vegan protein bars

2019 Best Protein Bars Are Vegan, Raw (Dale’s, Papa Steve’s)

[toc]We have some bad news to report for 2019. As long time customers of Dale’s Raw Foods, we suspected something was up beginning last fall.

For starters, their BOGO sales went from 4x a year to seemingly all the time. This actually pissed us off when Dale posted a video in late summer saying they were changing the schedule and actually, that would be the last sale of the year.

So what do we do? We order about 1.5x the number of boxes we otherwise would each quarter.

Then just two weeks later, they’re back with the BOGO sales. Seemingly for the rest of the year!

We placed another order right after Christmas and didn’t get it within the typical 3-4 weeks. We inquired and were told ingredient supply delay. We did end up getting all them after 45 days or so, but we hear not everyone was so lucky.

Now, is down. Nothing is on there.

We heard from another long time customer who didn’t receive her order from early 2019 and has been unable to reach them.

We did some digging around and have some bad news to report: Dale’s Raw Foods filed for bankruptcy and out of business.

Dale's Raw Foods bankruptcy out of business filing

Whether they come back or not is unknown as this time. They did file Chapter 11 (not 7) so in theory, their goal is to return to market.

For that reason, we will leave up the below review in case their products return. Meanwhile for 2019, you should be sticking with Papa Steve’s. You can get them on Amazon. They are the cleanest option now that Dale’s protein bars are out of business.

Why choose raw?

What’s wrong with eating cooked food? We’ve been doing it since the caveman days!

You often will get a response like that when you tell someone you prefer to eat raw food when possible. They think you’re crazy.

The critics forget cavemen also had a lifespan half as long. But more importantly, they are unaware of the large amounts of carcinogenic compounds created when you cook specific foods using certain methods.

Some of these compounds are so dangerous, the World Health Organization classifies them as Group 1 – meaning they are not suspect, but definite human carcinogens.

Group 1 also includes asbestos and tobacco. If you prefer not to eat those, are you crazy too?

Fried and grilled meats are often the worst sources of Advanced Glycation End Products (AGEs), but vegans need to be careful too because roasted nuts are not far behind. Here’s a look at how they test out versus a few other common foods we have included for comparison.

Food AGE Content (kU per 100g of food)
Vegetable juice, V8 (Campbell Soup Co) 2
Banana, raw 9
Corn, canned 20
Apple, baked 45
Bagel, toasted 167
Vegetables, grilled (broccoli, carrots, celery) 226
Veggie Booty 983
Cookie, Oreo (Nabisco) 1,770
Donut, chocolate iced, crème filled (Krispy Kreme) 1,803
Egg, fried 2,749
Chips, potato (Frito Lay) 2,883
Granola bar, peanut butter & choc chunk, hard (Quaker) 3,177
Sunflower seeds, roasted and salted 4,693
Almonds, blanched slivered 5,473
Almonds, roasted 6,650
Beef, frankfurter, boiled in water, 212° F, 7 min 7,484
Peanut butter, smooth, Skippy (Unilever) 7,517
McDonald’s Big Mac 7,801
Walnuts, roasted 7,887
Peanuts, cocktail (Planters, Kraft) 8,333
Cashews, roasted 9,807
Cheese, Parmesan, grated (Kraft) 16,900
Chicken, skin, back or thigh, roasted then BBQ 18,520
Butter, whipped 26,480
Source: Uribarri J, et al. Advanced Glycation End Products in Foods and a Practical Guide to Their Reduction in the Diet. J Am Diet Assoc 2010 (1)

Sure, roasted nuts and seeds may seem healthy for you versus butter, but you know the situation is dire when even Oreo cookies and fried potato chips rank better!

The problem is not just because they’re cooked, either.

cashew nuts, close-up photoV8 juice and canned corn are both pasteurized, but those contain almost no AGEs. That’s because their cooking didn’t involve intense, drying heat… like what’s experienced during roasting.

With most meat you’re basically screwed either way though. As you see, the beef frankfurter was cooked with plenty of moisture (in water) at the bare minimum temperature to boil (212 degrees) and it still ranks extremely high at 7,484.

That’s because meats produce polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), a potent class of AGEs which comes largely from animal-derived foods. Plant sources can have them too, but indirectly through environmental pollution and/or by cooking them over petrochemicals, like propane and charcoal.

Most protein bars contain roasted nuts. If you think those are healthy, think again.

Of course, the catch-22 is that a Kind or Clif Energy Bar is very convenient. You can buy one anywhere, even at the airport or gas station. True, they are good for you versus most of the other snacks for sale, but a convenience store isn’t exactly a nutritious beacon of health. You deserve better.

bacteria up closeHomemade raw vegan protein bars are an option, but a huge hassle. Even if you have the time make them, have you had your recipe tested for food safety?

Bacteria levels may be unsafe after just a day or two, depending on the ingredients you use.

That makes homemade energy bars especially problematic for when you’re away from home – like if you’re storing them in your desk or taking them in your suitcase for a trip.

Scaremongering? It’s the truth. Take something which couldn’t seem more innocent – rice.

Did you know that “under no circumstances should cooked rice be stored at kitchen temperature for more than 2 hours” (2). Even in the fridge, the UK’s National Health Service (NHS) advises not to eat cooked rice after it is one day old (3).

The reason cooked rice goes bad, even if it’s stored overnight in the fridge, is because dormant Bacillus cereus spores begin to germinate after getting wet. And yes, they survive boiling water, so you can only imagine what might happen to raw rice protein powder if it’s not prepared properly!

The lesson: The most popular have carcinogens

  1. Even if you believe the raw food diet is a scam in other ways, you can’t deny the fact that cooked nuts, seeds, grains, and granola used in bars can be potent sources of carcinogenic substances.
  2. Making raw protein bars using a homemade recipe is an option, but it’s a hassle and without sending your recipe away to a lab for testing, you really have no idea what the shelf life is.

The solution: The healthiest are the least-known

If all you wanted was a meat and dairy free option, there are over three hundred brands of vegan protein bars to choose from, but only a tiny fraction are prepared at temperatures below 118° Fahrenheit (49 °C).

For the few which do qualify as raw food, most fall short in the amino acid department. Only 1 to 4 grams of protein per bar. The rest of what’s inside is mostly oils, fats, and sugars.

Regardless of whether it’s so called evaporated cane juice, agave syrup, or something exotic like jaggery, all forms of sugar should be minimized as part of a healthy, anti-inflammatory diet.

Even the FDA called out “evaporated cane juice” in 2016 guidance that was issued to the food industry (4). They said it’s just a marketing gimmick for crystallized sugar, to sound healthier and more natural.

The blood sugar impact is the same. Diabetics have been duped by being told otherwise.

Upon reviewing the pros and cons of every brand, the winners are clear…

The best protein bars for both women and men are Papa Steve’s No Junk and Dale’s raw food. Unlike other brands, they are not made with the more carcinogenic roasted nuts. Since they are plant-based, gluten free, and use mostly organic ingredients, they work for almost any diet. Their high fiber is good for weight loss and they’re low sugar, using unrefined sources.

Since they do use 100% raw ingredients, it does mean you will have a limited window you can keep them outside the fridge or freezer. If you want the best, there’s no way around that.

You can store them at room temperature for two or three weeks, but ideally, it’s best to refrigerate them. In there, they will last a couple months. For larger quantities, freeze and then dethaw as needed.

Papa Steve’s No Junk raw protein bars reviews

Based in West LA (Culver City) this company is right in our backyard. Sick and tired of the processed junk on the market, a man named Steven Diebold founded the company in 2011. The goal? Use only the finest raw nuts, seeds, and superfoods to make the perfect protein bar. He began by selling them at the famous Gold’s Gym in Venice beach and today, you can find them for sale throughout Southern California. We see surfers, runners, and moms on the go munching on these.

Papa Steve's raw protein bar, cranberry almond flavor


High protein

Depending on the flavor, it will contain one or more of the following; cashews, almonds, peanuts, hemp seeds, and gluten free oats. These sources are supplemented with pea protein to balance out the amino acid profile and bring the total to 12 to 20 grams per serving.

When it comes to the isoleucine, leucine, and valine (the BCAAs), pea is actually very close to whey. Plus, pea may offer you weight loss benefits since research suggests it helps with reducing ghrelin levels AKA the “hunger hormone” (5).

No mutagenic stevia

Stevia In The Raw packetsFor starters, it’s not even legal to sell raw stevia – as in the actual leaves – for food purposes in the United States. That’s why you only see the chemically processed and heated powders for sale.

But regardless of whether it’s raw leaves or the processed powders, the side effects of stevia include mutagencity. The stevioside itself is not mutagenic, but gut flora convert it to steviol, which is mutagenic.

Among all the artificial sweeteners, did you know the FDA gives stevia the lowest Acceptable Daily Intake?

A max of just 9 packets per day is considered safe. In comparison, aspartame is 75 and sucralose (Splenda) is 23 packets (6). Apparently they have no safety concerns with monk fruit, because FDA lists its ADI as being “ND” (not specified).

Reasonable sugar content

Okay so you don’t want stevia, but nor do you want a lot of sugar. A small amount to satisfy your taste buds, but you don’t always want to load up on carbs, either.

Papa Steve’s has no added sugar that’s refined. The sweetener used is coconut palm nectar. Not much though, as many flavors contain only 6 grams. Their low sugar vegan protein bars are the following flavors:

  • Cranberry Almond
  • Dark Chocolate Cherry Cashew
  • Vanilla Cashew Coconut
  • Wild Blueberry Almond

protein and energy bars for sale at natural grocery storeThose all have just 6 grams.

To put that in perspective, a Vega Sport protein bar (not raw) will have 16 to 19 grams. Review the Probar Base nutrition facts, which is another heated and processed plant-based option. You will see 15 to 20 grams (Chocolate Bliss and Coffee Crunch are the worst for you).

The brand LUNA Bar by Clif is marketed as a good bar for women and some media outlets tout it as a healthy snack during pregnancy. They have up to double the sugar as Papa Steve’s, along with undesirable ingredients like palm kernel oil. The similar sounding Larabar can contain up to 23 grams of sugar and as little as 4 grams of protein. Neither Larabar nor LUNA are raw.

Here is how much sugar is in Papa Steve’s other flavors…

  • Apple Cinnamon Pecan = 6.5g
  • Dark Chocolate Coconut & Mint Chocolate Chunk = 9g
  • Banana Oat Choco Chip = 12g
  • Peanut Butter Choco Chip = 16g

The higher amounts are due to the use of organic fruits like dates, apples, and bananas. Banana Oat and Peanut Butter Choco Chip are excellent bars for runners who need that energy boost pre-workout.

Speaking of the dates, low glycemic protein bars should make use of them more often. Five varieties of dates recently tested out as having a glycemic index (GI) of just 46 to 55 for a 50 gram (1.7 oz) serving (7). Date pieces are a better choice for diabetics than agave syrup; it has low glucose, but high fructose (56%).

That’s even more than high fructose corn syrup, which is 42% or 55%, depending on the grade (8).

Organic and non-GMO ingredients

All of their ingredients are non-GMO and most are organic.

As far as what’s not organic, it’s things like the raw hemp seeds which is not concerning, as hemp is naturally hearty even when little to no pesticide is used.

The fruits and spices you will see in Papa Steve’s are usually organic.

roundup spraying on field by tractor

Most important of all, the oats/oatmeal (for flavors which contain it) is certified gluten free and organic. That’s very important because farmers spray non-organic oats with glyphosate (Roundup) right before harvesting to accelerate their drying. Buying organically grown oats should be prioritized over fruits and veggies, since they don’t involve that practice.

Ideal calorie counts

The flavors range from being 200 to 300 calories per bar. The latter may sound high, but if you use them to supplement a light lunch like a salad, you don’t want something low calorie.

Anything below 200 may sound good for dieting and losing weight, but let’s be honest here… you know those tiny 100 calorie protein bars on the market are a total joke and leave you hungry. You just end up eating more afterward! (Especially us men, who are ravenous pigs)

Excellent flavor

Papa Steve's flavors for sale at Whole FoodsWe haven’t tried every flavor, nor can we due to specific nut allergies, but all of them that we can eat are delicious!

Gluten free

In addition to being wheat free, none of the flavors contain barley, spelt, kamut, farro or other gluten-containing grains.

Soy free

Soy is not exactly a testosterone friendly food.

For women this is less of an issue, but given that soy is among the highest estrogen foods (as in, phytoestrogen), it’s best to only eat in moderation, especially for bodybuilders and men who may be eating the protein bars everyday.

Fortunately, you don’t have to worry about this issue with Papa Steve’s, because all the plant based flavors use soy free protein.

Allergy friendly

One of us here at Superfoodly has a cashew allergy. Another has a peanut allergy.

No problem, because only some flavors contain cashews. Likewise for peanuts.

Obviously the Peanut Butter Choco Chip contains them, but most of the bars are peanut free. You can even go grain free with the Mint Chocolate Chip.

Almost zero sodium

salt shakerTake a gander at the label of whatever bar you currently eat. Chances are, it has 100 to 300 mg of sodium!

Papa Steve’s is the lowest sodium protein bar on the market. They have no added salt. The only amount in there is what naturally comes from the ingredients. For most flavors, that means just 5 of 6 mg total, which is less than 1% of your daily value.

These are excellent for those with high blood pressure and frankly, anyone who appreciates the fact that excess sodium causes inflammation in the body.

Low carb and low fat options

All of the low sugar flavors will be low carb. As far as fat content, that’s another drawback with most plant based protein bars because they often add in lots of oil and fatty nuts. Some Papa Steve’s No Junk flavors are as low as 9 grams of fat. That may be too high for some, but 14% of the 65 gram daily value isn’t that bad versus what you often find in this category.



No real shocker that you are going to be paying more for these small-batch bars that are homemade (well technically, handmade in a food facility) versus the factory produced Kind and equivalents which are coming off of conveyor belts.

That being said, if you buy a whole box of them, the price per bar is affordable. When doing that, by our calculations we are only paying around 20% to 40% more than something like a Vega Sport or Meal bar. Check current pricing though because as the old saying goes, all pricing is subject to change without notice. But generally, the premium we pay versus the other mid to higher end vegan bars is typically within that ballpark.

Very high fiber (bad for some people)

high protein chocolate peanut butter flavor

The higher calorie count and organic dates inside this flavor make it an ideal post-workout replenishment for bodybuilders. It’s their highest protein bar. Try the Peanut Butter Choco Chip.

Fiber is great, but for some people with gastrointestinal diseases, too much can be a problem. For example with Chronic Intestinal Pseudo Obstruction (which one of us here has) it’s advised to have a low fiber diet. Obviously that’s not easy to do when you are a strict vegan.

If you don’t want to go overboard on fiber, go with the Peanut Butter Choco Chip because it contains 9 grams which is 35% of the daily value. It also has the most protein.

The other flavors have up to 70% of your daily value per bar, which might be a good thing for weight loss and dieting, because it can keep you feeling full for longer.

Limited options for where to buy

If you live in California, specifically SoCal, you’re in luck! You can find them at most Whole Foods locations and a number of health grocers and food co-ops.

Live elsewhere? You are going to have to order them.

Even though Superfoodly’s HQ (Manhattan Beach) is just 10 miles from Papa Steve’s HQ (Culver City), we prefer to buy them on Amazon. Why? Whole Foods isn’t always the best deal and their selection is limited.

Dale’s raw protein bars reviews

Not the Pacific, but the Atlantic coast is where you will find this company. Out of Boca Raton, Dale’s Raw Foods was founded the same year as Papa Steve’s, so they’ve both been in business for the same length of time. Dale Buchanan comes from a background involving fitness and martial arts. Initially, he created the vegan bars for himself, after adapting a raw food diet a year prior. After they were a hit with his personal training clients at his kettlebell workshops, he decided to begin selling them to the public.

close-up photo of Dale's raw food bar


High Protein

Dales proves that big things really can come in small packages. These bars may look tiny, but they pack in 22 grams of protein thanks to a combination of nut butters and powders; pea, rice, and hemp.


For most, they offer the ideal calorie amount.

Papa Steve’s range from 200 to 300+ depending on the flavor. With Dales, every flavor is almost the same; 240 to 260 calories per bar. This is the sweet spot, as it keeps you satiated without overindulging.

Organic and non-GMO ingredients

For almost all of the flavors, they use 90% organic ingredients, while 100% of the ingredients are non-GMO.

Stevia free

fresh date on treeWas it because of the nasty aftertaste? He was on the stevia-hatin’ bandwagon even before the latest disturbing news about stevia. Dale’s are the best organic protein bars if you want low sugar without stevia, since they’re made with date paste and coconut nectar.

Gluten free

Soy free

Large selection of flavors

Dale's box that says best protein bars on itMost manufacturers may offer one or two options for vegans. Dale’s offers 22! So far we have bought around one-third of them. Here are our favorite based on flavor, in order of most to least desirable:

  • Graham Cracker
  • Cookie Dough
  • Chocolate Peanut Butter
  • Fudge Brownie
  • Cherry Pistachio
  • Chocolate Chia Maca
  • Mango Maca Acai

All of the flavors taste very similar. In fact, when we grab one out of the fridge without looking, we won’t always be able to tell which recipe we are eating.

All have a very muted flavor, with the exception of Graham Cracker, Cookie Dough, and Chocolate Peanut Butter. Those have stronger tastes and hence, why we rank them as the best 3 bars.

This may sound like a criticism, but it isn’t. If you just want big protein content with a little hint of flavor, any of these work great. They get the job done and like an acquired taste, you begin to enjoy their subtleness.

Unique ingredients

Your tongue may not always be able to distinguish the flavor, but rest assured these make use of some very special ingredients. Who else sells a raw protein maca bar or one with dried strawberry pieces? No one!

Consistently low sugar

diabetic man pricking finger for blood glucose testAround half of Papa Steve’s have 6 grams of sugar, but all of Dale’s do. If you want a protein bar with low sugar for every flavor available, Dale’s is the winner.

These are actually better than the sugar free brands on the market since those use stevia or sugar alcohols (which cause gas and bloating). Dales is good for diabetics, especially since the 6 grams they contain doesn’t come from highly refined sources.

If you’re eating them as a snack or meal supplement, 6 grams is perfect. However if you’re a bodybuilder, runner, or other athlete, you’re going to need more than 6 grams after an intense workout.

Post-workout is really the only situation where it’s healthy for you to eat a higher glycemic food.

This is because you need to replenish glycogen after a workout. Whether it’s hardcore weight lifting or a strenuous several mile run, research has shown that your muscle cells will benefit most if replenishment is during the first 30 minutes after an intense session. Getting carbs beyond that – during the first 2 hours – is important too, if you want maximum muscle growth (9) (10).


Low Sodium

While it doesn’t have added salt listed in the ingredients, there still is some coming from the powdered proteins used. The result? 100 mg of sodium per bar. This isn’t zero, but it’s better than at least 95% of the bars on the market.

Coconut oil

coconut shell

We actually tend to favor the science put forth by Dr. T. Colin Campbell of The China Study about how refined oils should be avoided. They’re not found in nature and their use is linked to atherosclerosis.

That’s precisely why Bill Clinton’s doctors (Ornish and Esselstyn of the Cleveland Clinic) put him on a permanently oil free diet after his quadruple bypass.

With that said, if you’re going to add oil, organic coconut is the way to go since it offers the benefits of an MCT oil. Being a medium chain (versus a long chain) it’s digested in a different manner. It’s exponentially better for you than the safflower oil in Probar Base, that’s for sure!

Allergy friendly

Any food that involves nuts will inevitable have both lovers and haters, right?

You will have one person allergic to cashew, while another needs to avoid hazelnuts. How do you keep everyone happy?

Dale’s knows how. The 22 flavors don’t all use the same nut base.

Some have organic almond butter, while others use a cashew base. In addition to the base, you will find other nuts, albeit in lesser amounts. Depending on the flavor, you may see pistachios, macadamia, or hazelnut in the ingredients list.



ground cinnamonType of cinnamon used is toxic to liver

It’s important to point out that Dale’s Raw Foods is not the only one guilty of this. Most make use of cassia cinnamon, including Papa Steve’s.

The difference is that Dale’s uses this cinnamon in not just a couple, but many of their flavors. Including their most popular, best tasting protein bar which is the graham cracker flavor (that’s why we only eat it occasionally, even though it’s our favorite).

The toxic compound in cinnamon is called coumarin. While the FDA has yet to set a tolerable upper limit, many countries have. The German government caps the amount at 0.1 mg per day of coumarin per kg of body weight.

If you weigh 150 lbs, that equals as little as 1/4 teaspoon of cinnamon per day, according to the German government’s maximum safe limit.

Even if you’re not exceeding that (and one bar probably isn’t) why intentionally eat a potent liver toxin in any amount on a daily basis? The health benefits of cinnamon can be achieved if you switch to ceylon cinnamon.

Unlike cassia, ceylon is only 0.0004% coumarin, which is up to 250x less than cassia (11). The reason you rarely see it used in food is because of its price, as it can be expensive.

Where to buy is online only

There’s only one place to buy Dale’s Raw Food bars, which is their website. Even if you live in Southeast Florida near Boca Raton, unfortunately you can’t pick them up in-person, because their facility is only licensed, zoned, and insured as a manufacturing facility (their website language sounds pretty strict on this, too).

The good news is that their customer service is great. Props to Katherine who took good care of one of our orders last year, when UPS lost the package somewhere between Florida and California.

Free shipping requires $100+ order

Processing time

large box of bars from DalesIn the world of Amazon Prime, it’s easy to get accustomed to what we want, when we want it.

When you buy from Dale’s, the batches are made to order and typically ship 7 to 10 days after placing the order. Combined with the actual transit time, it means if you order them today, you may not get them for a couple weeks.

Price (except 4x per year)

A box of 12 bars will cost you $40 (before shipping costs, if applicable). That’s not awful, but if you order strategically you can save money.

Dale’s raw food has a discount code for buy one, get one free. Like clockwork, this offer is available only four times per year in January, April, July, October.

Outside of their quarterly sale, we have actually never bought Dale’s. We’re too cheap without the Dale’s BOGO coupon code.

Be aware that during the sale with the BOGO promo code, it may be more than 2 weeks ’til your order arrives.

Steve vs. Dale: Which is better?

You wouldn’t settle for having the same dinner everyday, so why settle for the same bar?

Using the brands Papa Steve’s No Junk Raw and Dale’s offer you the best of both taste and nutrition. Different textures and flavors, so you don’t get bored with your protein bars.

During the first 2-3 hours after strenuous muscle exercise, for that, you should buy Papa Steve’s Peanut Butter Choco Chip on Amazon because it has 20 grams of protein and 16 grams of sugar (mostly from dates and fruits) to help replenish the lost glycogen your muscles badly need post-workout.

Grain free is the other situation where No Junk Raw is top choice. Their Mint Chocolate Chip will be the only one that works for those trying to avoid grains, since all of the Dale’s contain rice.