My love affair with easy access "whole food" bars spurred around the university years. With type 1 diabetes, the conversion of carbohydrate grams into insulin units can be hit-or-miss.
Time and time again I've overcompensated and ended up crashing with low blood sugar after eating a full nourishing meal. So finding "natural" energy bars that list the exact carb count on the label seemed like a worthy pre-workout snack, traffic jam savior, exam crunch time bite or afternoon slump cure.
But I noticed that, despite my clean routine, my blood sugar swings didn’t disappear, my skin wouldn’t clear up, the wallet wasn’t happy, and I was relying far too heavily on nutrition labels.
The surge of conscious grab n’ go snacking has gained serious momentum. The market for packaged organic, vegan, allergen-free snacks is now flourishing.
And hey, the idea is pretty brilliant. Fuel our zany schedules and fitness pursuits with nutritious, portable, tasty snacks and we’ll be coming back for more.
When our days get stretched and we’re on the verge of burnout, there ain’t always time to soak or sprout, let alone ferment.
But can something that tastes like chocolate nirvana actually check off all our nutrient needs?
Here's what to look for:
1. Fewer ingredients
Some plant-based bars have a mere 3 or 4 ingredients max. Surprisingly, mashed dates with cashews, maca and cacao can actually taste like cookie dough.
2. Natural sweeteners
As lovely as it sounds, evaporated cane juice is the fancy term for sugar. Some sweeteners like agave nectar and coconut sap may have more nutrient density than table sugar, but they still spike blood sugar.
We also know that artificial sweeteners like aspartame and sucralose are bad news. When scouting labels, look for lower overall sugar content from naturally sweet plant foods (like dates and raw stevia).
3. No funny oil business
Since many bars are highly processed, adding oils can be a recipe for rancidity, plus they aren't actually a whole food. Look for bars with whole sources of healthy fats like raw nuts, seeds and coconut.
Choosing a bar packed with protein will help stabilize blood sugar levels, and the source of protein is equally important. Scope out plant-based proteins like sprouted quinoa, raw hemp, pumpkin seed, brown rice and pea protein.
Soy protein is often heavily refined and genetically engineered, so best to steer clear.
As the indigestible part of plant foods, fiber is awesome at keeping our colons happy and balancing blood sugar. The more fiber, the better (as long as it doesn't trigger a sprint to the loo).
6. Non-GMO, raw, organic
Because you're worth it.
The key is to look for something blended with a higher ratio of quality protein, fiber and healthy fats, and the effect on blood sugar won’t be as drastic. (Meaning we won’t be left hangry shortly after snack time.)
Cutting back on packaged snacks — even if they’re naturally sourced — is a work in progress.
By no means am I totally avoiding the vegan power bar scene (you’ll still find one in my purse), but they’re no substitute for whole food snacks, or making your own quick bliss balls at home. Like these:
Cinnamon Coconut Power Balls
- ½ cup raw buckwheat groats
- 1 cup raw almonds (or nut of choice)
- 2 tablespoon virgin, unrefined coconut oil
- ⅓ cup shredded unsweetened coconut
- ½ cup Medjool dates, preferably soaked for at least 30 mins and drained
- 1 tablespoon cinnamon
- ⅓ cup hemp hearts (save a little extra to roll the balls into)
- 1 scoop vanilla plant protein powder (optional)
1. In a food processor, pulse all ingredients except the extra hemp hearts for rolling purposes.
2. Roll into balls or scoop out using an ice cream scooper. Store in the fridge for 1-2 weeks and enjoy!
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