Homemade protein bars

In recent months, I have been on a major healthy food/lifestyle kick and have really enjoyed eating wholesome and mostly homemade foods. It has helped me start shedding my pregnancy weight, and I feel overall more energetic and healthier. A huge part of this has been eliminating sugar as much as possible from my diet. I, like many others of our generation and our parents’ generation, always thought that fats were bad and that carbohydrates were the building block of the food pyramid. In recent years, this idea has been rapidly changing with a new focus on incorporating good, healthy fats (i.e. nuts, avocados, olive oil, coconut oil, fish), and cutting down on added sugars which, it turns out, are in EVERYTHING. I used to eat yogurt for breakfast only to realize that many of those small containers contain ridiculous amounts of added sugar (especially the fruit flavored ones or “fruit on the bottom” kinds — they basically are like eating pie filling with some yogurt on top). I used to look at the calories in what I ate, but now I skip that number and look at two things: the grams of sugar and the ingredients list. The simpler and fewer the ingredients in one packaged item, the more likely it is that I will eat it.

Why and how did I start making this change? I have Netflix to thank for that. I have seen many of the food documentaries out there, most of them about the meat industry. Other than making me feel totally depressed and somewhat more cognizant of the need to buy grass fed and organic meats, despite the much higher price tag, these did not change my behavior dramatically. Then I saw two food documentaries that really made me rethink my entire assumption about nutrition and healthy eating. The first was “Fat, Sick & Nearly Dead” and the second, and most eye-opening, was “Fed Up.”

Fat, Sick & Nearly Dead follows one Australian man’s journey to lose weight, get fit, and travel across the U.S. spreading his message. All the while, he subsists on a diet of juiced vegetables and fruits. He transports the juicer in his trunk and makes all of his meals this way, for weeks. He loses a significant amount of weight, improves his “numbers” (blood pressure, weight, cholesterol, etc.) and inspires many people to turn their lives around and get healthy. The focus is not on being SKINNY — it is on being HEALTHY. This is what spoke to me greatly, for there are tons of skinny people out there eating fast food, candy, soda, and the like but not exhibiting these food choices on their exterior. However, what’s going on on their interiors is what matters — insulin resistance, plaque buildup, fatty liver, etc. For the first time, I considered the health of my body on the inside more than my appearance on the outside.

This is not to say I switched to a diet of only juice. Though juicing has health benefits, this was too extreme for me and I think too much fiber is wasted with juicing. I tried to make conscientious changes in my diet, but it was not until I watched “Fed Up” that I realized where I was going wrong. I won’t delve too much into it here, but a basic summary is that the food industry and food lobbyists care about their pockets, not the health of the American people. Sugar is an addictive force, and it was very stealthily introduced into our foods at the time when low-fat diets were recommended. People started eating low-fat, but how did we become fatter and unhealthier than ever? How did childhood obesity and type 2 diabetes in children become rampant? Sugar.

I urge you to watch both of these documentaries if you can. They are, at the very least, eye-opening and also can help you make a realistic change. Or perhaps you are the type who already eats organic, farm-raised meat/dairy (or are vegetarian/vegan), drink homemade juices, and skip sugar in your tea. If you are, kudos on your immense willpower and determination! I just could not do all of that at once, so eliminating sugar was a great and fairly simple first step on my road to a more healthy lifestyle.

In my search for good, nutritious foods, I look to healthy fats to really fill me up and provide immense nutritional benefits. (I used to think coconut oil (which most people in Kerala cook with on a daily basis) was really unhealthy because it is so fatty. But now I have learned that coconut oil is excellent and healthy to cook with. So my people knew what they were doing, ha!) Several months ago, a nurse I work with brought in a protein spread he made at home. It was full of good fats, dense, tasty, and filling. I got the recipe and tweaked it somewhat to make my own. This will definitely be a staple in my house forever! Below is the recipe, if you would like to try it!

Chip’s Protein Spread*

*”Not low fat or low calorie. But healthy, delicious, and better than a candy bar.” – Chip

Ingredients:
One 12-18 oz jar natural almond butter (or peanut, sesame, or sunflower butter)
1/2 cup coconut oil (or olive oil)
2-4 cups powdered milk (I used Carnation)
2-3 cups granola of your choosing, finely grated (I used a food processor). Mix to your preferred crunchiness. I used purely elizabeth Blueberry Hemp Ancient Grain Granola.  You can of course make your own granola and use that!

Optional Ingredients:
1/3 to 1/2 cup local honey
Nuts, chopped to your liking
Dried fruits
Dark chocolate shavings or chips
Shredded coconut

Directions:
In a large bowl, add all ingredients and start with 2 cups of the powdered milk. Mix well by hand. Add more powdered milk as desired to yield a more dense, fudge-like bar. Can use less if you prefer more of a spread-like texture.

Once it is all mixed well, spoon into an 9×9 pan and flatten evenly.
Sprinkle with shredded coconut.
Refrigerate at least 1 hour, then cut into squares.

This keeps well in the fridge for a long time. Use it as a treat, energy source for hiking/runs etc., post-workout snack, airplane snack, whatever you like!

Thanks for sharing your recipe, Chip!

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