If you are not familiar with energy balls, surely you have heard about energy bars. My first introduction to energy bars was not a very good one. In 1992 I was a sophomore in high school and was gearing up for a week of Outward Bound as part of an “extreme” school field trip designed to “toughen” us all up (I’m assuming that was the point.) I had heard plenty of horror stories from the grades above and was not exactly looking forward to row boating for 8 hours a day, sleeping on a deserted island, not showering, no toilet, no bed, etc. But most of all, I was worried about not getting enough to eat!
Outward Bound was something our school had done for years and there were plenty of terrible stories about how awful—and scarce!–the food was. Although we were most definitely not allowed to pack food on this trip, I figured I could manage to at least sneak a little something onboard the rowboat.
So off I headed to the grocery in search of my very first energy bar…
Back in 1992, energy bars were not particularly popular, and I don’t think I had ever heard of homemade energy balls, but Power Bar was definitely a household name. It was marketed for “performance energy.” While I knew zilch about nutrition, I figured a Power Bar would surely be a better meal replacement than a Snickers bar for the upcoming Outward Bound ordeal.
For the record, my Power Bars were confiscated right from the beginning of the trip.
Anyway, while I don’t know for certain, I am pretty sure the ingredients in the classic Power Bars I had tried to sneak onboard have not really changed all that much in the last 20 or 25 years. And so when I got the idea to make my first ever homemade energy balls the other day I headed on over to the Power Bar website to see what exactly theirs were made of.
I was not impressed.
Check out the not-so-clean ingredients in the Apple Cinnamon Power Bar below:
Dual Source Energy Blend (cane invert syrup, maltodextrin, fructose, dextrose), oat bran (contains wheat), soy protein isolate, rice crisps (rice bran, rice flour, rosemary extract), brown rice flour, apple powder, high oleic canola oil, and less than 2% of: calcium phosphate, vegetable glycerin, natural flavor, salt, potassium phosphate, cinnamon, ascorbic acid (vitamin C), partially defatted peanut flour, nonfat milk, ground almonds, apple juice concentrate, ferrous fumarate (iron), pyridoxine hydrochloride (vitamin B6), thiamin hydrochloride (vitamin B1), riboflavin (vitamin B2).
There are a lot of things I am not loving about that list. Right off the bat, the first three ingredients are a conglomerate of empty calorie refined sugar.
I’m also not loving the oat bran—it supplies fiber, but if you are familiar with our Clean Cuisine book you know we much prefer to get our fiber from whole food form rather than isolated in supplement form. Oat bran is isolated fiber, meaning it is missing all the micronutrients, antioxidants and phytonutrients found within the whole oats. Not a great thing if you are looking for nutrition from the food you eat.
I’m not at all crazy about the soy protein isolate either—and not because I am against soy, but because again, they have isolated the protein and removed it from the “whole” soy. Just like oat bran, isolated soy protein is void of micronutrients, antioxidants and phytonutrients.
I don’t love the rice bran, I don’t like the refined rice flour (if it were “whole” rice flour it would say so) and I don’t like the highly refined, nutrient poor high oleic canola oil either.
Not sure how they go about defatting the peanut flour, but I can’t imagine that is any good. And can you only imagine what must be done to the nonfat milk in order to extend its shelf life for who knows how long?
I also don’t like the list of synthetic B vitamins either, but I’ll save that for another post…
The point is, now that I know how to read an ingredients list, a Power Bar is one of the last things on earth I would be packing if I had to relive my Outward Bound experience. But truth be told, it’s not entirely fair of me to single out the poor Power Bar, because really, there are very few truly healthy energy bars on the market. And now that I know how incredibly easy it is to make my own energy bars or, in this case, energy balls, I would have just made my own for the Outward Bound trip. Not only do homemade energy bars/ energy balls have REAL food nutrition, they taste way better.
Making Homemade Energy Balls
The ingredients in my Apple Cinnamon Energy Balls are pretty straightforward, the only one you may not be familiar with is the maca, which is basically a superfood for energy and hormonal balance. You can pick Maca up at just about any natural foods store. I prefer gelatinized maca because the gelatinization process improves digestion and concentrates the active micronutrients within the maca. My favorite brand is Vega Maca.
My friend Melissa over at My Whole Food Life also makes delicious energy bars with Maca. Check out one of her recipes HERE.
I’m also crazy for Super Food Living’s Maca Superfood Energy Bars too!
Here’s how to make my energy balls…Print
- 1 organic apple (chopped (note: I like to keep the skins on for extra fiber))
- 1 cup pitted medjool dates
- 1/2 cup cooked quinoa
- 1/4 cup pecans
- 1/4 cup chia seeds (I like Salba chia)
- 1/4 cup hemp seeds
- 2 tablespoons gelatinized maca (such as Vega brand)
- 2 teaspoons cinnamon
- 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
- Pinch or two of unrefined sea salt
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
- Place all ingredients in a food processor. Process until well blended.
- Spread the mixture out evenly in a 9-inch pie dish. Bake for 20 minutes.
- Remove from oven and allow mixture to cool for 10 minutes. Use a tablespoon to scoop mixture into balls and use your hands to smooth and shape. Place the energy balls on a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper and transfer to the freezer for 1 hour before eating. Store in a covered container in the refrigerator for up to 5 days.
I make all of my whole grains, such as the quinoa in this recipe, in a rice cooker. However, if you don’t have time to make quinoa, you can always pick up frozen quinoa from your natural foods store to save time.
P.S. If you don’t have the time or energy to make my homemade energy balls, I would simply buy a Lara Bar instead. Always made from pure, whole, REAL food ingredients, Lara Bar is one of the only few super healthy energy bars on the market. And their flavors rock!
Stay Tuned for Our Clean Cuisine Dinners Cookbook Launching July 28th!