You can hardly walk into a shop in Ireland these days without being confronted with an array of protein balls.

Whether it's an artisan food store, your local healthy lunch spot or the garage up the road, most places that sell food have jumped on the bandwagon and are now offering healthy snacks like protein balls, nut butters and energy bars. There seem to be hundreds of different varieties making these treats, including vegan blogger Deliciously Ella and peanut butter champions NutShed, so how do you know which energy ball is best for you? 

We've decided to take a closer look at protein balls. Do they actually provide much protein? Are they a satisfying snack? Or is this just another opportunity for the wellness-obsessed Instagrammers of today to capitalise on society's obsession with health? Read on for our take on protein balls.

The Good

There's no doubt that protein balls are a handy snack to have available when you're in a pinch. They're extremely portable, far more so than their previously popular counterpart the granola bar when would often be reduced to crumbs by the time you were ready to eat it. Protein balls are also very customisable, meaning the nutrients are easily varied. Whether you need a healthy dose of good fats or you're looking for a vitamin boost from goji berries, you can jam as many nutrients as you need into each compact little ball.

Protein balls also do exactly what they say on the tin – they will give you a definite boost in energy. They're usually made with a combination of dried fruit and nuts of nut butter, meaning they supply a serious amount of good fats and energy. When you're craving a quick energy boost in the afternoon, it might make more sense to reach for an energy ball than a bar of chocolate.

The Bad

While we've mentioned that energy balls are often jam-packed with a variety of good fats and energy, they can often be quite high in sugar – Deliciously Ella's protein balls contain 433 calories per 100g, which is just shy of the number of calories in a Mars bar of the same weight, as well as around double the same amount of fat. 

Store-bought protein balls also carry a hefty price tag, with most coming in around €2-€2.50 for about 40g. It seems it would be more economical to simply eat the individual elements of each protein ball, like cashews, almonds or dried fruits, than to buy the actual balls themselves. 

The worst part about protein balls is that some seem to sacrifice flavour by jamming in as many supposedly healthy ingredients as possible. Often, this results in an unbalanced flavour, as well as an unpleasant texture. While we're all for healthy food, we don't think it should come as a sacrifice to flavour – there are lots of combinations that are both flavoursome and healthy.

The Verdict

Protein balls can be healthy when incorporated into a balanced diet, but shouldn't be eaten as though they're a totally virtuous snack. They definitely offer lots of energy, which is great when you're heading out to exercise or simply need a boost, but not as good for you if you're not expending the energy they provide. 

In terms of flavour, we think there are certain store-bought varieties that are lacking in this area, so try to buy from small-scale suppliers that are using the absolute best ingredients and flavours. Even better, why not try making your own protein balls? That way you'll know exactly what's in them, as well as saving yourself some money. We love these two recipes from the team at Two Boys Brew. They're jam-packed with great flavours, as well as providing lots of good fats and energy.

Peanut butter protein balls and coconut espresso balss by Two Boys Brew. Photo by Harry Weir and Brian Clarke.

Peanut butter protein balls and coconut espresso balss by Two Boys Brew. Photo by Harry Weir and Brian Clarke.

What do you think about protein balls? Let us know in the comments below.