Watching the kids at my work eat just kills me. Not only is the lunch food they are given, that actually meets nutritional requirements, absolutely disgusting, low-grade crap, but when they do have the option to eat their own food, the choices they make are embarrassing. One student, who may or may not be a Herron Cross Country team members, eats a PINT of ice cream from Walgreen’s every morning before school on the warmer days. I WISH I was exaggerating. Tellingly, his locker looks like racks below the counters at any Walgreen’s checkout, filled with candy of all sorts. He’s something of a celebrity at the school due to his ability to dole out sugary goodness. Anyways, this is one example of many.
Being their cross country coach now, I feel compelled to not only teach them about appropriate nutritional intake, but also offer them examples of it. I debated contacting some of the larger energy bar companies for donations, if only to give these kids something a little more nourishing and healthy at the start of the day, instead of their sugar-laden junk that will inevitably lead to a quick crash somewhere during first period. Figuring that would be a tough sell to the energy bar companies, I decided to do an experiment and make some of my own…just to see what I could come up with, for myself if not them.
I also want to make my own concoction because I’ve never been that thrilled with some of the bars that are out there, for a few main reasons…
Sugar – A lot of the bars on the market compensate for the ingredients that fulfill their carbohydrate and protein content, but lack flavor, with sugar. Whether it’s a simple sugar (unrefined cane juice) or something a little less processed (agave nectar, maple syrup, etc.), the differences aren’t too glaringly different. Sure, the bars taste good and sweet, but is the sugar really necessary?
Processed ingredients – Most of the bars on the market, that I eat anyways, are made with as whole ingredients as possible, but the necessity of storage, packaging, etc., mean they must be made with some processed or “less than whole” ingredients. I want to try something that avoids this necessity of mass production.
Nutritional content – It seems like most bars walk a line. High carbohydrates and protein, but with processed ingredients or high sugar content or whole ingredients that lack either a good dose of carbs or protein, sometimes both. I wanted to see if I could make something with ingredients that meld the two, but without the extra sweeteners.
So, here is what I made, the ingredients used and the reasons why….
1 cup shredded spinach – Awesome for calcium, protein, iron, potassium, essential amino acids, etc.
1 cup shredded kale – vitamin a, calcium, iron, vitamin c, etc.
1/2 cup medjool dates – the best tasting fruit in the world! (seriously), great for carbs and glycogen storage
1/2 cup almonds – calcium, magnesium, phytochemicals, protein, zinc, etc.
1/2 cup walnuts – Omega 3’s!, calcium, iron, protein, etc.
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract – fantastic taste!
2 teaspoons cinnamon – antioxidants and an anti-inflammatory for post-workout muscles
1 teaspoon ginger – anti-inflammatory again
1 teaspoon turmeric – anti-inflammatory again
3 tablespoons sesame seeds – great source of calcium
1/2 cup raisins – carb energy, iron, etc.
1 1/2 cups peanut butter – It’s peanut butter! Lots of protein and good fats and taste!
1/2 cup ground flax seed – fiber, antioxidants and omega 3’s!
2 bananas – potassium and taste!
1 1/2 cup oats – blood glucose control, sustained energy, blood pressure stabilizer, etc. etc. etc. Oats are awesome.
You’ll certainly notice the not even close to being exhaustive list of each ingredients benefits, but there are also ingredients I specifically left out, such as any sugar, whether they are refined or unrefined. I just don’t know why every product MUST have sugar, especially energy bars, considering the glucose spike in these products should come from the ingredients themselves and coupled with the natural fibers that regulate the breakdown of glucose so that the body draws it out over time. We get so much sugar everywhere else, even when we try to avoid it, that we certainly don’t need it in our energy bars. I wanted to make something that specifically left it out, even if it was that much blander. But hey, that’s why the dates are in there!
You’ll notice a lot of these ingredients are good for iron, which is crucial for a runner’s development and isn’t the easiest nutrient to get on a vegan diet. The one thing I would change though, is adding something with more vitamin C, which helps the body absorb more iron from plant based sources. Always couple iron with Vitamin C for maximum absorption.
I think I should also find a way to add either an amount of nutritional yeast, though I think that will really throw off the flavor, or add some B12, which is probably the most difficult nutrient to get as a vegan. Not sure how I’d work that though….for now, just keep taking a supplement.
Finally, I wanted to use as little processed ingredients as possible. I did cook these for 15 minutes at 350, but that’s about as processed as they get. Everything is in it’s natural state and uncooked with no added sugars.
So how do they taste? Well…not bad. The peanut butter and banana base is most noticeable and the cinnamon lingers as well. Nothing else seems to be too overpowering though and that’s how I wanted it. It has a relatively moist texture and a generally earthy taste with enough natural sweetness to keep it from being bland. As I’ve stayed away from so much excess sugars that are constantly added to foods, I’ve found my palate changing to really appreciate “natural tasting” foods that are a great deal less sweet than we are accustomed. So yeah, I’d say these were a success. Nutritionally, I think they are fantastic.
Now…what will the kids think? To be honest, I think they’d hate them. They look awkward, are not packaged and not loaded down with sugars. But whether they notice the effects or not, I know they would be great for their energy levels and as a light energy snack either before or after a run. We’ll see how much convincing I have to do when I hand out my first test samples.