Energy Bars: A Healthier Fast Food Alternative?
We all have days when time is not our side and often use this as an excuse to make unhealthy food choices. Fast food might seem like the only solution, but keeping a stash of energy bars on hand for similar situations, or while traveling, can tide you over until the next meal. While these should not become a staple of your diet, certain energy bars are a healthy alternative to hitting up the drive-thru.
Not All Energy Bars Are Created Equal
Many energy and protein bars are nothing more than fortified candy bars, containing the same amount of fat, calories, and sugar as the tempting chocolaty concoctions in the checkout line but with added vitamins and minerals to make them seem healthier. Many so-called 'energy' bars also contain trans fats in the form of partially hydrogenated oils– the worst type of fat for you. Check the labels and look for:
• If you're using the energy bar as a snack or as part of a meal, stay under 250 calories per bar for men and 200 calories for women.
• 15g of sugar or less
• 8g of protein
• 3g of fiber
• No partially hydrogenated oils or palm kernel oil
• The fewer ingredients the better: Energy bars that contain six ingredients or less are also good options, but might not meet all of the criteria above.
Make it more balanced "meal"
Eat a piece of fruit or raw veggies with your energy bar for added fiber and nutrients to turn a quick snack into a more balanced meal alternative. Although energy bars sound more energizing than whole foods such as nuts, fruit, or a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, these are also great quick options when you're on the go.
Make Your Own
There are hundreds, if not thousands, of homemade energy bar recipes, but this is one of my personal favorites. You can use any combination of dried fruit and nuts for different flavor variations.
Nutty Apricot Energy Bars
• 3 cups puffed whole-grain cereal (puffed wheat or Kashi)
• 1/2 cup chopped nuts
• 1/2 cup chopped dried apricots
• 4 tablespoons ground flaxseed
• 1/2 cup creamy almond butter, sunflower butter(my favorite) or peanut butter
• 1/4 cup honey, brown rice syrup or agave syrup
1. Preheat oven to 350°F. Line a 9×9-inch square metal baking pan with foil; spray with nonstick cooking spray.
2. In a large bowl, mix the cereal, nuts, dried fruit and flaxseed; set aside.
3. Place the nut butter and sweetener of your choice in small, heavy saucepan. Bring to boil over medium-high heat, whisking constantly for about 1 minute until bubbly and smooth.
4. Pour hot mixture over cereal mixture in bowl, stirring to blend.
5. Transfer mixture to prepared pan. Using a large square of wax paper or foil, firmly press mixture down into pan to firmly compact.
6. Bake 10 minutes, or until golden around edges.
7. Cool completely. Remove bars using foil liner and cut into 16 bars or squares.
Makes 16 servings; 120 calories per serving