Optimal Energy Bars: Spiced Coconut + Almond

March is National Nutrition Month ®!! It is a month dedicated to nutrition education and information, sponsored by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. The theme for 2014 is “Enjoy the taste of eating right”.

So, what does eating right mean to you? Does it mean, eating when you are hungry? Eating oatmeal for breakfast, a rice bowl for lunch, and a salad for dinner? Or is it whatever you crave, or what your husband or wife, mother or father, has put in a sack lunch for you? Everyone has their own view on what eating right means to them. It could depend on tradition, culture, physical activity, or personal habits. Today, I am going to talk about some basic tips based upon the Institute of Medicine's (IOM) dietary guidelines that can help you enjoy eating right. View the following information as a tool to  create balance in your diet. Are you ready? Lets go!

First all you may ask, who is the IOM? They are a nonprofit organization that works outside of the government to provide unbiased and authoritative advice, based upon evidence based science, to help inform health decisions for health care practitioners as well as the public (1). In 2002 the IOM set dietary recommendations for macronutrient intakes, such as carbohydrates, protein, and fat. Fiber is added as a subcategory of carbohydrates, although it is not a macronutrient. Using percentages to indicate total amount of daily calories, the IOM reports the following (1):
Carbohydrates: 45-65% of daily calories
·      Dietary Fiber: 14g/1000 calories
Fat: 20-35% of daily calories
            Protein: 10-35% of daily calories  

These percentages are based on the nutrients our bodies need to support health and longevity. Carbohydrates, for example, are the main fuel source for our brains. Without them, we feel groggy and slow. Fats, on the other are needed so we can absorb fat soluble vitamins, such as vitamin A, E, D, and K, and also to support the health of every cell in our body. Fats are essential in building cell membranes. Whereas proteins on the other hand, are the building blocks for muscle tissue, signaling and transport messengers, as well as enzymes. Without adequate protein, we can experience muscle wasting as well as overall decreased biochemical functioning. And finally fiber is needed to support regular bowel movements, feed healthy gut bacteria, bind to environmental toxins and cholesterol, and even slough off dead intestinal cells. Wow!

However, these macronutrients should come from as many whole foods as possible. Why? Because whole foods offer more than just carbohydrates, fat, protein and fiber. They also offer vitamins and minerals, as well as bioactive compounds, which often are stripped from processed foods. The wonderful thing about nature is that everything comes in an optimal package. For instance, take an apple. An apple is made up of mostly carbohydrates and fiber, with little to no fat or protein. It also has vitamin C and bioactive compounds called polyphenols. These polyphenols, which are mostly found in the skin, have been attributed to offering antioxidant support, cardiovascular benefits, blood sugar regulation, anti-inflammatory benefits, etc (2). However, when you drink pure apple juice, these compounds are lost! First of all the peel is removed, and then it is pasteurized, destroying most of the little remaining polyphenols found in the flesh (2). Not only do you lose the bioactive compounds, but also the apple juice no longer has any fiber.

Now, after this example, can you understand why whole foods should come first? And why balancing your intake of carbohydrates, proteins, and fats can help support health? And not mention the laundry list of benefits attributed to fiber? Great! Together we are now on board to “enjoy the taste of eating right!”

So today I share with you an energy bar recipe. As you know, we all are busy, and like to reach for an energy bar or alternative snack come 3pm, when our blood sugar is low as well as our energy. However, most of the energy bars available are not balanced, nor do they contain adequate fiber. More often, they are high in sugar, low in fiber, and have inadequate amounts of proteins and fats. Let alone, they are mostly processed, and made from refined ingredients. Errrr! So, remember the macronutrient guidelines I spoke of earlier. And remember this. Recently Harvard researchers found that using a 10:1 carbohydrate to fiber ratio, can help you identify a product that offers adequate whole grain fiber (3). For instance if a food bar has 30g of carbohydrates, it should have at least 3 grams of fiber or more! Also, remember whole foods offer more than just macronutrient calories. They also offer vitamins, minerals, and those awesome bioactive compounds. 

Finally, if you don’t have the time, opt for an energy bar made of quality ingredients that follows the recommendations above. However, if you have 30 minutes to spare on a quite Sunday morning, or perhaps even tonight, you can quickly prepare these tasty Spiced Coconut and Almond whole food, balanced, energy bars in a jiffy! The macronutrient and fiber break down per serving of this tasty snack is: Calories: 211, Fat: 7.4g (32%), Carbohydrates: 27g (51%), Protein: 10.4g (20%), Dietary Fiber: 5.6g 

Now are you interested in trying to make your own balanced energy bars?? 

Optimal Energy Bars: Spiced Coconut + Almond
Makes 6 individual bars
20 almonds
1/2 cup rolled oats
1 tablespoon chia seeds
140 g medjool dates, pitted (about 12 medium-small dates)
2 ½ scoops Garden of Life Raw Protein Powder-Original/Plain (unsweetened/no stevia) 
½ cup finely shredded unsweetened coconut
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon ground ginger
½ teaspoon ground cardamom
½ teaspoon fine sea salt
1/2 cup fresh water, divided into tablespoons


1.     Preheat the oven to 325.
2.     Place the almonds on a baking sheet and bake for 5 minutes. Remove immediately and allow to cool.
3.     Meanwhile, add the rolled oats and chia seed into a food processor and pulse until medium-fine.
4.     Coarsely chop the pitted dates and add to the food processor. Process until small pieces are formed. Add the protein powder, the shredded coconut, vanilla extract, ground ginger and cardamom, sea salt, and toasted almonds. Process with hand or stopper covering opening vent until combined. The protein powder will produce a little dust.
5.     One tablespoon at a time, add the water and pulse. Continue to do so until the mixture can form a ball when squeezed with your hand. You do not want it to be too wet or dry.
6.     Finally, take a bread loaf pan and line it with parchment paper. Place the filling into the loaf pan and press down firmly to evenly spread out the dough. Flatten the top with a small spatula. Place into the freezer while you clean up the kitchen. When you are done, remove from the freezer, and cut into 6 individual bars. Keep refrigerated in a covered container or Ziplock bag. Can also be frozen until later use. 


2. WHFoods.com. Apple. http://www.whfoods.com/genpage.php?tname=foodspice&dbid=15. Accessed March 3, 2014.
3. Rebecca S Mozaffarian, Rebekka M Lee, Mary A Kennedy, David S Ludwig, Dariush Mozaffarian and Steven L Gortmaker. Identifying whole grain foods: a comparison of different approaches for selecting more healthful whole grain products. Public Health Nutrition. 2013(16)2255-2264.

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