Friday, 29 August 2014

CoolBean Bars – Home made no-bake protein bars packed with good stuff - created by Karen Varga

How much protein you need seems to vary considerably depending on who you're asking, but the most consistent guideline that I’ve come across is to multiply your weight by 0.8 (not very active), 1.3 (active or pregnant), or 1.8 (extremely active) to get a number of how many grams of protein you need based on your weight in kilograms. So if for example you weight 65kg and are generally active then you’ll need roughly 85 grams of protein a day. 

You can get protein from a number of different foods, but you’ll find that it can be quite hard to get as much as they recommend if you lead an active lifestyle. The other thing to remember is that while a sirloin steak does give you a high dose of protein, it also contains a large amount of saturated fats and cholesterol. Fish contains a very good source of protein, but some fish also contains mercury and there are guidelines on how much of that fish is ok for your body. So it is a good idea to do your homework on what foods you rely on for protein and be aware of what their limitations or negative properties are. 

Which protein bar to choose??
As a vegaquarian (veggie & fish eater) I’ve had to become a lot more conscious of making sure I do get enough of the essential components in my diet, with protein being one of the most crucial of these. I use protein shakes, but sometimes I want something I can sink my teeth into! I’ve tried various protein bars but the problem I find with the commercial bars is that they are very high in sugars, or even worse, sweeteners, as well as carbohydrates and saturated fats (most often sunflower oil, palm oil or palm kernel oil), and of course artificial flavourings and colourings. Also the quality of the protein in them is not always the best. 

It’s all in moderation though, and some of these protein bars are not that bad. But I wanted a protein bar that is high in good quality protein, low in carbohydrates and sugar and artificial stuff, but tastes great! After searching high and low I could not find anything that provided this off the shelf, so decided to make my own!

The CoolBean Bar is packed 100% with good stuff.  And they’re pretty damn tasty too! (well, at least I think so :)

Before I give the actual recipe, let’s go through the ingredients that make them so healthy and tasty ...

Although carbohydrates often get a bad rap, oats are one of the most underrated health foods.  Oats provide sustained-release energy (low GI), which means they have a low effect on your blood glucose level and insulin production and help to stabilize your blood sugar and lower your risk of type 2 diabetes. They are also full of vitamins and nutrients, can aid in the prevention of disease and even help you manage your weight.

I like to use the natural raw “chunky” oats.  Rolled oats (quick cooking oats) have been steamed, pressed and dried, which removes some of their fibre content, which accelerates digestion and raises the food's GI.  The chunky oats also just have a chewier texture which I like.

Whey protein contains all of the essential amino acids (EEAs), making it a complete protein source. It’s particularly high in a class of EEAs referred to as branched-chain amino acids, or BCAAs. 

Whey protein is one of the most easily digested proteins by the body.  In fact, it is key to understand a bit about this, otherwise you’ll be wasting your money on drinking whey protein shakes where most of the protein isn’t even being absorbed by your body!

Whey is absorbed at a rate of about 8 grams to 10 grams per hour, and navigates your gastrointestinal tract within a matter of 1.5 hours. This means that the maximum amount of whey your body can absorb from a shake is about 12-15 grams.  Anything over that amount just passes straight through. Having your shake with milk instead of water helps to slow down the absorption rate a bit, something about the protein in the milk combining with the whey protein which slows it down (you can read more about it online). 

This is also what inspired me to create my CoolBean Bars ... the additional proteins and fibre and such like in the bar help to slow the digestion process and enable the body to absorb the maximum amount of protein it can.

I like whey protein but there’s nothing stopping you using whatever your preferred type of protein is.  I use a protein isolate, as opposed to a concentrate – concentrate tends to be more affordable but does not contain as high a protein concentration and contains a lot more carbohydrates.  I also use a non-flavoured version as I don’t like all the added sugars and sweeteners and such like, and much prefer to flavour my bars or shakes with healthier options like cocoa powder, peanut butter, coconut, fresh or frozen fruit etc.  That way I can also enjoy different flavours and not be stuck with a massive tub of just one flavour.

Cacao nibs are bits of the same cacao beans that go into chocolate bars, however they are less refined than chocolate liquor or cocoa powder and thus are more nutritionally potent.

Health wise, cacao nibs' greatest claim to fame is their flavonoid content. Flavonoids are antioxidants also found in tea, grapes and berries, and they appear to improve health by altering cell-signaling pathways. They say more research is needed, but some studies also suggest that flavonoids might help prevent cancer as well as brain ailments such as Alzheimer's disease.  Cocoa has also shown to reduce blood pressure and lower the risk of developing cardiovascular disease.

Cacoa nibs are quite bitter and it might take a bit of getting used to for you. When I first heard about them and their benefits I immediately ordered a couple of bags online, and as soon as they arrived I excitedly added some to my cereal, expecting a nice chocolately (but healthy) kick. But whenever I bit into one the taste was really quite bitter and I didn’t like it. However I now love the cacao nibs and the taste of them! – this shift in my taste buds may be down to a gradual getting-used-to-the-taste thing, or it may be down to the fact that I have become an 85% dark chocolate addict, and have greatly reduced on my sugar intake per day, which means I don’t need much sugar for things to taste sweet and have gotten to quite like a bit of bitter :).
These yummy green seeds are packed with protein, vitamins and minerals. On the protein side, 100 grams contains 19 grams protein ... just slightly less than the protein-per-gram content in a chicken breast!  They are a good source of several minerals, including iron, potassium, phosphorus, magnesium, which is good for the heart, as well as zinc, a mineral that supports healthy immune function.  These seeds also supply niacin, or vitamin B3, which aids in circulation, and are said to have certain anti-Inflammatory benefits. They do have some fat content (30%) but almost all of this is heart-healthy mono- and polyunsaturated fats ... so the good fats!

Besides just being a delicious addition to almost anything (I add desiccated coconut to my cereal, porridge, protein shakes, yogurt, nut mix, and even to my Indian and Thai curries :), coconut contains lots of minerals, fibre, and substances that boost immune function and help your body fight disease. 
Raw coconut is rich in medium-chain triglycerides, which convert into monoglycerides and medium-chain free fatty acids during digestion - two substances your body uses immediately for energy rather than storing as fat.

In addition to their metabolism-boosting properties, medium-chain triglycerides may curb hunger more effectively than other forms of fat, leading to a lower calorie intake over time. As a result, the specific fats in raw coconut may promote a healthy body weight and help you shed unwanted pounds.  For me it’s not so much about the weight bit but more the fact that coconut contains healthy fats which appeals ... you need some fat in your diet so better for it to be heart-healthy fats.

Almonds are naturally low in the dreaded saturated fat, with a high percentage of the fats found in almonds being of a poly- or mono-unsaturated nature. The unsaturated fats found in almonds are known as oleic and palmitoleic acids and, much like the fats that are found in olive oil, these help reduce bad cholesterol whilst increasing good cholesterol! Almonds are also a nut high in fibre, and they are packed full of vitamin E. The high levels of vitamin E found within almonds helps to boost immune support. They contain high levels of magnesium and calcium, which alongside the vitamin E promotes improved levels of immune function and overall health. Almonds also contain manganese and copper, which help produce and raise energy levels, and can also aid in the stabilisation process of levels of blood sugar.

And just like the coconut, I find almonds to be extremely more-ish ...  life for me would just not be the same without almonds and almond butter!

The important thing to note of course is the type of almonds and almond butter that you use.  The nutritional benefits of raw vs roasted almonds are apparently exactly the same, with the only difference between them being that roasted almonds are digested more easily by the body due to the change in texture (raw almonds have a rigid texture). So really on that front just go with whichever you prefer.  If you choose roasted then make sure that they are dry roasted (i.e. not oil roasted), and do not get salted almonds, whether raw or roasted.  For my almond butter I also only use products that do not have any added salt, sugar or palm oil ... just 100% pure roasted (or un-roasted) almonds.

Cocoa powder comes with the same health benefits as the Cacao Nibs above, just in lower doses as it is more refined. I’ve read things about cocoa having anti-depressant benefits, anti-cancer properties, lowering LDL cholesterol, reducing the risk of blood clots, increasing blood flow to the arteries, lowering high blood pressure, and boosting cognitive performance!  That’s a lot from a little bean :)

These benefits are an added plus, as the main reason for adding the cocoa powder is for the flavour and a little bit of sweetness.  Again quality is important – I like Green & Blacks cocoa powder which is just 100% pure organic cocoa powder, no sugar or anything else added.

Flaxseed is categorized a super food - a nutrient-rich food considered to be especially beneficial for health and well-being. Flaxseed is an ancient food, prized for its healing properties as far back as 650 B.C. Today, most people eat flaxseed because it is a source of healthy fats, fibre and other disease-fighting nutrients. Flaxseed can be eaten whole or ground, but note that the body cannot break down the hard outer shell so either you need to make sure you chew your tiny flaxseeds to break the shell or grind them!  As such, I find it easiest and most beneficial to pop them in the food processor or blender and grind them first.

Flaxseed is low in saturated fat and high in cholesterol-lowering unsaturated fat. It's also a good source of omega-3 fatty acids, which are recommended as part of a heart-healthy diet. It is high in fibre, and much of the fibre in flax is soluble fibre, which attracts water and forms a gel. Soluble fibre slows down the emptying of your stomach, making you feel full longer, and it helps to stabilize your blood sugar. There is also evidence that it may help reduce your risk of cancer, but this is not conclusive yet.

As you can see from the above ingredients, these CoolBean Bars are really low in sugar (in fact, there is only 2 grams of sugar per 100 gram of bar).  As mentioned above, I have consciously tried to reduce on my sugar intake, and now find that I’m able to appreciate the natural sweetness in raw food types a lot more. As such, the CoolBean Bars get their flavour and “sweetness” from the coconut, almonds and almond butter, cocoa powder and cinnamon.  Even the pumpkin seeds have a slight sweet taste for me!

But depending on your preferred sweet-levels you might want to add a little something more.  For some healthier options you could add a bit of honey, raisins and/or dried cranberries, or dark chocolate chips. I often melt some dark chocolate and drizzle it on top of some of the bars ... for those harder training sessions when I need a bit ova sugar boost!

So without further ado, here is the recipe ...

Cool Bars!
~CoolBean BARS~

Makes about 9 bars (approximately 40 grams each) - I often double the recipe to make a bigger batch

  • 1 cup Oats
  • 1 tbsp Cocoa powder
  • 1 tbsp Raw Cacao Nibs
  • ¼ cup Unsweetened Desiccated Coconut
  • ¼ cup Pumpkin Seeds (unsalted)
  • ¼ cup chopped Almonds (roasted or unroasted, unsalted)
  • 1 tsp Cinnamon
  • 2 tbsp Flaxseed/ Linseed (ground or crushed)
  • 1 cup Whey Protein powder (isolate)
  • 1/3 cup Almond Butter (or Peanut Butter if you don’t have Almond Butter)
  • ¼ - ½ cup Milk (see guidelines below on how much milk to add)


  1. Spread the oats out on a baking tray and dry roast at 180 degrees Celsius for about 15-20 mins. Every 5 minutes or so, give them a stir so they get evenly roasted. Leave them to cool a bit on the side.
  2. Mix all the ingredients from the oats down to the flaxseeds in a bowl.
  3. In a separate bowl, mix the whey protein powder, almond butter and milk. This will be a very sticky gloopy mush!
  4. Now add the protein/ almond butter/ milk gloop to the dry ingredients and get your muscles out because now comes the hard part ... mixing it all together!  It is really stiff work but you want to make sure it is all mixed up evenly, and that all the dry ingredients are mixed in. I mix with a sort of stabbing/ cutting motion. If you’re on the higher side of the milk content (see below) then the mixing will be easier, but still quite hard work.  In the end you will have a pretty firm blob of protein bar!
  5. Press the blob out onto a baking tray (or anything similar ... the bars are unbaked so it doesn't need to be an oven dish) to the desired thickness. Mine are usually about 1cm thick. I usually break off pieces from the large blob and mash it down, then add another blob and so on.
  6. Put the tray into the freezer for about 20-30 minutes.  This just helps to harden it which makes it easier to cut (less sticky and more compact).
  7. Cut into desired shapes and size.  I usually cut mine to be rough rectangles of about 4cm x 5cm x 1cm, and about 40 grams in weight.

How much milk to add?
I add the milk so the bar is not too dry or powdery. Less milk means it will be dryer and more crumbly, more milk means it becomes more chewy and softer. I usually add about a 1/3 cup of milk (a bit more than a ¼ but not quite a ½).

Due to the milk content in the bars, they need to be kept in the fridge, and will only last in the fridge for max 2 weeks.  So I wrap mine in foil and keep them in the freezer, and just keep a small supply handy in the fridge. They are fine to be out the fridge for the day, so grab one before heading out to the crag or before work, and it will be fine to eat later that evening at the climbing wall.  If you don’t end up eating it then you can put it back in the fridge and it’s usually fine the next day. But definitely don’t leave it out the fridge for too long!

Nutritional content of the CoolBean Bar/ per 100 grams
Energy 1960 kJ
Protein 36 grams
Carbohydrates 18 grams
~ Of which sugars 2 grams
Fats                            28 grams
~ Of which saturates 6 grams
Sodium 0 grams

The CoolBean Bar contains just over 33% protein, and has a 2:1 protein to carbohydrate ratio.  It’s super low in sugar and contains zero sodium (I think we get enough sodium from all the other food that we eat during the day!). It does contain quite a high fat content, but as detailed above, almost all of these fats are the healthy fats which are an essential component in ones diet.

So stop reading and get mixing and make yourself some CoolBean Bars!

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