Diet Shake Showdown

Bear Naked Pure & Natural Grain-ola Bars

By: Bear Naked

I Paid: $1.69 for a 1.9-ounce bar (prices may vary by region)

Taste: 4stars


Marketing: 4stars

It’s not clear why any company would want to throw itself into the oversaturated granola bar business. But Bear Naked, whose flagship granola product was favorably reviewed in this column, seems to be staking at least some of its commercial viability on the idea that consumers will pay a bit more for a snack with better-quality ingredients. In addition, it’s going for the original “healthy eater” market that used to be the main audience for granola bars, by offering products that don’t contain preservatives, artificial flavors, trans fats, cholesterol, hydrogenated oils, or high-fructose corn syrup.

The bars have the chewy stickiness of nouveau soft granola bars, and also the oaty soulfulness and honest flavors more associated with old-school hard granola bars.

The Fruit & Nut variety has a sweetness that isn’t overwhelming, complemented by the brightness of high-quality, natural-tasting raisins and cranberries. The Tropical Fruit is a bit heavy on the pineapple (almost to the exclusion of the mango and papaya that are also supposedly present), but this ultimately isn’t a bad thing: A very light-on-its-feet tartness gives each bite an almost palpable halo of energy and flavor.

Only with Chocolaty Cherry does the brand fall down, and even then, it’s not a catastrophic situation. Rather than chunks of chocolate, there’s a vague, could-be-sweeter cocoa aftertaste and a lack of the kind of pure, bright cherry flavor that the other two bars led me to think would be there. Still, it’s not bad, just workaday—and it’s nice to see a manufacturer err on the side of making an ostensibly healthy, natural product undersweet rather than oversweet.

Special K Protein Shakes

By: Kellogg’s

I Paid: $7.99 for four 10-ounce bottles (prices may vary by region)

Taste: 4stars


Marketing: 4stars

Special K, the cereal many people regard as a diet/weight-loss breakfast, has decided to leverage its brand in a logical direction: meal-substitute protein shakes that “satisfy hunger longer.”

You can call these things shakes, but let’s be honest: Nobody who buys them is expecting a legitimate old-timey soda fountain experience, and to pretend otherwise insults everyone’s intelligence. They come in chocolate, vanilla, and strawberry flavors, and taste of whey—almost cheesy. There’s a sucralose finish that recalls artificial sweeteners in general. The overall experience is a lot like drinking a soy-based chocolate milk substitute.

For all that, the beverages aren’t terrible. They’re modestly refreshing, and feel substantial without being chalky or heavy. The French Vanilla flavor is the winner of the bunch, pleasantly like drinking a light, cool batch of vanilla pudding. Strawberry is oddly good too, like a creamy strawberry Quik.

How does Special K square off against its competitors? The Milk Chocolate shake has 10 grams of protein and 5 grams of fiber, which is the same as Slim-Fast’s Creamy Milk Chocolate Ready to Drink, and compares well with the 15 grams of protein and 3 grams of fiber in Atkins Advantage Milk Chocolate Delight Shake. Atkins has the fewest calories though: 14.5 per ounce, which is lower than Special K’s 19 and Slim-Fast’s 20.

However, Special K triumphs handily in terms of taste. The first whiff of Slim-Fast is oddly fishy, and there’s a metallic note probably imparted by the metal can that’s profoundly annoying. Atkins tastes like chocolate Pepto-Bismol with an added double or triple dose of that same sucralose. So, if your quest is diet shakes—and God help you if that’s the case—I recommend Special K.

James Norton edits the Upper Midwestern food journal Heavy Table. He's also the coauthor of a book on Wisconsin's master cheesemakers. Follow CHOW on Twitter, and become a fan on Facebook.