Over half of the U.S. adult population, some 154 million, qualify as being overweight or obese. Another 29 million of us have Diabetes, many as a direct result of being overweight. Then there are the 23.9 million overweight children who are dutifully following the example of their XXL adult role models. Diabetes and these extra pounds cost this country billions annually in both medical and economic resources; not to mention the affect these weight-related maladies have on a person’s overall mental well-being and happiness. However, both diabetes and being overweight are very manageable, even preventable, with a few lifestyle tweaks. By maintaining a sensible diet in conjunction with some consistent exercise, no matter how minimal, we can all be in total control of our own weight. One easy way to start taking that control is to make decisions about the foods we eat based on the glycemic index [GI] and glycemic load [GL].
Simply put, our bodies convert all foods into sugar calories that provide energy to the body via the blood stream. The Glycemic Index assigns a score of 1 to 100 to all foods based how speedy the body converts that food into sugar. Foods that break down slowly enable the body to assimilate theses calories of energy more efficiently without overwhelming the body with more sugar than it can process. While this is especially important for diabetics who process sugars much slower than others, everyone can benefit from eating foods that have low glycemic scores since they also reduce appetite and encourage the metabolism to burn body fat. Conversely, a diet of foods high on the glycemic charts have been proven to actually increase appetite and impede effective fat oxidation.
A Quickie Glycemic Primer:
The glycemic index of a food compares its effect on blood sugar level to that of pure glucose, which has a score of 100. White breads, which are made of processed white flour, are at the top of this scale, scoring a “perfect” 100 on the glycemic index. For perspective, a score of 55 or below denotes a low-glycemic-index food; 70 or above is considered very high. Serving size is not a consideration in arriving at a food’s Glycemic Index number.
The glycemic load, on the other hand, focuses on how much digestible carbohydrates (sugars) a food contains in a typical single serving, which is defined as approximately 3.5 ounces. For glycemic load, a score of 20 or more is high, while 10 or less is low.
If you are counting carbs, most granola bars found at retail are not a snack option. Like fruit juice, these bars are concentrated packets of sugar and carbs. While they may be marketed as “health” bars, the subsequent elevated blood-sugar count immediately after consumption of these tasty little nuggets of carbs would argue otherwise! Still, we all could use a nutritious mid-day snack to get through the rest of the day as well as quench those mid-afternoon hunger pangs that, if left to fester, can end tragically in a feeding binge carb OD later!
An interesting recipe caught my eye during a ‘net search that demonstrated how to turn a mix of chia seeds and peanut butter into brownie-like snack bars using one of my favorite baking substitutes, almond flour, and another ingredient that I was not familiar with called powdered vanilla protein whey. So this became the foundation of an idea for healthy between-meal-snack – to which I added in the good stuff to make it even healthier (fresh mango pieces) plus a topping of chocolate indulgence for the sheer carb-free pleasure of it! The taste results are reminiscent of a popular peanut butter cup product with a fresh fruit twist and, of course, no sugars.
Peanut butter is or should be every carb counter’s GO TO food with a GI of only 14 and packed with good stuff. Rich in unsaturated fat and protein, all-natural peanut butter can make a nutritious addition to meals and snacks for individuals with diabetes or just watching one’s daily carb intake. Peanut butter's low carbohydrate content keeps blood sugar under control, while its healthy fats satisfy the appetite for several hours. In fact, peanut butter can actually lower blood sugar spikes. In a recent study, 16 healthy adults were fed two extremely high glycemic foods – white bread and apple juice – after consumption their glucose spikes were tracked and measured. Later, the same subjects were given two tablespoons of peanut butter along with the same portions of white bread and apple juice; this time the spikes were noticeably lower and at a slower rate of increase compared to the readings without the peanut butter!
Other studies have demonstrated that not only did consuming 1.5 ounces of peanut butter at breakfast help to decrease the blood sugar spike from this first meal of the day, but the effects were also seen hours later when the same participants showed even more blood sugar control following a high-carbohydrate lunch without any additional peanut butter. I thought it odd that the original recipe called for “smooth” peanut butter plus a few cups of raw, chopped peanuts. Duh, I just used chunky style.
Almond “flour” is actually finely milled almonds and a great substitute for the empty calories and high carbs of white flour. An ounce of almonds provides more than 15 vitamins and minerals, including 32% of the recommended daily intake for manganese, 19% for magnesium and 17% for riboflavin. In yet another study, subjects with diabetes who consumed 60 grams of almonds daily for four weeks experienced a 9% reduction in their blood sugar levels. Plus the ingredient makes it possible to enjoy baked goods carblessly! However, in this no-bake snack bar recipe the almond flour is used more for the ground nut that it is, providing the bars with a foundational shape as well as nutrition!
Mangoes are a staple in my kitchen mostly because I am slightly addicted to the fruit’s unique taste and creamy texture, especially as a standalone or blended in yogurt as a midnight snack. But if you need more “sensible” reasons to include this tropical delight in this protein bar, here you go…
Mangoes are low in calories yet high in nutrients — particularly vitamin C, which aids immunity, iron absorption, growth and repair. Mango is a good source of folate, several B vitamins, as well as vitamins A, C, K and E — all of which help boost immunity. Mangoes contain magnesium, potassium and the antioxidant mangiferin, which all support healthy heart function. Mangoes have digestive enzymes, water, dietary fiber and other compounds that aid different aspects of digestive health. Mango contains lutein, zeaxanthin and vitamin A — which support eye health. Lutein and zeaxanthin may protect from the sun, while a lack of vitamin A can create vision problems. Specific to this recipe, the fruit pairs wonderfully with peanut butter and chocolate!
Chia seeds are a must ingredient when it comes to constructing a glycemic-friendly protein bar. When consumed, the seeds form a fibrous gel of carbohydrates that the metabolism breaks down into sugar at a very slow rate. This provides the body with an extended energy source that does not spike blood sugar. Further, chia is packed with nutrients and is especially high in omega-3 fatty acids, which protect against heart disease. One dietary caution: chia seeds do absorb 12 times their weight in water so guard against dehydration by being aware of one’s liquid intake when consuming this nutty-tasting whole grain, even in a snack food.
Of course, technically, the chocolate topping is a superfluous ingredient in qualifying this recipe as a low carb protein bar. And that is the last time this writer will ever use “chocolate” and “superfluous” in the same sentence. When appropriate, a sugar-free chocolate is always a valid ingredient! And where there is peanut butter, chocolate is sure to follow. However, coconut oil has very low melting and hardening characteristics that needs to be managed. The stovetop chocolate topping will be quite thin and runny when first blended, it will thicken slightly as it cools to room temperature. I used a very small spoon to layer a coat of chocolate on the top of each bar, not caring at all if a little dribbles down the sides. This first coat will be quite transparent.
Now return the tray of bars back to the refrigerator for about 30 minutes, giving the chocolate time to harden before adding the second coat of chocolate. Repeat this refrigerate/layering process until the desired thickness is achieved. At some point the coconut oil in the sauce will solidify during these applications; a 10-sec zap in the micro will reconstitute it into a sauce again. Admittedly, this procedure is a bit tedious and time-consuming. On the other hand, can you think of a better way to spend an afternoon than layering chocolate on peanut butter bars?
Chocolate-Peanut Butter-Chia-Mango Protein Bars
Makes 12-15 bars
½ cup coconut oil
½ cup peanut butter, chunky style
½ cup granulated sugar substitute of choice (Swerve, etc.)
½ cup vanilla whey protein powdered (unsweetened)
1 cup almond flour
½ cup chia seed, ground or whole
1 fresh mango, diced
In a medium saucepan over medium heat, melt coconut oil, peanut butter and powdered sweetener together until smooth. Stir in protein powder, almond flour and chia seeds until thoroughly combined.
Gently fold the chopped mangoes into the peanut mixture, then transfer to 7x11-inch pan with parchment or waxed paper, spread evenly to the edges of the pan and refrigerate until set, at least two hours.
When set, lift bars out by grasping edges of parchment or waxed paper. Cut into squares or bars.
For the chocolate drizzle, combine coconut oil, unsweetened chocolate, agave and cocoa powder in a small saucepan over low heat. Stir until smooth and then drizzle or spread over bars. Bars should be stored in refrigerator to stay firm.