This is your daily reminder to read your labels! So many protein bars out there sound so good it's hard not to buy them all in bulk and switch to an all-bar diet: mint chocolate chip, peanut butter cup, fudge brownie, chocolate-covered pretzel (gets me every time).. the list goes on. The thing is, some of these "healthy options" are made with whole ingredients, and some are not. Some are made with a few, simple, understandable ingredients, and some have an ingredient list way too long to scan over as you grab it and toss it in your backpack on the way to your workout. Some are jam-packed with protein, and some are jam-packed with sugar (yes, some of this sugar is from natural sources like dates or fruit, but way too many others list sucralose, fructose, cane sugar, and various syrups as their sugar sources. Or, they use fruit, but it is sweetened. Yes, sweetened fruit sadly exists). There are two fantastic ways to know if you are getting a high-quality bar: you can read the label or you can make your own.
Aside from a nutritional standpoint, making your own bars saves money, saves waste material (think about all of the protein bar wrappers that you, as just one person, have thrown away in your life), and potentially even saves time. There has been many a busy day that I had to make a special trip out of my way to grab a protein bar between classes so I had something to eat. When I was working 15 hour days, I did this at least one time a day, if not more. And usually, when rushing around, you don't have time to find a Whole Foods and read the labels.. you go into the closest gas station or bodega and grab what looks the healthiest (or the most enticing). Plus, you know you're going to like the flavor that you choose because you choose what goes in it. Nothing is worse than scarfing down a bad "fudge brownie" bar (how do they mess that up?!).
I've made way too many varieties of protein bars to list, so expect this to be the first in a series of protein bar options. This specific one was made to mimic one that I tried and really loved recently: a raw peanut butter and jelly protein bar with only four ingredients. It was delicious. It also didn't really have that much protein, but did have 19g of sugar. I knew I could do better.
I used the same ingredients listed on the package (dates, nuts, unsweetened dried fruit) and protein powder. I decided to do a comparison of my bar to the original bar and three other popular "healthy" bars (see below). I did my best to cut my bars into an average size of the other four bars, and made sure that all of my calculations (don't worry, I'm actually a math teacher!) were as correct as possible:
- "Bar 1" is available at Whole Foods Market and all of the local natural foods stores. It was my all-time favorite protein bar (and I'm sure that we will meet again). I used to eat at least 5 a week. Sometimes, I would eat two a day. It tastes like a candy bar (now I understand why).
- "Bar 2" is available everywhere. You have eaten this bar. In fact, the most unhealthy person that you know has eaten this bar. It comes in about 5,000 flavors, but for this comparison I chose to use the "Peanut Butter & Jelly" variety.
- "Bar 3" is the bar that I had, loved, and based this recipe and post off of. It is the most well-known "raw" bar on the market, and is available at Whole Foods Market and all of the local natural foods stores. You have probably had this bar. I used the Peanut Butter & Jelly variety for this comparison.
- "Bar 4" is another bar that is available pretty much everywhere: Whole Foods Market, natural foods stores, gas stations, Starbucks.. you name it. This is another one that I guarantee that you have had many of, and another that comes in many, many flavors. For this comparison, I chose to compare my bar to their "Peanut Butter & Jelly" variety.
It's unbelievable how much junk makes it's way into "healthy" foods! Also, why does sugar come in thousands of names? Now that you know better, try these: they're raw, vegan, gluten-free, paleo, and Whole 30 approved, and are super easy to make. They're also trainer boyfriend-approved (I got to eat two of the twelve)!
Easy Homemade Peanut Butter & Jelly Protein Bars
Raw, Vegan, Gluten-Free, Paleo // Makes 12 Bars
- 2 Cups Raw Nuts*
- 2 Scoops (~1 Cup) Protein Powder (check your labels! I used Vega One)
- ~1 Cup Dates (I used 19 dates)
- 1/4 Cup Dried, Unsweetened Cherries
- 4 Tablespoons Coconut Oil (you can sub Water or 2 T Coconut Oil & 2 T Water if you'd like)
- Optional: A few shakes of Cinnamon and/or Unsweetened Cacao
*I used a mixture of Almonds (1/2 Cup), Brazil Nuts (1/2 Cup), Hazelnuts (1/2 Cup), Peanuts (1/4 Cup), & Cashews (1/4 Cup) but you can absolutely use just one kind: I just had a lot of extras taking up space on my shelf!). If you are doing Whole 30, skip the peanuts!
1. Process the nuts into little pieces in a food processor.
2. Add the protein powder and dates (and cinnamon &/or cacao if using, I added two shakes of cinnamon because I saw it on my counter) and process until well combined.
3. Slowly add the coconut oil (or water) to the food processor until the mixture looks sticky and begins to pull away from the sides. You may use more or less, but 4 Tablespoons was perfect for me.
4. Scoop mixture onto a parchment-lined 8x8 baking sheet, and press firmly to flatten evenly.
5. Set in freezer for :45 minutes - 1 hour.
6. Cut into bars or fun shapes and enjoy! These stay together nicely in the freezer or in the refrigerator, and travel well in Tupperware.