Who doesn’t love energy bars? They’re quick, easy, they normally go down pretty easily, and they can even help pep you up for a workout, or help you battle the rest of the afternoon when you’re lagging around 3-4 p.m. But we all know most energy bars at the store aren’t too superb. They’re normally filled with a sticky, sugary goo of some sort (normally brown rice syrup, agave, cane syrup, or worse – artificial sweeteners). Now, while some of these might seem like better options than crystallized, refined white sugar, in all honesty, they just make energy bars taste more fake, and can cause an unnecessary rise in blood glucose levels. You also don’t need them to make your energy bars taste delicious.
For healthy, clean and delicious energy bars, stick with whole, plant-based ingredients. No chalky powders, sticky sweeteners, or any of that stuff. Check out these better options instead:
Basic Ingredients to Start With …
1. Fiber-Rich Fruit
Fruit like figs, dates, raisins, and prunes all make great bases to create your energy bars from. If you’re worried about their sugar content, take into context that you do not need a lot to make the recipe with, so per serving, it will come to very little sugar. It’s also not as if you’re sitting down to eat a bag of dates or cup of raisins, (which would likely give you a stomachache). A little dried fruit in an energy bar goes a long way in helping the bars stick together without a liquid sweetener, will provide the most natural source of energy, and they contain fiber to slow down the rate at which those sugars enter your bloodstream.
Energy-packed choices like dates, figs, raisins and prunes are all good choices since they’re packed with antioxidants, filled with soluble fiber for good heart health, cholesterol and digestion, and they’re also really high in B vitamins and magnesium to assist with energy production. Their potassium content is an extra bonus since it lowers high blood pressure.
Almonds are the most alkaline nut and make a great energy bar addition. You can also use almond butter if you don’t have whole almonds on hand. The key is to use raw and unsalted as the best option, which will give you more nutrition. They are also less processed than roasted varieties. If you’re using whole almonds, process them finely in your food processor first to grind them into a powder, then add the rest of the ingredients so you can be sure they’re all chopped up well. Almonds are a dense source of magnesium, protein, fiber, calcium, Vitamin B6, manganese, potassium, and even a little iron too. They’re great for fighting stress and warding off inflammation.
Another lovely nut to include in your energy bars are cashews. Not just because they’re creamy and delicious, but also because they’re mood-boosters and natural sources of energy thanks to the iron, magnesium and B vitamins found in cashews. The healthy fats from cashews and almonds will also help halt the glycemic rise from the sugars in the dried fruit, and will help your body absorb the high amounts of nutrients from the fruits much better. Some fats are also necessary for healthy digestion and energy, so it’s always best to choose high-quality sources like raw nuts and seeds, above processed foods and heavy oils with no fiber.
4. Hemp Seeds
Hemp seeds are a magical food – no really – they’re insanely healthy for you in just about every way. Fiber, protein, magnesium, iron (45 percent of the RDA in 3 tablespoons!), and even B vitamins, potassium and chlorophyll too. If you suffer irregularity, well then, hemp seeds can also help you out there too. But the reason they’re so great in an energy bar recipe, is because when you puree them in your food processor, they turn into a creamy delight that helps your recipes stick together better. They also add a lovely texture and eye appeal. Buy them raw and organic since many hemp seed products that can be produced with a harmful gas known as hexane.
5. Cinnamon and Ginger
These two spices are fabulous in an energy bar recipe not just for their taste, but for their nutritional benefits. Cinnamon can help lower your blood sugar and aid in digestion. Ginger can also aid in digestion and it even prevents inflammation. Just a teaspoon of cinnamon and 1/4 tsp. ginger is all you normally need, though you can use more or less if you like. Other good spices include cardamom (helpful for digestion and sweetness), cloves (for a richer flavor), and nutmeg (for a holiday-tasting recipe).
6. Ground Golden Flax
Many people use chia in energy bar recipes, and you can certainly do that since they’re a great source of fiber, vitamin B6, iron, and omega-3 fatty acids. Flax is also a great source of omega 3 fats, fiber, and it works better in energy bars where you want a nutty, slightly sweet flavor, whereas chia seeds have no taste and more crunch. I find the crunch from the nuts above is plenty, and flax forms a nice doughy texture, almost similar to a cake-like feel in energy bars. You only need a little ground flax to go a long way as well. Golden flax is generally a little sweeter in flavor than brown flax, though both will work and are nutritionally equal.
Optional (but Recommended) Ingredients
While you don’t have to have the following two ingredients, they’re highly recommended for their nutritional benefits, flavor, and their ability to enhance the texture of the recipes…
High in magnesium to satisfy your cravings and iron to energize you, along with a deep chocolate taste, raw cacao makes a perfect addition. You can also use cocoa, though raw cacao is more nutrient-dense.
Raw Coconut Shreds (or Flour)
This will add a slightly sweet flavor, healthy fats that boost your liver detoxification and energy levels, fiber for digestion and satiety, and contain contains no sugar (unless you buy sweetened options). Raw coconut is great for your blood sugar, brain and makes energy bars go from good to great! The flour will make your bars more cake-like and the shreds will add a crunchier texture.
To make an energy bar with these healthy ingredients, follow the recipe below. Feel free to add a little water to your food processor to get it going if need be. Enjoy!
Naturally Sweet and Healthy Energy Bars (or Bites)
Serves: About 10-12 bites or 6-8 bars (depending on the size your make them)
- 3/4 cup either dried dates, figs, or prunes, or 1/2 cup raisins (since they are smaller, they’re more dense)
- 1/4 cup raw almonds
- 1/4 cup raw cashews
- 3-4 tbsp. organic hemp seeds
- 3-4 tbsp. ground golden flax meal (or you can grind the whole seeds yourself)
- 1 tsp. cinnamon
- 1/4 tsp. ginger
- optional: 2 tbsp. shredded coconut or 1 tbsp. coconut flour, 1 tsp. raw cacao powder
*First, soak your dried fruit for 30 minutes at room temp or overnight. Drain and discard all but 2 tbsp. of the water before use.*
1. Place the almonds and cashews in your blender and pulse/run the processor until they become slightly fine like a powder (much like almond flour looks). This will help ensure you have no huge chunks in the final recipe and will make a smoother, silkier bar.
2. Once they look about right, add the soaked, drained fruit. (If you used dates, be sure you pitted them first). Also add the soaking water.
3. Next, add the hemp, flax and spices. If you’re using the additional coconut and cacao, also add those as well.
4. Run the food processor until you get a large ball of dough. You can add 1-2 tsp. more water if you need to, but let the processor run at least one minute to give the dough a chance to form. It should look like a large ball of sticky cookie dough.
5. Scoop the mixture out into an 8×8 inch glass dish and press firmly (like you would pour brownie batter in a pan). Let this sit in the freezer about 45 minutes to 1 hour to set. Then cut and slice into bars. You can garnish with coconut flour or hemp seeds if you like.
*If you want to make these into bites, just scoop the dough out onto a large plate, create little bite sized balls and roll with your hands, place on a glass plate or in a dish, and let them set in the freezer for 45 minutes to 1 hour.
All of these will keep in the fridge for a week and in the fridge well-covered for a month. Enjoy your way to a more energized lifestyle the healthy way!
Lead Image Source: Heather McClees/Sugar-Free Vegan Protein Bars