You’ve got the power!
By Katie Scarvey
Nutrition bars are enormously popular, and they’re also big business. There are many commercial bars available, and some of them are excellent ó both tasty and nutritious ó but the buyer should beware.
If you really examine the ingredients, some products aren’t much more than candy bars with some extra protein thrown in. Check labels. Often, you’ll find things in your bar you don’t want, like high fructose corn syrup.
And you might not even be getting what the label promises. One study done in 2001 found that out of 30 bars tested, more than half were not what they purported to be. Some bars had more carbohydrates, fat and sodium than listed on the label.
My husband and I both like the convenience of nutrition bars. A creature of habit, he takes one to work daily as a snack, and I sometimes eat one in place of lunch if I’m busy or too lazy to pack something else.
But the commercial versions are pricey, and we like being able to have some control over ingredients, so I’ve been experimenting with homemade versions.
There are probably hundreds of nutrition/protein bar recipes available on the Internet, and most of them are pretty easy to tackle.
I think once you get a few basic concepts down, of either the baked or no-bake versions that follow, you can have fun experimenting until you find your own perfect recipe.
The following is basically a granola bar, but the nuts and protein powder pump it up. If you don’t like the protein powder (or don’t have any), you can replace it with whole wheat flour.
This recipe makes about 12 bars, which are moist, not crunchy. They freeze well.
Super-powered granola bars
1 C. quick-cooking rolled oats
1/2 C. wheat and barley nugget cereal (e.g. Grapenuts)
1/2 C. whey protein powder (I like vanilla flavored)
1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon, optional
1 beaten egg
1/4 C. applesauce (can use more if you need more moisture)
1/4 C. honey
3 Tbsp. brown sugar, optional
2 Tbsp. vegetable oil
1/4 C. sunflower seeds
1/4 C. chopped nuts (I like almonds, but use what you like)
1 cup or so dried fruit, your choice (I like a combination of cherries and blueberries, but that boosts the cost per bar considerably. Raisins are the economical choice.)
Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Line a 9-inch square baking pan with aluminum foil. Spray foil with cooking spray.
In a large bowl, stir together the oats, protein powder, cereal, and cinnamon. Add the egg, applesauce, honey, brown sugar, and oil. Mix well. Stir in the sunflower seeds, nuts, and dried fruit. Spread and press mixture evenly in the prepared pan.
Bake 25-30 minutes, or until firm and lightly browned around the edges. Do not overcook! Let cool. Use the foil to lift from the pan. Cut into bars or squares and store in the refrigerator or freezer.
No-bake protein bars
If you’re looking for a bar that packs a bigger protein punch, you might try this no-bake version. This is a real protein bar, so it’s quite dense. Not everyone likes the texture of bars with this much protein.
The basic ingredients for one popular type, in roughly 1:1:1 ratio, are (1) some sort of healthy grain or cereal such as oatmeal or Grapenuts (2) whey protein powder, and (3) some sort of binding agent ó nut butter or fat-free cream cheese and/or banana).
Once you get the concept down, this bar can be tweaked in an infinite number of ways to your taste.
Step 1: I started with a cup of steel-cut oatmeal and whizzed it around in my food processor to turn it into flour. I tried not to overdo it because I wanted a little texture, but you could process it until it’s very fine if you like a smoother bar.
It’s a good idea to process some extra flour and then remove it from the processor so that if you screw up later and end up with a dough that’s too gooey, you’ll have some extra to add.
Creative variation 1: Use a combination of flours. Instead of using just oat flour, you could add some wheat germ or ground flaxseed.
Creative variation 2: As you’re processing the oats, throw in some nuts and seeds. I added a handful of almonds and sunflower seeds. Brazil nuts, packed with selenium, would also be a good choice, as would walnuts and pumpkin seeds.
Creative variation 3: Add your favorite spice, like cinnamon or nutmeg.
Step 2. Next, add about a cup of protein powder to the food processor and pulse for a few seconds until the dry stuff is combined.
There are many varieties and flavors available, from chocolate to vanilla to strawberry. You may need to experiment to find your favorite. Soy instead of whey should work as well. Be sure to read the labels if you’re concerned about sugar and cholesterol. I used a vanilla flavored product, but I think chocolate might be better. Of course you could add some cocoa to get the flavor.
Creative variation 1: Instead of using a whole cup of protein powder, use some powdered skim milk, which is also a great no-fat source of protein and calcium. I used maybe 3/4 cup of protein powder and 1/4 cup of powdered skim milk.
Step 3. Now, bind the dry ingredients together.
Add a cup of of nut butter, processing a little at a time. I used peanut butter. Almond butter would be a good choice as well.
Instead of peanut butter you can use fat-free cream cheese as your binding agent in this step, which will cut out a lot of the fat. I tried this variation as well, with satisfactory results. (Next time, I’ll try a combination.)
I discovered after processing the peanut butter with the dry ingredients that I needed more moistness. You want your dough to be stiff, not sticky, so that it will roll out and not fall apart.
For extra moisture, I added a banana, which worked nicely. From what I have read, other sorts of fruit puree, like applesauce, could work as well.
Creative variation 1 : Add some dried fruit ó raisins, cranberries, blueberries or cherries. If you’d like them to remain in chunks, don’t overprocess. I processed my dough too long after I added some raisins, and they disappeared into the dough. Next time, I might wait to add the dried fruit until after I take the dough out of the food processor. Creative variation 2: If your protein powder does not have enough sweetness, you may want to add some at this point. If you still need a little moisture, honey or molasses are good choices. You could also use Splenda.
Step 4: Take the dough from the food processor and put it in a large bowl to see if it’s the right consistency. My dough was a little dry, so I added a splash of orange juice and worked it in to get it to a good cookie dough consistency. You could use other liquids, like soy milk or skim milk.Step 5. Next, take a cookie sheet and put wax paper on it. Dump the dough on the wax paper. Cover with another sheet of wax paper and use a rolling pin to roll it out to the desired thickness. Leave the wax paper on top and then put the cookie sheet (or other pan you’ve used) into the refrigerator to chill.
Step 6: When the dough has chilled a bit, cut into bars, whatever size you want. I got more than a dozen generous-sized bars. Wrap each bar individually in wax paper.
I put a few into the refrigerator and put the rest in the freezer inside a Zip-lok bag.
I found the whole process very simple, despite the fact that you have to use your own judgment here and there when it comes to dough consistency.
I love that these bars cost a fraction of what you’d pay at a store, and I think that this bar is probably more nutritious than the average protein bar on the market.
Contact Katie Scarvey at 704-797-4270 or email@example.com.