With all this home living, we may be spending more time in the kitchen and perhaps feeling inspired to bake whether that be for child entertainment or taste bud titillation. For some of us we may break up the snacking frenzy with a bit of work, or to craft an elephant out of a milk carton. Or perhaps, we are managing to keep a lid on the biscuit tin and exert some self- control.
With social media filled with homemade versions of so-called healthy snacks, I thought I’d put the spotlight on the ‘energy’ bar market which continues to churn out new options every week. In previous posts, I’ve looked at the best cereal bar options and given recommendations for busy people, or those needing to be mindful of their carbohydrate intake. Sometimes, convenience is everything and there are some good on-the-go options.
But, now we’re all staying indoors, perhaps homemade recipes are the answer. Recipes vary hugely and therefore so can their nutritional profile and associated healthiness. Let’s take a closer look…
Dried fruits – these will provide some slow release carbohydrate, fibre and vitamins and minerals, for example iron in dried apricots. Sugar found in dried fruit does not count towards your free sugar intake, as it is classed as naturally occurring, and brings with it additional nutrients.
Bars which contain additional carbohydrate sources, for example, wholegrains will increase the range of fibres you’re giving yourself, which is good for gut health. Oats, for example are great for the gut, as well as lowering cholesterol levels!
Nuts and seeds – a source of healthy fat and protein. They are nutrient powerhouses and a staple in most energy bars. The fat is monounsaturated which is better for heart health. They will add a lot of calories to the bar though, so clocking how many calories the bar gives you is important if you’re keen to keep weight in check. Real nutrition and dietary quality is not defined by calories. However, if you’re munching your way through portion sizes that are over 150 calories, that’ll take quite a lot of your daily quota.
The Binding Ingredients
Coconut oil – Coconut products are high in saturated fat. Coconut oil especially seems to have gained a health halo in recent years and yet it contains more saturated fat than butter. There have been theories banded around that the fatty acid in coconut does not have the same affects in the body, but when scrutinising the reputable literature, this was not found to be the case. As always, the balance of fats in the diet is key, if you want your saturated fat quota to come from coconut oil (max 20g per day for women and 30g for men), then go for it. However, vegetable oils remain a rich source of polyunsaturates or monounsaturates which are best for our health, and can lower cholesterol levels.
The sugar – Likely homemade versions will have some sugar component whether that be honey or maple syrup or some fancy nectar. The origin of the sugar is irrelevant when it comes to health. Claims that some sources of sugar contain beneficial nutrients are a little misleading – if we’re having to rely on a sugar source for essential nutrients, we aren’t following a very balanced diet. Once in the body, all sugars are broken down and digested in the same way, so whilst some may claim superiority on the health food shop shelves, biologically it amounts to nothing.
Nut butters – These will add additional fat (albeit healthy fat) into the mix as well as a little protein, depending on the nut, some are higher than others. Ideally no added sugar and salt brands should be used.
If you’re making your own, tweak the nuts and dried fruit to give you the nutrients your body would benefit from. For example, here’s my version of a bar which has lots of beneficial ingredients:
Date, Almond and Pistachio Bars
- 100g honey
- 100g oats
- 50g pistachios roughly chopped
- 50g flaked almonds
- 1 tbsp rapeseed oil (most vegetables oil are rapeseed)
- 2 tsp flaxseeds/ linseeds
- 4 Medjool dates roughly chopped
Preheat your oven to 170°C/gas 4 and line a 20cm baking tray with greaseproof paper.
Mix all the ingredients in a large bowl.
Place the mixture on the baking tray and flatten with a wooden spoon.
Bake in the oven for 20 minutes.
Remove from the oven and allow to cool completely. Now slice them into 12 small bars and serve.
These will keep in an airtight container for 10 days.
Each bar contains 150 calories, 18g carb, 3g protein, 6.7g fat (of which only 0.7g is saturated) and 2g fibre.