There are roughly over fifty types of vegan protein bars on the market today, with limitless flavor options and ingredients. One thing I’ve noticed though is that most of them are incredibly high in sugar, whether it’s “natural” or not. Sugar isn’t the most nutritionally-friendly ingredient to our bodies, even if it comes in the form of a vegan, natural source. Tapioca syrup, cane juice, cane syrup, brown rice syrup, fructose, dates, and coconut sugar are all natural, but they still raise blood sugar levels and trigger sweet cravings. These sweeteners also decrease leptin in the body, a hormone that tells you when you’ve had enough to eat and helps keep your blood sugar stable. To your body, sugar is sugar is sugar is sugar. Period.
When it comes to sweets, fresh fruit is always great for you and a little dried fruit every now and then doesn’t hurt either. However, for those of you with blood sugar issues like myself or who are just sensitive to sugars in general, there aren’t many naturally sugar-free options in the vegan protein bar selection. So a couple of months ago, I decided to remedy the situation in my own kitchen. I looked up various recipes but could only find vegan protein bars with dried fruit, syrups, fructose, coconut sugar, or some other type of sugar included. After several trial and errors, I finally developed an ingredient list for a sugar-free vegan protein bar that’s not only delicious, but incredibly friendly to your blood sugar, too.
Did I mention they contain no nut butter and are only around 100 calories per bar with 10 grams of protein each? They make the perfect filling snack on the go and are easy enough to make if you have an extra 20-30 minutes a week. Here are five steps to making a great sugar-free vegan protein bar:
1. Pick a Great Protein Powder
First things first when making a sugar-free protein bar: pick a high quality protein powder, not one with sugar, obviously. You should also pick one that uses organic or non-GMO ingredients whenever possible. It’s a great idea to test a few out in a smoothie first and pick which one you love the most. This will be the largest base in your bars, so you want to be sure it’s one you love. Some of my favorite flavors are French vanilla, vanilla, mocha mint, and chocolate. I use ⅔ cup of protein powder in my recipe to make a total of eight bars.
2. Add a Few Thickening Agents
In order to get your vegan protein bars to bind together without the need for dried fruit, nut butter, syrups, or sugar, you’ll need a few ingredients to serve as thickening agents. I use a mix of milled chia (chia meal), flax meal, and coconut flour which always achieve the perfect texture every time without any need for sugary binders. I use two tablespoons each of coconut flour, flax, and chia meal in my recipe to make eight bars. If you don’t like coconut flour, rolled oats also work. However, coconut flour is higher in protein and more insulin-friendly.
3. Add Stevia
I know some people aren’t fond of stevia, but personally I just love it. If you’re a fan, it will make your bars taste so much better and you only need a little bit since it’s extremely strong. I use just a teaspoon of a pure white stevia extract (not diluted powders sold in most stores) that is highly concentrated and has no bitter aftertaste. A liquid stevia product would also work well too, and you would need to use 10 full drops of liquid stevia for a recipe to make eight bars.
Using stevia gives you a more natural, sugar-free sweet taste without the need for artificial sweeteners or sugar. If you’re not a fan of stevia, try erithrytol or xylitol instead, which have zero glycemic effect and are 100 percent natural. Use one tablespoon of these since they’re less potent than stevia.
4. Add Some Flavor
Your protein bars will taste great if you pick a top quality protein powder, but I also suggest adding an extra punch of flavor. Great ideas are flavored extracts like alcohol-free vanilla, cocoa powder, and/or spices. I love using cinnamon in my protein bars, but you can also use ginger, cardamom, nutmeg, apple pie spice, pumpkin pie spice, or just a pinch of salt. Either way, adding a just a little bit of spice will help them taste better and it also makes them more nutritious. Cinnamon regulates your blood sugar and both cinnamon and ginger aid in digestion. Whatever you use, I recommend no more than a teaspoon per recipe to prevent hindering the taste of the overall bars.
5. Don’t Forget the Liquid
Of course you can’t make a protein bar with just dry ingredients alone – you’re going to also need some liquid. I use a mix of water and unsweetened vanilla almond milk, but you could get creative and use soy milk, flax milk, coconut milk, coffee, coconut water, or even carrot juice for a carrot cake flavor. Just remember to buy unsweetened varieties instead of sugary milks or juices to keep these bars sugar-free.
I’m partial to almond milk and water since the mixture lends a creamy flavor that mixes well and works well with the other ingredients. Use just enough liquid to thicken your bars into a dough-like consistency that resembles cookie dough. I find that usually equals to 1 1/2 cups total of a mix of water and almond milk. If you need to add extra water to achieve a dough-like consistency, feel free to add it. It should roll up into a thick ball, not look like muffin batter.
To Assemble Your Bars:
It’s a great idea to mix your dry ingredients (steps 1-4) together first and then add the liquid last. Once you have all of your ingredients mixed together, just press the dough flat into an 8×8 inch square glass baking pan with your hands, and make sure to distribute it evenly across the entire pan. Bake at 350 for 10 minutes if you like your bars slightly soft like I do or do 20 minutes for a firmer bar. Don’t over-bake them or they’ll be extremely dry and tough. You want them to be slightly soft to the touch when you remove them from the oven.
I like to let mine cool on the counter for about 30 minutes before packaging them up into individual baggies. You can store in the fridge if you like, but I prefer keeping them in the freezer in freezer safe bags for longer storage. If you freeze them, all you need to do is let one thaw for 10 minutes on the counter and they’re ready to eat.
Tips for Success:
Get creative with your flavors and try out different vegan protein powders to see which ones you like. Remember that the flavored options will taste much better in a protein bar than plain options like regular hemp protein or regular rice protein.
You can also add fun sugar-free toppings if you like such as raw cacao nibs, chopped nuts, or coconut flakes, but be sure to do this before baking so they’ll adhere to your bars better.
I hope you’ll give these a try and let me know what you think! Do you make your own vegan protein bars?
Image source: Heather McClees