Most of us lead busy, on-the-go lifestyles that cause us to rely on convenience foods more than we’d like. For the health-conscious, energy bars may seem like a smart source of fuel in a convenient package, but many of the store-bought options contain excess sugar that can make an otherwise balanced diet unbalanced. Americans are already overdoing it when it comes to sugar. Research shows that the average American consumes 22 teaspoons (355 calories) of added sugar a day, with a large majority coming from processed and prepared foods. According to a study published in the 2012 issue of the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, more than 95 percent of packaged granola, protein or energy bars contain caloric sweeteners. Just because commercial varieties overdo the sugar doesn’t mean you have to forsake the convenience and nutrition of energy bars as a healthy snack option during the day. By making your own energy bars, you can get all of the macronutrients and a variety of vitamins and minerals without all of the added sugar and additives. Read on to learn how to make nutritious, delicious do-it-yourself bars.
1. The 4-Ingredient Energy Bar
If you’re looking to whip up a no-sugar-added energy bar in just a few minutes that will take care of your breakfast, afternoon snack or dessert, all you need are bananas, oats, nuts and dates (salt, vanilla and a touch of cinnamon are optional). Faith Durand, author of the recipe on The Kitchn, a web magazine devoted to home cooking and kitchen design, raves about the versatility of bananas in this recipe. She notes that the “amazing fruit” stands in for sugar and some of the fat in these “wondrously chewy, yummy snack bars.” INGREDIENTS: 2 large, very ripe bananas, 1 teaspoon vanilla (optional), 2 cups rolled oats, 1/2 teaspoon salt (optional), 1/4 cup pitted, chopped dried dates, 1/4 cup chopped nuts (such as walnuts, hazelnuts or pecans), grated nutmeg or cinnamon (optional). DIRECTIONS: 1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees and lightly grease a 9x9 inch-square baking dish using butter or olive oil, 2. Mash the bananas very thoroughly in a mixing bowl until they are almost liquid. No large chunks should remain (about 1 cup and 1 ¼ cup), 3. Stir in vanilla (optional). Mix in oats, then dates, nuts and salt (optional), 4. Press the mixture evenly into a 9x9-inch baking dish. Sprinkle the top lightly with nutmeg or cinnamon (optional), 5. Bake for 30 minutes in an over preheated to 350 degrees. (Makes 9 bars).
2. The No-Grain Apricot Energy Bar
This Paleo-friendly energy bar does not contain any added sugar and is grain- and dairy-free. Many of the ingredients used in non-paleo energy bars such as dried fruit and nuts are included in these too, but the paleo versions have unique twists that make them fun to try and to taste. For instance the Primal Palate, a site dedicated to recipes and menus that fit the Paleo lifestyle, makes a snack bar with eggs as a protein source and coconut oil for added fat. INGREDIENTS: 1 cup dried apricots, 1 cup almonds, 1 cup cashews, 2 eggs, ¼ teaspoon sea salt, ½ vanilla bean pod, scraped, and ½ teaspoon coconut oil. DIRECTIONS: 1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees, 2. Grind apricots, almonds and cashews in a food processor until they make small bits, 3. Pulse in eggs, sea salt and vanilla bean until the dough forms a ball, 4. Press mixture into an 8x8-inch baking dish greased with coconut oil, 5. Bake for 25 minutes in an oven heated to 350 degrees. (Makes 6 bars).
3. The Sweet Bean Energy Bar
For a twist on the typical energy bar recipe, Mother Nature Network’s ChocoBean Power Bars uses cooked black beans to “add protein and fiber without overpowering the banana and chocolate flavors.” The recipe is quick and easy to make, and there’s no cooking involved if you use canned beans. INGREDIENTS: 1 1/2 cups cooked black beans, drained and rinsed, 3/4 cup dried banana slices, 1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder, 1/3 cup (packed) raisins or dried cranberries, 2 teaspoons vanilla extract, 1/2 cup brown rice syrup, 1/4 cup oatmeal blended until very fine, 1/4 cup ground flaxseed, 1/2 cup semisweet mini chocolate chips (optional), 2 tablespoons almond meal, fine. DIRECTIONS: 1. Blend beans, banana, cocoa powder, raisins, vanilla and syrup in a food processor until smooth, 2. Add oatmeal and flaxseed (and chocolate chips if using) and pulse until mixture is blended and forms a dough, 3. Sprinkle almond meal over the bottom of a 9x9-inch cake pan and press the mixture firmly into the pan, 4. Chill for 2 hours until firm, then cut into 12 squares, 5. Wrap each in wax paper and refrigerate in a closed container for up to four days, or freeze for up to a month. (Makes 12 bars).