Happy National Nutrition Month (NNM)! What better to celebrate my first full month serving the members of Capital Counseling and EAP?! Though my gut told me to write a defense piece highlighting the nutritional value and versatility of potatoes (which someday I will write!), I opted instead to stick to the theme of “Eat Right, Bite by Bite” by focusing on energy bites and protein bars.
Pre-packaged protein bars have been the go-to for quick breakfast, convenient snack, or meal replacement for a long time. This is largely due to the fact that they don’t need to be refrigerated, are wrapped for travel, and often come in flavors such as “Cookies & Cream Milkshake”. Not to mention, they can be purchased in bulk at almost every grocery story, gas station, vending machine, or laundromat in town. In contrast to starving or having an actual milkshake, one could argue these bars are a better option and with that I would agree. However, protein bars can be a very slippery slope since they often contain unnecessary quantities of sugar, highly processed ingredients, and chemically-made artificial sweeteners. Therefore, in honor of the 2020 NNM theme, I challenge YOU to do better by trying one of these home-made versions instead:
Why, you ask?… Making your own gives YOU control over the ingredients.
1. You know exactly how much added sugar is used and where it comes from. Using blended and/or dried fruits like dates, prunes or cranberries are your best bet to increase the phytochmicals and anti-oxidants. Even molasses, honey, and agave offer actual health benefits in addition to their sweet taste, whereas traditional granulated sugars or fructose syrups do not.
2. You can pick whole-foods as ingredients. The closer you eat a food to when it came out of the ground, the better. The majority of food processing breaks down, degrades, or removes nutritious elements of the food; such as fiber, vitamins, and minerals. So, opt for quinoa instead of flour or whole rolled/steel-cut oats instead of instant, to really maximize the value.
3. You can cater to your own food preferences. It is very easy to make a large amount of the “base” of an energy bite or bars, split that into multiple batches, and flavor them with different add-ins or spices to maintain variety. Add-ins can be anything your heart (and stomach) desires: nuts, seeds, nut butters, dried fruits, dried hot peppers, spices, cocoa powder, carob nibs, coffee beans, ground flax, coconut flakes… just to name a few.
4. You can freeze some for a later date when food supplies are low. The convenience factor is huge with pre-made bars. To help with this on the DIY plan, double or triple the recipe with the intention of saving some for a later date. This cuts down on overall prep time and gives you some emergency stores to pull from when you forget to shop or are just not in the mood to prepare something more involved.
5. You can spend all the money you save on eating OTHER DELICIOUS FOOD. Protein bar companies cash in on our laziness by charging a premium for their manufacturing. Prices and quantities range drastically. According to the New York Times, “price can vary from as little as $1 a bar to a top price of $3.50”. Conversely, the average cost per portion of your typical home-made recipe is often less than $0.90.
Once you’ve tried one of the recipes above, or if you have a recipe of your own you would like to share, feel free to connect with me. If you are interested in discussing other bite-sized snacks, have any nutritional concerns or questions, OR want to celebrate National Nutrition Month by treating yourself to a free and confidential one-hour consultation with a Registered Dietitian, please call (518)465-3813.
By, Alison Durand, RDN, Capital EAP Nutritionist
The New York Times
The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics