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!

    • Don’t be ridiculous

      Perhaps that has more to do with the app and less to do with the bars intrinsic nutritional value.

  • 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).

    • droach587

      Its for working out, not casual snacking. This is a dietary supplement for people who engage in hi-energy active lifestyles.

      • Shari Peterson

        My hub and I eat them after Muay Thai and other days from the gym. They are not meal replacements.

  • 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.

    • dan

      totally agree

    • Shari Peterson

      Agreed. Plus how does a natural flavor suddenly become something made in a lab? I eat maybe 4-6 of these a week along with lots of fruits and vegetables, being a vegetarian. I am 46 and in excellent health. :)

      • Kataclysm1k

        Natural flavors made in labs have the same molecular structure/formula as the ones found in nature. Your body, a biologist, a chemist will find them identical

        • Day

          As a biologist with chemistry background, no we would not find them identical

  • 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://www.fooducate.com/ Fooducate

      Would be wonderful to learn what those natural flavors are. Unfortunately, they are lab-made materials, not something you would add in your kitchen.

      • http://www.greeneyedguide.com/ Danielle Robertson

        Made in a lab doesn’t automatically make it unsafe just as natural, straight from the ground, doesn’t automatically make something safe or healthy. Would you agree? If the label says “natural flavor” then according to the Code of Federal Regulations the flavor cannot be synthetic. “Nature-identical” is a different story and decidedly beyond the scope of this conversation. (Good article on this debate and its complexities in Reply Post, below) Context matters a great deal when it comes to food safety and unfortunately crucial details get overlooked when nutrition advice is dumbed down. Do I think this Quest bar is better than whole food? No, I’m just saying that identifying food/ingredients that are good for you is not as simple as drawing the line at whether something was made in a lab or a kitchen.

  • 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.

    • Don’t be ridiculous

      Whether or not you like the taste and your personal hatred of anything you would label a fake sugar have nothing to do with whether or not these bars are healthy. Likewise, your feeling that “healthy” was just “slapped” on this label also has nothing to do with whether or not the bars are, in fact, healthy to eat.
      I’m not saying they are healthy, but your personal tastes and prejudices are completely irrelevant to the question.

  • 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.

    • Don’t be ridiculous

      Agreed. This is an opinion, not fact-based, article, and judging from it, I would not trust the author’s judgement on anything. The writer, after all, may or may not be Elvis writing under a pseudonym from his secret fortress on Mars, where he grows Mars bars on trees.

  • 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.

    • Shari Peterson

      Yeah I’d love to drum up $150 for some raw protein product! It’s just not in the stars quite yet. :) I hear they had a production stop though at One World a few months ago. Not sure if it was a labeling issue or what.

      http://www.one-world-whey.com/

  • 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.

  • fiskers

    If you don’t have the time to make your own healthy meal or lack the cooking skills then go ahead and eat some dirt bars. They aren’t a meal replacement bar, they still don’t taste that great, you’re only boosting your ego because you think you’re treating yourself to something yummy, guilt-free. Eat real food. And stay away from whole greens, e coli is a nasty bitch.

  • IJ

    As far as protein bars go, this is the best one that you can find on the market — pretty much all protein bars use some form of processed protein be it whey or soy. If you’re one of those hipsters looking for truly all-natural foods, then you probably shouldn’t be eating anything out of a plastic wrapper, let alone a protein bar. This whole article assumes the wrong thing about people that choose to eat these bars, and so it’s all moot.

    • Shari Peterson

      What’s weird is it approaches it as if it’s a review but it’s really to trash all things in a package. Any bar is going to have the same review if it comes in a wrapper – it’s packaged, you should have fruits & veggies instead.

  • Dominique

    I completely agree. Anyone that is trying to be healthy is doing them self a disfavor by eating these bars. Artificial and no calorie sweeteners have a laundry list of negative effects on the body. I don’t know how anyone can convince themselves that these bars are considered ‘clean’.

    • Shari Peterson

      When I am en route between work and Muay Thai and I have but one hand free and 30 minutes, I eat a bar. COMPARED to other bars this one is just not bad. Is it 100% clean? No. It doesn’t say it’s organic either so I am not convincing myself of that.

      If it had sugar someone would complain. No matter what, anything put in a bar to add sweetness (and stevia just doesn’t cut it for many people, still bitter) isn’t going to pass someone’s muster. My one issue on this is that the starting molecule for the sugar alcohol might be extracted from GMO corn which hasn’t been verified – if it is, I would stop eating the brand all altogether.

    • Dave

      Easy to make accusations about negative effects of these sweeteners. Where is your proof ? Stevia and Sucralose have been in use for many years and have been shown to be safe for a great majority of people. ANY food has negative effects on some people. Huge numbers of people have allergies to “Natural” milk and many get violently ill or die from peanuts to name a couple. Come to think of it, how healthy is “natural” sugar ? It’s the main cause of obesity and early deaths. Let’s keep things in perspective here.

  • Quest Rep.

    It’s the Quest bar bandwagon!! Bottom line it’s just not as good as you fan-boys believe. Nothing with Sucralose is.

  • dan

    yeah you dont know what youre talking about

  • Stone

    Do you even lift?

  • droach587

    I fully disagree. I’ve been eating these for over a year, and I not only feel great, my health and wellbeing are proof enough. Most proteins you find in products these days are a bi-product of one or another item. Lastly, if you follow this company you will know that they hide nothing about their product, and truly aim to provide beneficial, supportive products to their end users.

  • Ves

    You guys are only looking at it from one angle… Determining if its healthy is one debate but what is being said is… For instance… Say a bodybuilder wants to eat this, and they are on a strict diet… They want something that won’t effect them in a negative way and still taste good because most of their diet is tasteless… This is not a good option because of what the ingredients truly are. It’s not saying it’s not good to eat, but what it is saying is you might not be getting out of it what you think you my be getting out of it

  • not4me

    By the way… natural flavors can include such nasty things like, Aspartame and msg… no way would I eat a quest bar, any bar that doesn’t list ALL its ingredients is being very misleading… and sucralose, you have to be kidding me…no way… Its a shame these “protein” bars are still mostly crap ingredients… I hope some day there will be a protein bar with “integrity” …

  • Idunno Maybe

    If it does have the cheese by product builders use then it’s a amino acid that we need and, it can help you lose weigh too. I think it’s cla that cheese produces and ,it’s expensive to buy by itself so if you get it in a bar them it’s a bonus

  • Idunno Maybe

    And, it seems very unlikely companies would make something bad for you becuz of one simple thing, it’s bad for business.
    Also, the people that run the companies are me and you so, would you or me knowingly make something and sell it to people knowing it could harm them?
    WHAT would and could you eat without sugar or preservatives? We would all starve if not for large food companies too. Let’s face it, theres 7 billion people on the planet that would starve to death without mass distributors of food. We have choices and they are ours too. You can buy the 2.50 pack of “chicken burgers” knowing it’s the chickens nose and who knows what else is in it besides a pound of sodium or you can buy the high quality fresh chicken at the reliable farm like grocery store.
    Here’s something to ponder too.
    People with Ibs can’t eat healthy food.
    But if they eat mcd’s they feel great.
    It’s all cellular programming from your childhood that makes you decide what to eat. Cellular memory.
    That is , when the body is young it becomes what you eat and remembers,acclimated to it forever.
    Except maybe milk sugars for many.
    So eat what makes YOU healthy and happy not what makes someone else happy and healthy.
    I was raised on corn flakes, cookies and chicken and am happy therefor healthy when I eat that.
    I’m also 53 AND A HALF! :) and look half my age I’m told by so many.
    I eat what makes me happy and I listen to cravings.
    I never eat fibre one but the website about people that do sounds hilarious.
    No pun intended.

    The fart like a model t all day because of it.
    It’s probably a very good food and source of fibre . Lol :)

  • D Coop

    For people who don’t have time to sit around and talk about how much bad food there is out there, quest bars are a great and quick go to snack. I enjoy kind and Lara bars too. You are not scientists and no one really knows what these ingredients do or don’t do. Jus sayin.

  • Andrew Lugavere

    dumb dumb dumb dumb fucking dumb article

    go back on your paleo raw foods diet

  • Cheez Wizard

    “Sucralose is an artificial sweetener that may or may not cause cancer…”

    Sums up the scope of science used in this article, in other news peaches may or may not cause evil tentacle outgrowths

  • mandrews

    Compare apples-to-apples, yes, but this article is pointing out a prevalent argument that what is on the label of nutritional supplements is generally the “tip of the iceberg”. To dismiss the article because you like the bars and don’t want to believe it, which most people seem to be doing (anyone who said ‘yummy’), is unintelligible. It’s like saying the world was created in 6 days because you like the bible. Don’t be stupid. The point is, the company CEO himself admits that IMOs are largely unregulated, tested, or known. He claims they’ve been used for 15 yrs in Asia, but so have sharks’ fins -because they hold some mystical/magical powers. You keep eating the cat in the china-town window. I’ll find a bar that makes logical sense.

  • Kataclysm1k

    The only even slightly downside is if the “fake” fiber truly only affects a portion of the bacteria. The protein quality, sweetness, and flavored are all commonly used and safe. As someone who has a difficult time digesting protein, this bar is a lifesaver. I have to indigestion!!!

  • Bri

    This article was very poorly written. Quest Bars are not meant to be some sort of “miracle” nutrition bar. The biggest use for them is for people looking to build muscle mass – HENCE THE PROTEIN ISOLATE. If someone is looking for nutrition in factory-made snacks, they are doing it all wrong! Of course you must eat healthy with real foods, but if you are looking for a quick protein source, these are perfect and way better than most other brands!