Clif Bars Have Lowered the Bar on Health

by | Feb 15, 2019

Unhealthy Clif Bars

A Love Affair That Ended in Divorce 

For years and years, I was a HUGE Clif Bar fan. Despite being health-conscious, and otherwise avoiding junk food the vast majority of the time, I had somehow convinced myself that Clif Bars were a perfectly healthy nutrition bar. My favorite flavor was chocolate chip peanut crunch.

If you can relate, I’ll give you fair warning now: after reading this article, things may never be the same again. Whether you’re pondering quitting Clif Bars like me or bringing them into your diet, I hope this post will help you make an informed decision. 

Clif Bars Actually Could Be Good for You, If…

Before I start hating too much on Clif Bars, I am going to attempt to be fair and balanced. While there are many cons, there are also some pros. They may be an acceptable energy bar choice if you’re:

✅ An endurance athlete and you need a lot of energy

✅ Could keep up with the rock climber on the Clif Bar wrapper

✅ Not concerned about losing or gaining weight

✅ Don’t count calories and have never batted an eye at carbs

✅ Not sensitive to sugar

✅ Free of health conditions that could be aggravated by gluten, grains, lectins, soy, and preservatives

Not a Nutrition Bar

Even if you can check off all the boxes above, don’t go eating Clif Bars every day. And, definitely don’t use them as a meal replacement: they’re still not a legitimate source of nutrition. 

That said, if you must…the healthiest (least unhealthy?) Clif Bar flavor is probably Nuts and Seeds.

How Much Sugar Is in a Clif Bar?

My friend recently described Clif bars as “adult candy bars“ and was shocked when I told her I had been eating them every day. There’s a reason they taste so good: it’s called sugar. Clif Bars have 20g of sugar or more. No, it does not help that the sugar is from brown rice syrup (although that’s exactly what they want you to believe).

Clif Bar was recently sued for making misleading claims about their bars being nutritious. The suit alleges that there’s too much added sugar for this bar to be healthy. #JustSayNo

How Many Carbs Are in a Clif Bar?

Clif Bars have an additional 20+ grams of complex carbs, which brings their carbohydrate count even higher. Many flavors, such as White Chocolate Macadamia Nut, tip the scales at over 45g total carbs. They come in at around 250 calories, which is fine except that most of the calories come from carbs.

Soy Protein Is for Sissies (Unless it’s Fermented) 

The trouble with the soy protein in Clif Bars is that it has not been naturally fermented, making it difficult to digest. Traditional cultures who have eaten soy products for thousands of years have always fermented them before consumption. The fermented soybeans below, Natto, is actually considered to be a superfood.

Fermentation naturally breaks soy down into digestible compounds, making it much more nutritious. It’s important to note that just because non-fermented soy doesn’t give you a stomach ache does not mean your body is digesting it efficiently.

Don’t Be Seen Eating Soy at the Gym 

No self-respecting bodybuilder would ever be caught dead eating soy protein when they could be eating whey protein instead. Whey protein is easily absorbed in the upper digestive tract, which means the Branch Chain Amino Acids it’s loaded with can get to your muscles fast, helping with recovery. Go with grass-fed whey protein and you’ll also get 4x more CLA (Conjugated Linoleic Acid).

What’s more, soy molecules can mimic the effects of estrogen, potentially causing hormonal imbalances (seriously, it sounds crazy but it’s been documented). Even if you’re not trying to look like The Rock, if you want to build and maintain muscle you don’t want soy protein. 

Nutrition Experts Agree

Dr. Axe does a great job reviewing the pros and cons of soy protein (mostly cons!).

Clif Bars Are Loaded with Lectins

Lectins are proteins present in certain plant foods, including all grains, some fruits and vegetables, and many nuts and seeds including peanuts, cashews, and sunflower seeds. They can be toxic to your body, and unfortunately, Clif Bars are loaded with them. Even if you don’t get a stomach ache from Clif Bars, the lectins you’re consuming could be wreaking havoc.

If you have a sensitive immune system and/or are prone to inflammation, you’ll want to avoid lectins – and Clif Bars – altogether. Ditto if you’re watching your weight because lectins have been implicated in weight gain.

Do You Like Preservatives?

You may think Clif Bars don’t look heavily processed. Granted, they’re not as bad as Quest Bars, but don’t kid yourself: they’re absolutely a processed food. That means they’ve got preservatives, which you want to avoid consuming with any kind of regularity. There are other bars on the market that are significantly less processed, and preservative free.

Won’t Feed Your Microbiome

Sadly, Clif Bars don’t contain any significant prebiotic fibers – most of the fiber comes from grains like oats and rice. There are plenty of other bars that have lots of high-quality prebiotic fibers, like inulin. There’s now a trove of research showing that having healthy gut flora is essential to health and wellbeing, so it’s best to opt for a bar that will support your healthy gut microbes.

Find Your Healthy Protein Bar 

Now that you’re ready to put Clif Bars behind you, it’s time to find a replacement. Read my guides to lectin-free protein bars, keto bars and low-FODMAP bars to find the right bar for you

If you’re not on a diet but still want something healthy (and delicious!), I’d recommend  MariGold Bars (especially if you value grass-fed whey protein). Use promo code HFB10 at checkout to get $10 off!

FAQs

Are Clif Bars bad for everyone?

Actually, no. But it’s complicated. It depends on your lifestyle, level of activity, sensitivity to carbohydrates and sugar, and whether or not you react poorly to some of the dubious ingredients Clif Bars contain. Use the check list earlier in this article to figure out whether or not Clif Bars are good or bad for you.

How many calories are in a Clif Bar?

Depends on the bar, but most come in around 250 calories. Chocolate Macadamia Nut has exactly 250.

How many carbs are in a Clif Bar?

Clif Bars have no shortage of sugar and complex carbs, and that means the total carb count is high. Most have 20g of sugar or more, and just as many grams of complex carbohydrates. The average Clif Bar tips the scales at 45g of total carbs.

What’s the sugar content of Clif Bars?

It depends on the bar but the average sugar content of a Clif Bar is 20g. White Chocolate Macadamia Nut has the most, at 25g.

How much protein is in a Clif Bar?

It depends on the bar, but most contain just 10g of protein from soy. Nut butter Clif Bars only have 6g. Protein as what you’re after, get a real protein bar, and look for at least 20g of grass fed whey protein.

Do Clif Bars contain preservatives?

Definitely. Clif Bars wants you to think that these bars are natural and preservative free, but look closely at the nutrition labels and you will see that they are chock-full of preservatives. Make no mistake, this is a processed food. It’s designed to last for many months on the shelf and that means it needs preservatives.

Are Clif Bars good for losing weight?

No, no and definitely no. With 45g of carbohydrates, half of which are sugar, do yourself a favor and avoid these bars if you were trying to lose weight. Try keto bars such as the Marigold Bars flavors mentioned above, instead.

Is it good to have a Clif Bar before a workout?

Yes, Clif Bars can be an appropriate pre-workout snack. They have plenty of carbohydrates to give you the energy you need to get through an intense workout.

Do Clif Bars give you energy?

The sugar in Clif Bars which amounts to 20g or more, may give you energy depending on your level of sensitivity to sugar. This will most likely be only a temporary boost. Additionally, some flavors of Clif Bars contain 50 mg of caffeine, about half a cup of coffee, which may give you more sustained energy.

Why is the soy protein in Clif Bars a problem?

The soy protein and Clif Bars has not been naturally fermented, which makes it difficult to digest. Even if so protein does not give you a stomachache, your body is not likely digesting it completely, which can lead to malabsorption. Additionally, soy protein consumption has been associated with high levels of estrogen.

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