Lately, I’ve been on a kick to try all of the “ancient” grains that are becoming so popular. And rightly so I might add. While so many people are shunning carbohydrates and grains, they are so many good options for less processed whole grains. Some of the grains aren’t even grains, but are pseudo grains. Quinoa and amaranth are actually seeds.
As athletes, grains have so many benefits. The largest benefit is that they provide carbohydrates needed to replenish the glycogen used during exercise. The other benefits include, fiber, protein/amino acids and other vital nutrients like iron.
Currently, I am working with Live Now Fitness with their get healthy weight loss challenge. Last night I saw a post from one of the athletes in the challenge, who posted a link to a site that was making their own “Kind Bars”. And boy did the Kind bars look good. As a bar, they are a pretty good choice for an athlete, but can be tricky if trying to lose weight. Usually they are around 150kcal, contain moderate amounts of carbs, fat and protein. Most do have added sugar, but some flavors are under 6g of sugar, which is pretty good. My daily goal for everyone is under 25g of added sugar. Ok, back to the site. Looking at the bars they were making, the added sugar was 10-13g. So, nearly half the daily amount. The reason for the amount was the recipe called for two types of sticky sugary sources. By heating the syrup they were able to develop that same sweet, crunchy Kind bar texture and taste. While on my drive home, I actually had quite some time to think about how I would change the bars.
Why so much time…? Well, turns out we had a sort of unexpected snow storm that took everyone by surprise. The weather was calling for 4-6 inches of snow, followed by freezing rain/sleet and eventual rain. I don’t think anyone took the weather guys seriously, because the roads were packed. By the time I got up to Baltimore, my usual 2.5 hour trip from Richmond to home was 5 hours. And when I was less than 2 miles from my house, there was a major traffic jam. There was too much snow falling, and cars without 4 wheel drive were getting stuck and sliding down the on-ramp. Here is a picture of me waiting in a line of cars for 20-30min, just to get up the ramp. You might be able to pick out the car sliding backwards. What a nightmare that was!
Ok, back to the bars. I knew I didn’t want to use added sugar in my bars, as I am a big proponent of reducing the added sugar. But would I be able to make a bar that tasted good without it?
On the drive, I formulated a bar in my head. By using a base of nut butter, and dates, I’d get a soft texture. Adding in the nuts would give the crunch. I really wanted to make a higher protein bar as so many of my athletes struggle with getting in adequate amount of protein post workout. So I added whey protein powder. In addition, I wanted to use an ancient grain, amaranth.
- A pseudo grain, technically a seed
- High in protein, 8g per 1/4 cup uncooked
- Provides all essential amino acids making it a complete protein
- Gluten free
- High in fiber, 7g per 1/4 cup uncooked
- 20% of your daily iron and 30% of your daily magnesium in 1/4 cup uncooked
- Also high in folate, zinc, B6 and calcium
- Easy to prepare
- Versatile in it’s use-cooked and eaten alone, added to soup, muffins, used as cereal/porridge, popped like popcorn, etc.
I decided that instead of cooking it, I’d try popping it. I wish I had taken a picture of this, but I didn’t. It just looks like popped rice cereal.
How to pop amaranth:
- Heat a stainless steel pot, over medium high to high heat. The pot should have tall sides
- You’ll know when the pot is hot enough when a drop of water jumps and steams when sprinkled in the pot.
- Add amaranth 1 tbsp at at time. Once you’ve added the first tbsp, cover the pot, lift above the heat and shake just over the heat for 10sec. You should hear it popping. Be very careful as it burns quickly.
- Pour the popped seeds into a bowl. Repeat.
I made 8tbsp of amaranth, so I repeated the step 8 times. If you add more than 1 tbsp, you will crowd the pan. If you cook it too long, it will burn. Be very careful and know that the first few times you might burn it while learning the proper cook time.
Here’s the recipe for the Chocolatey Nutty Protein Bars:
*If you don’t want to spend the time popping the amaranth and you don’t have any on hand, you could try substituting 2 cups of a popped rice cereal.
I think they came out very good. Next time I might try adding more dates, reducing the milk/water and seeing how that changes the texture. I also might add hemp seeds or chia seeds as well. I wish I could have created a syrupy goodness with these bars, but alas, they are softer, not crunchier.
Chocolatey Nutty Protein Bars:
16 dried and pitted dates, soaked in 1.5 cups water for 20-30min
1/4 cup peanut/nut butter
1 cup whey/vegan protein powder (vanilla or unflavored) without added sugar or artificial sweeteners
1 cup skim or unsweetened almond milk
2 tsp vanilla
1/4 tsp salt if nuts are unsalted
2 tsp cinnamon
8 tbsp of amaranth, popped=2 cups, or use 2 cups of popped rice cereal if in a hurry
2 cups old fashioned oats, gluten free if needed
1/3 cup pistachios without shells
1/2 cup peanuts, chopped
1/2 cup walnuts, chopped
1/2 cup almonds
3oz dark chocolate bar, chopped (optional)
- Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees. Line a 9×13 baking pan with parchment paper
- Place 16 dates with water into a blender. Let sit for 20-30min until softened. When softened, blend for 30sec to 1 min. While softening, pop the amaranth-directions above.
- Add the nut butter, protein powder, milk, vanilla, salt and cinnamon to the blender. Blend for another minute until the mixture is blended well.
- In a large bowl, place popped amaranth, oats, and nuts. Mix together.
- Pour the protein mixture into the nut mixture, stirring until mixed.
- If using the dark chocolate, add it now.
- Bake for 20-25min, or until a knife inserted comes out clean.
- Cool in the pan , turn out onto a cutting surface and cut into 20 even bars.
- Wrap and store in the refridge for a few days, or in the freezer.
Nutrition with chocolate:
- 21g carbohydrate- less than 1 g of added sugar
- 11g protein
- 12g fat (healthy)
- 4 g fiber
Nutrition without the chocolate:
- 18g carb- no added sugar
- 11g protein
- 10g fat (healthy)
- 3 g fiber