Jane Be Nimble, Jane Be Quick: A Review of Balance Bar's Newest Protein Bar for Women

Last year, my food science professor gave us a homework assignment: we were to bring a protein bar in to class the following week. We were going to conduct a taste test and sensory evaluation. Now, mind you, the closest I had ever come to tasting a protein bar was an array of cereal bars – Kashi, Kellog’s, Fiber One. As I was soon to discover, breakfast bars and protein bars are two very different beasts. That first experience with protein bars – a chocolate peanut butter one, no less – was decidedly unfulfilling. It wasn’t that it tasted bad or I actively disliked it; it was more that there was this strange essence to the bar that I couldn’t quite pinpoint. It was the kind of gustatory experience that I certainly wasn’t actively enjoying, but felt compelled to continue nonetheless.

If that mildly disconcerting taste test wasn’t enough to make me a skeptic, a curiosity-kills-the-cat type of investigation of the nutrition labels of various popular bars certainly was. Sure, the bars have protein. Some even have an impressive dose of healthy fats, which are always welcome in my world. But have you ever looked at the sugar? The fiber? The calories? These babies are dense packages of protein, absolutely, but they’ve also got enough sugar to boost you to the moon and a meager 1 or 2 grams of fiber – not nearly enough to balance the sugar out. Ok, perhaps I exaggerate: 15-20 grams of sugar is certainly better than some of the health-claiming yogurt brands out there (a discussion for another time) – but it’s still more than I want as a breakfast or pre/post-workout fuel up.

All of this to say – I was skeptical of the Nimble Bar by Balance Bar when it came as part of my Around the Plate goodie box. Would there be hydrogenated oils holding it together? Would the sugar content make me want to eat it as a lackluster dessert rather than as a pre-work out boost? Would I be as disappointed by the contrast between delicious sounding flavors and ultimately off-putting taste as I was last year?

Before I opened the package, I inspected the nutrition label and ingredients list with a fine-toothed comb. The sugar was remarkably low, as a result of their using Truvia – a bittersweet concession, if you ask me, as I’m still just about as wary of the potential effects of alternative sweeteners as I am about highly refined white sugar. Truvia certainly isn’t Splenda, though, so I moved on in my investigation without much of a grudge. Fiber reached a commendable 5 grams, and calories were low so I could eat it with a piece of fruit or glass of milk to incorporate some more fresh foods without overdoing the calories. It would also be enough to tide me over if I ever were to find myself hungry but not in good reach of real food, which is great because it’s the perfect size to slip into my purse or book bag (I’m always looking for good on-the-go snacks to stash in my purse for when I go out). The ratio was 50:50 between saturated and unsaturated fats, but total fat was really low so I wouldn’t get too hung up on the fact that it isn’t more of a 25:75 or 15:85 ratio. Sodium was low, cholesterol was negligible, and reading through the remaining items on the nutrition panel was like opening up my advanced human nutrition textbook to the chapter on vitamin and mineral recommendations: 100% folate, 50% vitamin D, 50% vitamin E – they even had chromium, molybdenum and selenium covered, and who except for registered dietitians have ever heard of those? Granted, they were all fortifications, and I could go on about getting your nutrients from whole foods and natural sources, and all of that…but in the end, as long as you don’t go and throw everything in your kitchen away and replace it with a diet of 100% Nimble bars…I think you’re ok getting some “extra” nutrients the not-so-natural way every once in a while.

I also took the time to read up on the “40-30-30” ratio of macronutrients that the label touts and, apparently, Balance Bar uses for all of its products. It’s thought that keeping a carbohydrate-protein-fat ratio within these values is the best distribution of nutrients to keep blood sugar and mood stable while bringing down inflammation in the body and boosting energy – all very good things to try to achieve. This isn’t something I can say that my nutrition education has taught me, per se, but it is very similar to the AMDR values set forth by our country’s nutrient guidelines (which state that a healthy diet should consist of 45-65% carbohydrates, 10-35% protein, and 25-30% fat), so I would imagine the science behind this ratio to be relatively sound. What it’s really saying, if you think about it, is that this bar has a well-rounded set of nutrients, so you won’t be loading up on any one type of energy source while ignoring another.

So after what you have probably gathered was a very thorough reading of the packaging, I finally opened the yogurt orange swirl flavor. I took my first bite with caution. I chewed slowly. When I swallowed, I paused before taking the next bite to evaluate the experience I had just initiated. Not too shabby, I thought. It was dense but not overwhelmingly so, sweet but not cloyingly, and the flavor was pretty reminiscent of a creamsicle, which happens to be a favorite of mine from my childhood. Unfortunately, the first bite of this one was definitely the best. The sweetness developed this manufactured component to it, and by the end of the bar I had felt I had had more than enough. The texture was a little bit chalky if you concentrated too hard on it, though not nearly as much as other protein bars I’ve had. In the end, I found myself wishing for a bar half the size – it was just a little bit too much, and I don’t mean in terms of calories or gram weight. 

I tried the peanut butter flavor a few weeks later, and enjoyed that one much more. I found it to be significantly less “chalky” in texture, and because it didn’t have the creamsicle elements to it – peanut butter is naturally more decadent than sweet – I found its sweetness to be much closer to what I tend to prefer. I still couldn’t shake the slight aftertaste of something heavily manufactured and just, well, not fresh off the tree, so to speak, but it was absolutely the best protein bar I’ve ever eaten.

So, what was my ultimate verdict? Personally, I’m not really a protein bar kind of gal. I’m not sure that I would purchase these on a regular basis, but I certainly wouldn’t rule it out as an occasional addition to my snack pile, and I think that’s a pretty big concession coming from me. I’d also be interested in seeing different flavors come out, and would absolutely try those based on the differences I saw between the two that I received as samples. That being said, I think this is a great product for the right demographic. Like I said, their portability is phenomenal – they’re discreet, shelf-stable, and I belief tough enough to withstand the depths of a woman’s purse or briefcase, which is none to be trifled with. As much as I harp on getting nutrients from whole foods, the truth is that many people don’t get enough nutrients on a day-to-day basis, so having a bar that gives you a healthy dose of some of the really key ones (especially for women) is not something to overlook. And if you do like protein bars or at least find yourself able to palate them, you should definitely give them a shot, because this overall positive review is coming from someone who usually doesn’t tolerate protein bars well. They’re less than $2 a bar, which sounds reasonable compared to other protein bars on the market (though still not nickels and dimes), and as I’ve said and can’t say enough – they’re better than any other bar I’ve had.

If you’re interested, you can find more information on Nimble (and all of Balance Bar’s products) at www.balance.com or on Facebook. The bars can be ordered online either via the Balance Bar website (previously listed) or Amazon, or found in stores alongside other Balance Bars (though I personally have not stumbled across them in retail in my region yet).

Balance Bar may not have completely converted me with their new Nimble line, but they certainly took me by surprise in a positive way – and as we learn so often in my dietetics courses, it’s those small, incrementally won battles that matter the most. You may be able to make a protein bar lover out of me yet.


The opinions expressed and images shared in this review are entirely my own. Although Balance Bar donated the bars sent to me via the wonderful people behind the Around the Plate community, no further compensation or incentive was given. I am not affiliated in any way with Balance Bar or its subsidiaries.


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