[Disclosure: As of the time of this writing, I am not directly affiliated with nor have been sponsored or hired by any of the companies or organizations whose services I mention in this article – everything you read from me regarding these companies is my objective advice. Any advice in this blog does not constitute legal or medical advice and is provided as is with no liability to #FrugalCongressLife or the author.]
For my very first #FrugalCongressFood profile, I covered Quest bars, those portable, shelf-stable, and ever-reliable flavored chunks of protein, soluble fiber, and sugar-free sweeteners that have been the food source powering many dance congresses as well as, frequently, day-to-day life in general for me. Quest bars accomplish this while being free of the carbs, sugar, and low-grade soy protein present in many of the candy bars masquerading as protein bars that defined the protein bar landscape before Quest Nutrition came on the scene in 2010.
Indeed, Quest bars remain to this day the gold standard for low-carb low-sugar high-protein bars, with delicious new flavors such as birthday cake, chocolate hazelnut, mint chocolate chunk, and chocolate sprinkled donut (my new favorite Quest bar flavor btw) being introduced in just the short period of time since I wrote the above linked article and the time I wrote the first draft of this one in May of 2019. Undoubtedly at least one or two new flavors will have come out between then and press time. Quest Nutrition has also expanded their food offerings into low-carb high-protein chips, cookies and even pizza, which are all also quite good.
However, a bevy of clones are now vying for a place in the low-carb high-protein portable food arena alongside Quest’s offerings, and that is what we are covering in today’s article.
We will start with the budget alternative: Wal-Mart’s Equate brand. The Equate line covers a wide variety of adult nutrition products including protein bars, protein powder, and protein cookies. The bars are slightly less expensive at Wal-Mart than Quest’s offerings ($5 for a 4-pack vs. $7 for a 4-pack of Quest bars).
Equate’s protein bars are a functional alternative to Quest bars with much the same consistency and the same protein content. Taste wise, they are much blander and less flavorful than Quest’s offerings, but they use a blend of whey protein isolate, milk protein isolate, pea protein, and rice protein as a contrast to Quest’s use of only whey protein isolate. Equate’s cookies, by contrast, are sweet and flavorful, but only pack 10 grams of protein to the bars’ 20, and the cookies have higher net carbs so be mindful of this when using them to hit any daily protein numbers you may have.
Switching to the higher end of the Quest clones, ONE is a new direct Quest competitor who has come onto the scene in recent years. ONE’s bars are available at Wal-Mart, Target, 7-Eleven, CVS, Safeway, Harris Teeter, and GNC for roughly the equivalent cost to Quest bars at each location. Unlike the chewy consistency of Quest and Equate bars, ONE’s bars are glazed and have a very different taste and feel from Quest bars. Still, they have roughly the same calories, protein, sugar, net carbs, and fiber as their Quest counterparts.
ONE bars come in several delicious flavors, including birthday cake, peanut butter cup, dark chocolate sea salt, maple glazed doughnut, cookie dough, blueberry cobbler, and, my personal favorite, almond bliss (which is basically a low-carb low-sugar high-protein Almond Joy bar for those who are fans of that).
Protein powder mega-players Optimum Nutrition have also thrown their hats in the low-carb low-sugar high-protein snack food ring in recent years with a diverse array of products including cake bites, protein almonds, and crispy treats, all packing the same nutritionally sound numbers as the other brands and Optimum Nutrition’s tried-and-true whey protein as their basis.
The crispy treats, available in salted toffee pretzel, vanilla marshmallow, and peanut butter crunch, are basically nutritious Rice Krispie Treats packing 20 grams of protein and only 3 grams of sugar per bar. They do contain 22-24 grams of carbs per bar, which is a bit on the high side for those on low-carb diets.
ON’s cake bites are pleasantly flavored, but the downside with them is that the different flavors of their cake bite offerings kind of taste the same to me. I’m not sure how it’s possible for birthday cake, chocolate cherry, and red velvet to taste the same, but they do. Still, the flavor is pleasant and satisfying, and ON’s cake bites are about as nutritionally sound as cake bites can be.
The almonds are delicious, and the extra fat from the almonds is beneficial in filling you up, but they only pack 10 grams of protein per bag, so be mindful of that as well.
As I stated in my previous Quest bar profile, what essentially amounts to healthy high-protein candy should NOT form the entire basis of your diet, at dance congresses or anywhere else. But these Quest clones, alongside Quest bars in order to add some new flavors and textures, and alongside other portable shelf-stable nutritional staples such as almonds, jerky, and fruit and vegetable squeeze pouches, could be a part of the reasonably balanced dance congress diet needed to power you through your weekend! I hope this helped somebody and as always, hit the comments if you have any suggestions.