Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Power Energy Bites and "Super Foods"

These little bites are packed full of nutrients. Small and mighty. Easy grab & go. A little bit chocolatey, chewy, and just a hint of sweetness. Perfect for popping before a trip to the gym, a long run, or just when you need a little energy kick.

Over the past year, I've really stocked up my "power foods" pantry:

I know- that's a lot of bags! I swear, I don't usually just go out and buy everything that is getting a lot of hype. But I do get curious. There is also a lot of information about the health benefits of these various products, and they are raw, natural, and have been around a long time- maybe not in our culture, but in others. So I've slowly been exploring the world of so-called "super foods," many of which I threw into these power bites -which I'll get to below.

Before the energy bites though, here's a little more on my "super" journey. Let's start with nuts. I used to NEVER eat nuts. But one thing I learned when I was in grad school was that nuts are good. Yes, different types of nuts vary in their nutritional content, and some nuts are better for you than others, and they should be eaten in moderation, but the concept that any of them were actually healthy was pretty much a major change in thinking for me. I did, after all, grow up in that time when everyone seemed to be seeking out low-fat and non-fat foods, and even 6-8 years ago or so, I think many people probably still had the perception that nuts weren't that healthy. Now, we know how loaded they are with "good fats" (a term that itself is fairly new). For example, 1 ounce (about 1/4 cup) of walnuts contains over 13 grams of polyunsaturated fat - including over 2,500 mg of omega 3s. (Information from USDA; that's more omega-3s than the average American gets in a day). Walnuts and other nuts also contain a bunch of vitamins, like B vitamins, folate, and calcium, as well as minerals, and some protein and fiber. So I started sprinkling nuts in my salads and yogurt during grad school, and when I went vegan, my collection of nuts grew as did my uses for them- not just in salads & yogurts, but also in oatmeal, and soaked to make sauces and desserts.

My packaged, "trendy" if you will superfoods collection started with chia seeds a little over a year ago. I'll admit, I jumped on board the chia train only because I kept seeing chia seeds all over the blogs. But, I was also enticed by their omega-3 content. After taking some nutrition courses in grad school, I learned how important those fatty acids are for everything from brain function to eye health, and since I don't eat fish, a primary source of these "good fats," I knew I needed some more easy ways to boost those healthy omegas. Now, I love adding chia seeds to my oatmeal, not only as a really easy way to get some omega-3s, but also as a way to fluff up the texture of the oatmeal. This "pumped up" oatmeal helped get me happily and energetically through a marathon this year, so yeah- I'm a believer in chia seeds! ;-) Chia seeds have plenty of other uses too, such as thickening up smoothies (best to mix with water or liquid first) or making puddings. While they aren't exactly something you're going to sit down and snack on, chia seeds are a great way to very easily add omega-3s to your diet.

As for the coconut palm sugar also pictured above, I recently posted a little info on coconut palm sugar - a low glycemic sweetener option that is so good!

Next came Goji berries. They're high in antioxidants, and have a chewy texture and slightly sweet taste. They mix in well in all kinds of salads, and are really high in vitamin A, and also a good source of vitamin C, iron, and contain fiber and protein as well. I've used them in a light healthy beet greens salad, and they also work beautifully in grain salads, such as mixed in with wheat berries. Recently, I've also been enjoying them in lemon tea with a kick as well!

I bought the Lucuma powder when I saw it randomly one day in the grocery store, purely because of my absolute love for the fresh fruit. A few years ago, we visited a friend who was living in Peru at the time, and she introduced us to this amazing fruit. I nicknamed it "mangunkin" because it tasted like a cross between a MANGO and a pumpkin.... so yeah, you can bet your bootay I loved it. FYI, the powder itself tastes and smells nothing like the fruit (yes, I could not help myself- I did actually take a tiny taste of the raw powder alone. Don't try it. Just trust me.) BUT, I am looking forward to experimenting more with this powder. So far, I've only put a little into smoothies, oatmeal, and cookies, in very small amounts; I haven't noticed much in the way of flavor, other than perhaps a mild sweetness, so I'll be playing around with amounts more. The powder does boast some "super" qualities: it includes 14 essential trace minerals, is high in antioxidants, and the following vitamins: zinc, potassium, calcium, magnesium, and iron. It also contains fiber and protein. Plus, it's considered a low-glycemic food (meaning that it doesn't raise your blood sugar as quickly relative to pure glucose; low glycemic foods tend to be better choices for keeping you fuller longer and having better nutritional value than say a slice of white bread or some regular 'ole sugar).

My most recent additions are maca powder and raw cacao powder. The Cacao powder- well, that's just plain good. Rich, smooth, chocolately flavor to add to baked goods, smoothies, puddings, you name it. Plus, raw cacao is a good source of protein, potassium, zinc, fiber, iron, magnesium, and other minerals, and has a little folate in it to boot. Maca powder complements cacao powder in taste, and itself is pretty impressive nutritionally: high in amino acids, minerals, B vitamins, and other nutrients like calcium, magnesium, selenium, and has a good amount of fiber as well. It's also claimed that maca increases energy - as well as fertility, libido, and mood.... can't hurt to try, right?

Just looking at the nutritional panel on the back of packages of these "superfoods" doesn't really tell the full story- fat, protein, and limited vitamin info. The packages do provide a little more info about the health benefits of the products, though.

So, back to the bites already, right?! When I saw The Veggie Nook's energy bites, I knew I wanted to try them out. They were chock-full of many of the items I mentioned above, as well as matcha powder, a beautiful green tea powder that's super high in a particular healthy antioxidant; it also may increase metabolism and help reduce cholesterol. It's a little bit of an acquired taste, I think, but I enjoy a matcha soy latte every now and then! I was exited to put the matcha, and many of these other ingredients, to use in the recipe. While I was at it, I expanded and altered the ingredient list a bit- walnuts, chia, lucuma, maca, matcha, cacao, AND goji berries. Power-stacked!

Power Energy Bites
Adapted from the Veggie Nook's Energy Bites
Makes 8-9 bites
  • 5 dates
  • 2 Tbsp goji berries
  • 1 Tbsp chia gel OR 1-2 tsp chia seeds (see notes)
  • 1 Tbsp coconut oil, melted
  • 1.5 Tbsp raw cacao powder
  • 2 tsp maca powder
  • 1 tsp matcha powder (can omit if you don't have, tastes fine without)
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla powder
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • handful of walnuts
  • pinch of sea salt
  • Optional: for additional sweetness: 2-3 drops Stevia
  • Optional: 1 tsp lucuma powder
  1. If your dates are hard, soak them in water for about 10 minutes, then remove from water, pit, and roughly chop. 
  2. Place all ingredients in food processor and mix until well combined and you have a paste. It will be a little more wet than your typical bar/ball dough mix, but that's fine. Taste and add any desired ingredients to your preference. 
  3. Place the dough in a line along a sheet of saran wrap, spreading out to form a log. (If you've ever made sushi at home, it's sort of like making a roll- wrap the saran wrap lengthwise along the dough and roll it out into a long log). 
  4. Place the wrapped "log" in the fridge (it will be pretty soft, that's ok) for 2-3 hours. Next, remove, unwrap, and cut into bite-sized pieces. 
  5. Place the bites in a container and freeze for at least an hour; store in the freezer for up to a week. 
I like grabbing one of these bites before an extended trip to the gym or a long yoga class.
I added the chia and walnuts to the recipe to up the omegas and make these even more powerful little bites. Chia gel is just chia seeds mixed with water- for this recipe, just use 1 tsp chia seeds + 2 tsp water in a small bowl, allow to sit for 10-15 min, and you have chia gel! Note that using the gel does add a slightly different consistency to the bites- they are a little softer and chewier than say my snack bites made with oats- but I think the texture of these works well after freezing. You could also try just using pure chia seeds or omitting completely.

Note that in some places in this post I tried to say this or that item "may" do this or that- based on information I've read from various sources. But there are plenty of items that claim to be something they aren't, so I think it's always useful to look at  nutrient contents. In general,  I think it is a good idea to be a little wary and not immediately believe everything you read on packaging (or the internet for that matter!). Buzz words and vague phrases like "high in antioxidants" don't really tell you much, and labeling regulations and definitions may be pretty lax. But overall, if you do some searching I think you can find some good info on these products, and they are an easy way to add lots of healthful nutrients to your diet- such as in smoothies, snacks, oatmeal, and even cookies.

In addition to the power energy bites, I also mixed up many of these ingredients in a power pudding:

The pudding had a silken tofu base that was totally hidden by the rich decadent cacao powder, grade B maple syrup, cinnamon and vanilla, and packed with more nutrients through maca and lucuma powders and some chia seeds too. It was a taste-as-you-go type deal, so I don't have a recipe now- but maybe later!

Some more things I have been enjoying recently:

The Two Moms in the Raw granola bars are awesome- try them out if you haven't yet; Whole Foods carries them, and I've also seen the individually packaged bars at some Starbucks. I really liked this goldenberry flavor. The Go Raw Pumpkin Chips were a bit of a gamble- I was mainly just curious when I picked them up, but I ended up really loving them. They're a little crunchy, a little sweet, a little salty- a really yummy mix that makes for a great snack.

Energize & Enjoy! ;-)

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