Ask a Foodie: Are These Energy Bars Any Good for Me?
Plus, learn how to make your own natural, nutrient-packed trail-mix bars.
Photo by Leah Lizarondo
I love energy bars. And judging by the ever-growing energy-bar section at the grocery store, chances are you do, too. However, as I wrote in my first energy-bar post, most of these supposedly healthy snacks are really just candy bars in disguise. Sugar, after all, is energy. But we don’t need a super-sweet bar to give us a boost.
I see energy bars as “discretionary food.” They don’t need to be part of our daily diet, but they’re good to keep on hand in case of emergencies — to fuel up before a tough workout or as a mental-health treat. They also are an acceptance of the reality that sometimes we simply don’t have time for proper meals. Heck, it’s better than reaching for the crash-inducing cupcake (for the nth time) when your blood sugar dips.
I like to make my own bars. But (again) sometimes I just don’t have the time. In these occasions, I spring for my favorite brand, Lara Bar. Why do I like them so much? Most Lara Bars are only sweetened with dates and contain very few ingredients. They’re also very low in sugar content compared to most alternatives. My favorites are the Cashew Cookie and the Roasted Nut Roll (only 7 grams of sugar each).
Keep an eye out for bars that list “raw” on the label. Those options might be pricey, but they usually are safe bets. Most of the time, they use fruits to sweeten (or in less-preferred cases, honey or agave). They also are free of artificial additives. And — finally — in the interest of world peace: Most of them are vegan and paleo friendly!
Avoid bars that are extremely high in carbohydrates and sugar, along with ones containing ingredients such as soy protein isolates — which are chemically derived and can cause digestive issues — and additives. Clif Bars, one of the original “alternative” energy bars, aren’t good for those very reasons. Luna bars are not my favorite choice either. Bottom line: There are many bogus “granola bars” and “energy bars.” Read the ingredients and nutrition label to make sure you are buying ones full of proper nutrients. Or else …
Of course, the original homemade Leah Bars are my favorite of them all. Look, I know the ingredients list can be daunting. So when I do make them, I always double the batch because I already took the trouble. They freeze very well.
For a less-daunting bar, my friend Sherrie posted this recipe — and I loved it so much I must share. My favorite part, aside from the fact that it is easy to make, is that the recipe uses only three tablespoons of maple syrup! Applesauce contributes additional sweetness, not in a cloying way, though. The cinnamon helps with blood sugar as well. The resulting bar is nutty but not too sweet. It was very hard not to eat it straight out of the oven — and I am a little bit ashamed of how fast the first batch was consumed (discretionary, right?!). For the second batch, I exercised more restraint and actually froze some. So there.
Trail-Mix Energy Bars
Yield: one 8×8 pan
- ¼ C melted coconut oil
- 4 T smooth peanut butter or your favorite nut butter
- 3 T maple syrup or brown rice syrup
- ¼ C ground flax seeds
- 1 ¼ C applesauce
- 1 T vanilla
- 3 C rolled oats (gluten-free rolled oats if you are avoiding gluten)
- 1 C dried fruit (use what you have on hand, cut into raisin-size chunks)
- ½ C sunflower seeds and/or pumpkin seeds
- ½ t cinnamon
- ¼ t salt
1. Preheat oven to 325F. Line an 8×8 pan with parchment paper.
2. In a small saucepan over low heat, combine coconut oil, nut butter and syrup. Remove from heat. Add flax, applesauce, vanilla and whisk to combine.
3. In a large bowl, combine the dry ingredients and give it a good stir to make sure the ingredients are well distributed. Add the liquid mixture and stir until well-combined.
4. Transfer to a baking pan and press with the back of a spoon or your hands to pack the dough and create an even surface.
5. Bake until golden, about 45 minutes. Cool completely in pan (this is VERY important — the bars will crumble otherwise). Lift out and cut into 12 or so pieces.
6. Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator. Wrap individual bars tightly for freezing and transporting.
Adapted from a recipe by Emily Ho on The Kitchn. Thank you, Sherrie Flick, for posting!