with natural flavors and believe me, it’s in almost every packaged food. And also, Matt, who calls the food researchers nerds-we aren’t nerds and we aren’t out to get anyone. We are just more health conscious than the rest of America which BY THE WAY is becoming more and more obese. Don’t be a hater. Be thankful because they are helping you become more informed. Oh yea, and did I mention we are seeing more cases of cancer and heart disease now than ever? I wonder why… We are the people who have seen our loved ones die of these diseases and I know part of it may be genetics but a lot of it has to do with the food that we put in our bodies! Just stick with the basics…REAL food…fruits and veggies.

  • kristin

    I love Quest bars but now that I’m aware of bad ingredient Sucralose/ splenda –I might not eat very many.. What about replacing Sucralose with Stevia..?

  • JoAnn

    Note that there are “natural” QuestBars with NO artificial sweeteners (no Splenda/sucralose). The natural flavors use stevia and erythritol. They come in double chocolate chunk, chocolate peanut putter, cinnamon roll, strawberry cheesecake, coconut cashew, lemon cream pie, and banana nut muffin flavors. I am a fan, I must admit. I just had the urge for something sweet after lunch and ate a double chocolate chunk bar instead of opening the box of Girl Scout cookies that were beckoning. Yes, I probably should have eaten an apple. But I think the QuestBar was a better choice than the Thin Mints. :-)

    I think eaten in moderation, QuestBars are not at all bad for you. They’re much better for you than other so-called protein bars.

  • Renè hunter

    This article was downright bad. Theres no real facts that has any deep meaning to them. More opinions and unrelated listings of scenarios. This person should be banned from writing as long as he cant be realistic.

  • kale

    there are natural, vegan protein bars with 20-22 grams of protein but people avoid them because they are so high in carbs. carbs from dates and raw agave syrup usually. organic food bar raw vegan protein bar is great but i do wish they would cut out the agave. the dates and raisins are sweet enough and more than enough carbs. i wish sunwarrior would make a low carb, high protein bar with stevia.

    studies have shown brown rice and a combination of plant based proteins are the same as whey when it comes to muscle growth and maintenance. protein is protein. some even say the raw protein is absorbed even better! and it is less likely to make you bloat too.

  • fitfoodie0000

    Nobody has claimed quest bars are “healthy and nutritious”. They are popular because for people for fit people trying to decrease their body fat or put on lean muscle (ie body builders, trainers, or anyone looking to drop those last five vanity pounds), these bars provide an ideal amount of protein and fiber as a snack while tasting like their favorite desserts that they can no longer have. I always advocate for eating whole and nutritious foods and would not put quest bars into that category. However, when in a caloric deficit they keep me incredible full, prevent a late night oreo binge when I’m on a low carb day, and contribute to my large daily protein requirement without taking the time up of cooking meat. It may not have any micronutrients or be “real” food, but it has the perfect macronutrient profile for an afternoon snack for someone who is looking for a 1-2% change in their body composition.