REVIEW: Low Kalz Protein Bars

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Low Kalz is an all new brand of natural protein bars launched by the subscription box company of the same name. I love protein bars for their on-the-go munching abilities and gravitate towards the less-natural candy bar kinda flavored options; but I’m not closed minded it when it comes for new portable ways to get my protons in. Ryan, the founder of Low Kalz, contacted me and sent me some bars to try, which use almond flour and whey protein, as well as nuts and fruit for sweetness, and require refrigeration due to their lack of preservatives. I ranked them all against themselves with an overall curve of all natural bars in mind.

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The Banana Chocolate bar has a very soft, moist, bread-y texture that reminds me of a low fat muffin. It’s dense yet airy with a delicateness that causes it to fall apart a bit when left at room temperature, but not quite crumble because of the higher moisture content. The flavor is sharp and sweet with an authentic banana presence that finishes with hints of cinnamon and nutmeg. Even though there’s no apple listed in the ingredients I also get a bit of apple-esque acidity that pokes through in the general fruity sweetness. The chocolate chips add a nice semi-sweet pop of contrast, and as someone who’s always loved banana and chocolate together the combo really works for me. I wish the chips were a bit firmer, as the bar as a whole is pretty squishy, but overall this is a pretty good take on a healthy, portable, and quick fix version of banana bread.


Rating: 8/10
Nutrition Facts: 100 cal – 4.5g fat – 1g sat fat – 10mg cholesterol – 15mg sodium – 11g carbs – 2g fiber – 6g sugar – 7g protein

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The Apple Cranberry bar has a wonderful spicy bread-y smell that instantly reminds me of cinnamon rolls. The play of the apple and cinnamon together is really great, and the cranberries bring a pretty massive rush of tartness. There’s also a nice nutty flavor from the almonds that plays well against the sweeter tangy elements. While the nose on this one is really good, the overall flavor is a bit too heavy on the tart side and starts to hinge towards sour. Still completely edible, but not something I really crave with a tasty cup of coffee or to get me through an afternoon slump.

Rating: 6/10
Nutrition Facts: 90 cal – 5g fat – 0.5g sat fat – 10mg cholesterol – 20mg sodium – 7g carbs – 2g fiber – 4g sugar – 7g protein

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The Tropical Blueberry bar arrived to me nearly flattened and falling apart, which is a shame because it’s not only the most interesting and unique flavor of the bunch but it also wound up being my favorite. Immediately I get hit with huge tangy orange aroma and flavor that positively jumps out of the package. The blueberries make me think of muffins and my mind shifts to a wonderful blueberry citrus scone I’ve had in the past, channeling that flavor-memory in the best way.  It’s tangy and tart, but unlike cranberries, the blueberries add a nice extra burst of sweetness that work really wonderfully with the bold citrus notes. This bar is refreshing, sweet, and bright, and definitely one I would like to have again.

Rating: 9/10
Nutrition Facts: 100 cal – 5g fat – 0.5g sat fat – 10mg cholesterol – 20mg sodium – 7g carbs – 1g fiber – 4g sugar – 7g protein

If you’re interested in trying Low Kalz you can order them through their website, and using promo code 10OFF will give you 10% off of a box of 12.

https://lowkalz.com/

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REVIEW: Doughbar Doughnuts (feat. Junk Banter Variety Pack)

Doughbar Doughnuts are a Bay Area based company cranking out made to order protein packed baked donuts with a slew of fun and limited offering toppings and variety packs shipped straight to your door.  Their goal is to offer a macro-friendly alternative to the often frowned upon fried treat that is versatile, healthy, and delicious all at the same time.  The un-dressed donuts, including the hole, clock in at 150 calories, 4 grams of fat, 16 grams of carbs, 3 grams of sugar, and 11 grams of protein.  You can order the donuts with no toppings, or, more commonly, with toppings packaged individually that you put on yourself in whatever fashion you’d like.  For my first run with Doughbar I ordered the Junk Banter variety pack, which included four donuts and toppings for Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup, Cookie Monster (Chips Ahoy/Oreo), Cinnamon with Cinnamon Toast Crunch, and Nutella with Kit Kat pieces.

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The naked base flavor of a Doughbar Doughnut is relatively plain with a yeasty whole wheat bounce, slight sweetness, and a hint of cinnamon.  The texture is more like a bagel than a donut, with an eggy dense inside that is neither super delicious or offensive.  Since they are baked and not fried there is no outside crisp or greasiness, and as with most donuts, “real” or otherwise, most of the flavor comes from the toppings.  The success of the doughnuts themselves varied based not only on the toppings but the actual bake itself.  Since they’re all individually made I found some of them to be a little bit thinner and darker with a tougher, less-dount-y texture, and some of them to be fluffier and lighter in color, which much more closely resembled a true donut.

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The experience of putting the doughnuts together is pretty damn fun.  They arrive in a nostalgia-laden pink box with each component clearly labeled and packaged so you can truly choose your own destiny.  All of the toppings have their own nutritional information provided, and while the icing containers looked really small to me at first, they actually do provide enough to piece together a pretty tasty breakfast treat.

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I enjoyed all of the doughnuts that I got but by far my favorite was the Nutella with Kit Kat crumbles.  I’m not sure if it was the slight nuttiness in the glaze or the luck of the fluff on that particular ‘nut but it gave me the most satisfying donut fix of them all.  My least favorite was very surprisingly the Reese’s-inspired peanut butter one, because I felt it just didn’t have enough authentic peanut butter flavor.  Luckily, I had a couple of extra naked donuts and put together my own decadent masterpiece using their classic doughnut glaze, crunchy peanut butter, and banana.

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PB Banana Doughnut: 320 Cals/10g Fat/11g Sugar/30g Carbs/15g Protein

All in all, are Doughbar Doughnuts better than one from your local shop or Krispy Kreme?  Nah.  But are they a fun switch up from a protein bar or shake or carb-heavy weekend breakfast?  Most certainly.  The ability to customize and switch things up on the go is definitely a plus and I look forward to ordering again when time and money will allow.  Hopefully this small creative company can get wider distribution and/or a brick and mortar location so we can all “eat more hole foods” on the regular.

Rating: 8/10

REVIEW: Optimum Nutrition Cake Bites (All four flavors!)

Cake bites, cake pops, cake truffles, petit fours…whatever you want to call them, they’re hot and the trend is as booming as ever.  So booming, in fact, that they’ve eclipsed the pastry scene, and like most delicious sweet things, have found themselves in the protein imitation universe.  Optimum Nutrition, whose 2016 line of protein bars were pretty lackluster, are kicking off 2017 with three flavors of protein cake bites – Birthday Cake, Chocolate Dipped Cherry, and Red Velvet (UPDATE: in August they added a fourth flavor – mini review added at the bottom).  Each package contains three circular cake bites that equal 20 grams of protein, under 25 grams of carbs, and 230-240 calories.  I’m going to break down each flavor and rate them against each other as well as on a whole.

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Birthday Cake:
The texture is softer than your average protein bar with the whipped aspect bringing a bit more bounciness and squish while still staying firm. It doesn’t particularly remind me of cake but it is different than your typical Quest or Oh Yeah! ONE bar. The vanilla flavor is strong but not overwhelmingly sweet and there is no artificial aftertaste. The strongest element of this bites’ flavor is a really wonderful buttercream finish that leaves your mouth creamy and clean with a whisper of sweetness.

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The round sprinkles on top add a nice crunch and even though there is a bit of protein flavor the whole experience feels more pastry shop authentic than most protein bars.  This is a safe flavor to offer because it tends to be popular, but it’s also competitive as there are already good options out there.

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This is not a better take on cake than MuscleTech’s Nitro bar or the Oh Yeah! One version bit it’s still pretty solid.  Rating: 7.5/10

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Chocolate Dipped Cherry:
The different fluffy texture is really at play and more effective here. It reminds me of a mousse or a marshmallow the way it holds its form yet is soft and pillowy. The cherry flavor, while it doesn’t taste like any cake I’ve ever had, is spot on and very reminiscent of a cherry Tootsie Pop in the best way. Cherry flavored things are either disgusting and medicinal or tasty and sweet like our favorite childhood candies and this cake circle falls into the latter category.  Some people will definitely hate this flavor immediately because of its sweetness but I enjoy it.

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The chocolate coating is a bit thin and could be darker but ultimately works well to counter the cherry candy flavor and make a good balanced bite. I have never had a flavor like this in a protein bar and creativity always wins extra points in my book. Rating: 8/10

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Red Velvet:
The texture on this one most closely resembles its namesake, with that slightly dense cocoa-kissed red base being the star of the show. The initial flavor is all vanilla and not too different from Birthday Cake, but then finishes with the appropriate hint of chocolate. The coating could use more of a cream cheese tang to truly drive the red velvet flavor but it has a touch of tang and is definitely creamy which helps provide the “frosting” contrast.

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This one also gets extra points for being a less predictable flavor for protein bars, with the only other option out there being the solid YUP brands’ BUP bar, which I’ve only had when ordering online due to weird/poor distribution.  Not surprisingly I think this is the least sweet of all three and is a pretty decent version of the sought after Southern cake.  Rating: 7.5/10

While these definitely aren’t a spot on spin on little bites of cake, they are a fresh take on the ever-growing market of portable protein snacks.  One thing I don’t like about this line is the decision to include zero fiber.  I don’t need 15-20 grams of fiber in a bar but throwing in 5-10 grams helps hit the nutritional needs and balance out the impact of the carbs – neither of which you get when choosing these over another supplement.  While the flavors all rated slightly higher, I’m going to give ON Cake Bites a slightly lower rating overall because of the nutritional makeup, but will still purchase these every so often.

Overall rating: 7/10

UPDATE: In August ON added a fourth flavor to the lineup – Chocolate Frosted Donut.

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This one is pretty much in line with the quality of the initial three flavors, although I like it slightly less. The sprinkles on top are just like the ones on Birthday Cake and add a nice crunch to offset the generally soft and squishy whipped interior of the bite. Does it taste like a donut? Barely. As in, it doesn’t taste like a donut for 80% of the chew and then right towards the end I get a little bit of golden egginess that reminds me of a cake donut.  Not a yeast donut like the package would imply, and not very much at all, but there’s a touch. Much like the first three there’s no weird fake sugar aftertaste and the protein vibes are present but subtle. ON’s flavor game isn’t anywhere near the level of Oh Yeah! but this is still a decently tasty product nonetheless, even if slightly below the initial three flavors.  The macros are almost identical except this one has 250 calories instead of the 230-240.

Rating: 7/10

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REVIEW: flapJACKed Buttermilk Protein Pancake and Baking Mix

While I have so far only had experience with their Mighty Muffins, what flapJACKed is most well known for is their Protein Pancake and Baking Mix.  Utilizing a combination of whole oat flour and both whey and pea protein, they’ve put together a mixture that delivers approximately three pancakes for only 200 calories that provides 20 grams of protein and 5 grams of fiber.  Sounds almost too good to be true, but my good luck with the Mighty Muffin’s recently has me feeling optimistic.

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Opening the bag it looks and smells like tan flour with no distinguishable pancake or waffle aromas except for a hint of sweet and salty shimmer.  Once you add in the 1/3 cup cold water, however, it smells distinctly like a pancake or biscuit dough, with the slight tang of buttermilk and a Bisquick familiarity.  Let the mixture sit for three minutes to thicken up, and all of the prep work is done.

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I decided to start with a sacrificial cake and try the ratios exactly as recommended.  Coming off the griddle the pancake has a lovely sweet and cake-like smell with a solid fluffy appearance and bounce.  On its own the taste is a little dry and bland, with a slight grainy texture.  It reminds me a bit of when I make my own pancakes with whole wheat flour and don’t do anything to try and transform the flavor.  To be fair though, I don’t think I’ve ever eaten a naked pancake, and when the classic butter and syrup combination is applied the flavor is greatly improved.  The texture holds up just like a traditional pancake but a bit more dense and tough.

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For the second, full batch, I added a little bit more water to thin out the batter, in hopes that they may cook a little more evenly with a slightly less tough result.  This was the right move, as these cakes are fluffier and wider with an overall more appealing look.  The smell, once again, is fantastic, with the flavor being good but a bit muted.  I tried them again with the classic butter and syrup combo and they were great.  Not as intensely indulgent as a true stack of pancakes but for 200 calories, 23 carbs, and 20 grams of protein these are a fantastic tradeoff.  To really put the cake to the test I made a short stack in a fashion that I would actually make if I was cooking from scratch; with syrup, butter, banana, blackberries, and peanut butter.

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This was absolutely delicious, and the exact reason why this product has such potential, because when most people, myself included, eat pancakes or waffles, we put so many additional things on them that the base flavor gets lost.  The flapJACKed pancakes give you a great filling and fluffy base by which to build your masterpiece and leave extra macro-space for syrups, fruits, and delicious spreads.

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The protein pancake masters at flapJACKed have slowly become one of my favorite companies, delivering great products that are filling, delicious, and an exciting way to still enjoy a weekend breakfast without the inevitable carb and sugar crash.  I’ll be on the lookout for other mixes but this Buttermilk version is a fantastic start to any pancake or waffle creation.
Rating: 9/10

REVIEW: Salted Toffee Pretzel BSN Syntha-6 Protein Crisp Bar

I love butterscotchy, toffee-y, complex caramelized flavors, but they’re hard to come across in the protein bar universe. The rare couple of times I’ve gotten caramel or toffee flavored supplements they’ve either been generally underwhelming or so over the top sickly sweet with artificial sugar that they turned me off. Suffer no more – I have found my saving grace. BSN‘s Syntha-6 line branched off from the typical vanilla and chocolate to bring us the unique and expertly executed Salted Toffee Pretzel.

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Right off the jump I’m hit with a strong buttery toffee flavor that when combined with the texture of the bar reminds me of caramel popcorn. It has that kind of “day at the circus” nostalgic quality to its aroma that is deep and refreshing with a solid balance of sweet and salty. There is no weird aftertaste or strong protein-y flavor to the bar at all, it’s just like a delicious salted caramel Rice Krispie Treat with crunchy pretzel surprises sprinkled throughout.

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Embedded within the crisps you can actually see and taste the chunks of pretzel, which enhance the texture of the bar as well as give it a slightly bready flavor to balance the sweetness. Impressively, all of the claimed elements from the description are represented here with saltiness, richness, and a wonderful back and forth between soft and chewy and hard and crunchy.  It’s a true flavor that takes no stretching of the imagination to really taste the toffee undercurrent.

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While not too flavorful when tasted in isolation, the creaminess from the base dip and top drizzle help highlight some of the buttery notes you want from toffee. There are so many different aspects to this bar yet somehow they all work together harmoniously and the flavor never falls flat or gets boring. Each bite has a slightly different texture or flavor punch and it’s without a doubt the best take I’ve had on salted caramel, pretzel, or toffee for a protein snack, let alone nailing all three at once.

Rating: 9/10

Quick Nutrition: 240 cals – 7g fat – 260mg sodium – 24g carbs – 4g sugar – 5g sugar alcohol – 20g protein

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REVIEW: Muscletech NitroTech Chocolate Peanut Butter Bar

I am a peanut butter crazed lunatic.  It’s one of those everyday kinds of foods for me, not always in abundance, I just gotta get some creamy nut butter in my life on the daily.  For this reason I don’t buy peanut butter or chocolate peanut butter flavored things because I am almost always let down and have to add actual peanut butter to it to make it decent.  In fact, I think almost all protein bars are improved with a little peanut butter, so I tend to skip PB flavor because I’ll end up adding my own anyway.  All of that aside, after being very impressed with the Muscletech NitroTech Birthday Cake protein bar (which I never reviewed but you should buy) I decided to give them the benefit of the doubt and try their Chocolate Peanut Butter crunch bar.

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Off the bat this bar looks like the lost cousin of a Combat Crunch, with little crunchy whey crisps poking their way through a creamy yogurty coating, wrapped around a whey protein base.  What makes this bar unique is the coating is peanut butter with the inside being chocolate, whereas most products trying to tackle this flavor do it the other way around, emulating a Reese’s peanut butter cup.

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Flavor-wise this bar is pretty tasty but is still far from hitting the mark of the luxuriously creamy and perfect experience of peanut butter chocolate.  The strongest flavor here is the chocolate, which is surprisingly less sweet and more cocoa-forward than I expected.  The deep cocoa taste mixed with the soft chew of the center of the bar reminds me of a brownie kissed with the essence of peanut butter.  Since the only peanut butter taste comes from the coating, it fades quickly and unfortunately crumbles and breaks as you eat it.  The one aspect they nailed as far as a PB profile goes is an underlining saltiness, which is good since this bar has more sodium (350 mg) than I usually like to take in with my protein supplements.

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Overall this is a pretty solid effort that is neither incredibly impressive or a big letdown.  It’s much better than Combat Crunch’s attempt, which is my least favorite of their bars, and the sorry attempt by Quest, but can’t touch Muscletech’s spin on Birthday Cake.  It still falls short on delivering the ultimate chocolate peanut butter experience but could be a good choice for those who really crave this combo but don’t want to dig into a Reese’s.  In all honestly, just grab a Reese’s.

Rating: 7/10

Quick Nutrition: 240 cals – 8g fat – 350mg sodium – 24g carbs – 5g fiber – 5g sugar – 22g protein

REVIEW: G Butter Limited Edition Sugar Cookie Spread

G Butter is one of many small nut and protein spread companies slowly spreading their seed through follows and likes of helpless peanut butter addicts on Instagram (me), and are proving quite successful at doing so. Using a slew of different nuts and whey protein they have flavors ranging from cookie dough to butter pecan to the one that intrigued me the most – sugar cookie. Touting the insane nutritional stat line of 100 calories, 5 grams of fat, 1 gram of sugar, 4 grams of carbs, and 10 grams of protein for two tablespoons I was eager to dig in and see how this was possible.
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Visually this stuff ain’t much of a show stopper. It looks like a jar of snot or the worst most pale gravy you’ve ever seen, BUT, it is trying to look like a sugar cookie, which is pale and weird, and is made out of cashews, which are…pale and weird; so, this all makes perfect sense. There are no sprinkles or chunky mix ins of any kind so the spread has a relatively static and flat look that luckily has more flavor than eye candy.
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The texture is smooth with the occasional sugary crackle and the flavor favors neither cashews or artificial sweeteners too heavily. The mouth feel more closely resembles the gooey-ness of honey than the fatty richness of your usual nut butter and takes a little while to get used to but isn’t ultimately unappealing.
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Sugar cookie is an incredibly delicate flavor and it comes across more convincingly here than most products I’ve had trying to tackle it. G Butter didn’t try to smack you in the face with harsh sweetness, but rather carry the subtleties that make sugar cookies so great – lightly sweet with a well rounded butterniess that coats your tongue.
The side of the jar suggests you put one serving on a plate and microwave it for 10-30 seconds and you will have an actual cookie. To my absolute surprise, it makes a damn good sugar cookie. The cookie comes out cakey and fluffy and smells like fresh baked buttery goodness. Right when coming out of the microwave it’s soft and prone to squishing just like you had pulled a batch from the oven. Using a spoon you can take a bite and get that melty warm cookie texture that tastes and feels completely authentic with no noticeable protein or “healthy cookie” flavor. Let the cookie sit for a couple of minutes and it firms up to a soft texture while maintaining all of that splendid texture and you can hold and eat it like a glorious cookie cake hybrid.

 

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I had some sprinkles on hand so I tossed a few on top. Perfect. Cookie. One tablespoon for 20 seconds. 50 calories, 5 grams of protein.

This cookie rivals or beats any pre-packaged protein cookie I’ve had and is so successful I’m almost surprised they don’t advertise and sell this as a protein dough as opposed to a butter. Really great stuff with insane potential, which if I was rating based just on taste it would rank lower, but factoring in flavor, macros, and creativity this cookie is a keeper.
Rating: 8/10