Clif Bars are one of the most popular protein bar brands on the market. The company describes their bars as “performance nutrition” made with “nutritious, sustainable ingredients.”
But are Clif Bars actually healthy, or are these just marketing claims? Do they contain any questionable additive ingredients like preservatives? How are they sweetened? And are there healthier alternatives on the market?
In this article we’ll answer all of these questions and more as we review the ingredients in Clif Bars based on medical research to give our take on whether or not they’re actually healthy.
We’ll also give our recommendation for the healthiest flavors of Clif Bar, explain why the brand was sued for false advertising, and share a nutritionist’s review of Clif Bar compared to other healthy protein bars.
The ingredients shown above are from the Blueberry Almond Crisp flavor of Clif Bar.
We’ll start with the healthy elements. The majority of ingredients in Clif Bars are whole foods.
Oats are nutritious, high in fiber and may even be effective for preventing diseases like atherosclerosis and some types of cancer according to a medical review published in the Foods journal.
Blueberries and apple juice concentrate are fruit-based ingredients providing antioxidants and high levels of minerals. Clif Bar contains 15% of the Daily Value (DV) of magnesium according to the Nutrition Facts label.
Clif Bars provide 5 grams (g) of fiber and 11 g of protein, both of which may support weight loss in overweight and obese individuals according to a clinical trial published in the Nutrition journal. Both fiber and protein increase satiation, and also provide fuel for the body during athletic training which makes Clif Bars a good option for athletes.
While there are some healthy, whole foods ingredients, there are also a few questionable additive ingredients that health-conscious consumers may wish to avoid.
Citric acid is a preservative and flavor enhancer. As we documented in our Keto Chow reviews article, this ingredient has been clinically shown to cause whole-body inflammation in a small subset of individuals.
Natural flavors is a broad categorical term that fails to describe the specific flavoring agents used, and a medical review published in the Environmental Health Perspectives journal documented some toxicity concerns regarding some natural flavoring agents and their metabolites.
Clif Bars also contain 15 g of added sugar. While this can help fuel athletes during a hike or any other activity, it may not be a healthy option for the average, sedentary American. We know from medical research that excessive added sugar intake is associated with increased risk of obesity, cardiovascular disease and diabetes, and 15 g is a relatively high amount (30% of the DV).
Overall we consider Clif Bars to be somewhat healthy, but we do not recommend them due to the inclusion of citric acid, natural flavors and would not recommend them to non-athletes due to the 15 g of added sugar per bar.
Which Clif Bar Flavors are the Healthiest?
We do consider some flavors of Clif Bar to be healthier than others.
The Oatmeal Raisin Walnut flavor is free of citric acid and has less added sugar (14 g).
The Peanut Butter Banana With Dark Chocolate flavor is also free of citric acid and only contains 14 g of added sugar.
We consider the Nut Butter line of Clif Bars to be healthier than the regular line.
All Clif Bar Nut Butter products are free of citric acid and contain less added sugar than regular Clif Bars (around 7 g per bar on average).
Clif Bar Sued Over Health Claims
Clif Bar settled a class-action lawsuit in 2022 for over $10 million, according to Top Class Actions.
The plaintiffs alleged that Clif Bar was engaged in false advertising because the brand was marketing their products as healthy while they contained a significant amount of added sugar.
Clif Bar also discontinued use of the marketing phrase “the ultimate energy bar,” after the National Advertising Division required that claim to be supported by evidence. According to Food Business News, Clif provided no comparative information on competitor energy bars proving theirs to be superior nutritionally.
These legal issues don’t affect the healthiness of Clif Bar moving forward, but in our opinion they support our arguments about the relative healthiness of Clif Bars.
We Tried Clif Bars Ourselves
As the author of this article, I wanted to try Clif Bar myself to share my thoughts on the taste and effects.
I bought the Chocolate Chip and Peanut Butter flavors from my local Walmart and ate them as a snack while working when I was too busy to prepare food.
I think these are some of the best tasting protein bars I've had this year, and I like the fact that they taste "natural." You can actually taste the peanuts and chocolate, and that's a much better experience than the artificial flavor from some other brands.
I did get a boost of energy from these bars, probably due to the sugar and protein, and I think they make a decently healthy snack option for people who are short on time.
I don't plan to buy this brand in the future because I believe there are healthier options out there, but it's somewhat tastier and healthier than average.
Overall, I rate Clif Bars 5/10.
Clif Bar vs. Other Healthy Protein Bars
A nutritionist with a YouTube channel called “Healthy Emmie” published a video ranking healthy protein bars. She reviews Clif Bar, Clif Builder’s Protein, Larabar, Trail Nuggets and GoMacro. The video has over 60,000 views:
Our Clean Protein Bar Pick
Our clean protein bar recommendation is Step One Foods Peanut Butter Bar.
Not only is this product entirely free of questionable additive ingredients, it’s been shown in a clinical trial published in The Journal of Nutrition to have favorable effects on cholesterol, making it a “functional food.”
After 12 weeks of consuming Step One Foods, individuals experienced a reduction in LDL cholesterol levels of 8.80%, a reduction in total cholesterol levels of 5%, and an increase in HDL cholesterol levels of 1%.
This is likely due to the fiber content and the whole food ingredients rich in phytonutrients like bittersweet chocolate, chia seeds and Saskatoon berries.
Interested consumers can check out Step One Foods Peanut Butter Bar at this link to the product page on the official brand website.