Puffed Kamut Energy Bars

 Puffed kamut, a whole grain cereal, lightens up a crunchy cereal bar of nuts and dried fruit. 

Don’t you hate it when junk food masquerades as a healthy option?  Wouldn't it be nice if all the health claims and pictures of smiley, healthy people on the food package actual told the real story of what's inside?  Sadly, Big Food likes to use trendy dietary buzzwords to lure you into buying their product, regardless of it's health.  Let''s be real.  These claims aren't about nutrition, they're about making money.  If you think a food is a healthier option, you'll spend more money.  In the immortal words of Stephanie Tanner, "How rude!"
Much of the problem can be attributed to the health halo effect.   The health halo occurs when we perceive a food as being healthy after one positive attribute is marketed.  We’ve all fallen victim to it - dietitians included.  We scoop up that sugar laden probiotic yogurt, because, you know, sugar is really awesome for building a healthy intestinal flora.  We drench our salad in cholesterol free salad dressing, which being made from soybean oil, starches, salt, and sugar, naturally wouldn't contain cholesterol, a substance only found in animal foods.  Then there's the one that tricked me recently, whole grain crackers made with icky trans fats.

Best advice?  Read the ingredients list, guys.  It tells you more about a food than anything else.  Read on to learn the biggest health food posers.

Trail mix A high calorie sugar bomb.  Think about the main components.  There's always nuts, which of course are healthy, but high in calories.  Then there's sweetened dried fruit, with a whopping 30 grams of sugar in a measly 1/4 cup.  But apparently this doesn't sweeten it enough, so some M & M's or "yogurt" chips are thrown in for good measure.  When all is said and done, one measly 1/4 cup serving weighs in around175 calories.  If you're mindlessly munching, it can easily add up to 500-700 calories, more than most fast food burgers!  If you do find a trail mix with a healthy ingredient list, mix ¼ cup with a serving of a puffed whole grain cereal, like puffed brown rice, to make a filling, but calorie appropriate snack.
Smoothies You know those premade smoothies they sell in the produce aisle?  And the McDonalds fruit smoothies made with "real fruit and yogurt."  I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but these aren't exactly the smoothies you make at home.  The Odwalla and Naked fruit smoothies have almost 400 calories in a bottle, almost all of it coming from sugar.  If you read the ingredients list, they’re little more than sweetened fruit juice with a little added fruit puree.  And that McDonald's real fruit smoothie?  Surprisingly, it is actually made with real fruit, but that real fruit has been sweetened with seven different types of sugar and fruit juice concentrates.
Protein drinks What seems like a healthy, post-workout beverages may be doing you more harm than good.  Yes, it is smart to eat a small amount of protein after a strenuous workout to rebuild muscles.  But an ounce of cheese or nuts will do the trick.  A 300 calorie, 30 gram shake is overkill!  There are many questions about the safety of the highly processed proteins used in these drinks.  Even more terrifying, a study by consumer reports found contamination by heavy metals in every one of the protein supplements they reviewed.  Rather than a refreshing beverage of isolated soy protein and lead, why not reach for an apple and almond butter instead?
Organic convenience foods Organic boxed macaroni and cheese is still boxed macaroni and cheese.  Organic cookies, still cookies.  And alas, organic pretzels, still just (organic) refined flour and (organic) salt.  It may be better for the environment, but it is not better for you.
100 calorie packs Only 100 calories, but 100 calories of what?  Mostly refined flour, sugar and often, partially hydrogenated oil.  Because they're only 100 calories (!!) you might not think twice about eating three bags of them.  Being completely devoid of fiber, healthy fat or protein, it's unlikely those three bags will satisfy.  Instead, go for a real snack and when you want a treat, go for a little bit of the real thing!
Whole grain cereal Have you noticed the whole grain stamp of approval showing up on breakfast cereals like Fruit Loops and Lucky Charms?  No, these childhood favorites aren’t suddenly good for you.  And yes, they did throw in some whole grains, but that doesn’t take away the fact that they’re still loaded with sugar.  Nine grams in a serving might not sound like a lot, but considering most people eat two servings, that adds up to a hefty 4.5 teaspoons of sugar, almost the entire daily allowance for women!  The kids cereals seem pretty obvious, but what about seemingly adult Kashi.  Although their cereals are 100% whole grain, many have more than 10 grams of sugar!  Look for 100% whole grain cereal with less than 5 grams of sugar.  Even better, make your own.
Wraps Wraps are often marketed as a healthier alternative to sandwiches, but tortillas are made with refined flour too.  Because tortillas are more dense than bread, a large tortilla can rack up a whopping 400 calories!  Ummm, I think I'd prefer an entire meal over one stinkin' tortilla!  If you're craving a wrap, go with a 7-8 inch 100% whole grain tortilla.  My favorite is by Ezekiel.
Bran/high fiber muffins When a food is marketed as "high fiber," take a second glance at the ingredients list.  Is it high fiber because it's made with 100% whole grains?  Or is it high fiber because it's been supplemented with fiber?   And while you're there, check out the sugar content.  High fiber muffins are a perfect example.  Lets investigate one of the more popular brands, Fiber One.  The front of the box touts 20% daily value of fiber, which sounds great.  But turn it around and you'll see the first ingredient is sugar, not whole grain flour.  The third ingredient, inulin, a type of supplemented fiber.  Not harmful, but it's because of this ingredient I refer to Fiber One bars as Fart Bars.  Then right after inulin, you'll see enriched wheat flour (white flour), dextrose (sugar), and partially hydrogenated oil (poison). Save yourself the hassle and do it from scratch, which doesn't take much longer than the mixes.  Freeze extras for a quick breakfast on a busy morning.

Granola Bars Hippies eat it, so it's got to be good for me, right?  Sorry dude, but most granola bars contain a truckload of added sugar.  Kellogg's nutri-grain contains almost 3 teaspoons of sugar, and very little whole grain.  Nature's Valley chewy bars have four different types of sugar listed on the ingredients.  And don't even get me started on cereal bars.  Do we really need to add more sugar to Frosted Flakes?

I love the convenience of granola bars, but not the nutrition or taste of most commercial ones.  I've made energy bars before, but these are definitely my favorite.  The puffed kamut keeps them from being too heavy and adds a nice crunch.  It also helps cut the calories a bit, so this is a nice recipe for those of you who are watching your weight.  If you can't find puffed kamut, any puffed whole grain cereal will work.  You could even use bran flakes in a pinch.  Feel free to use whatever nuts and dried fruit you have on hand.  I've made a few batches with dates instead of apricots, almond butter instead of peanut butter and cashews instead of almonds, but this was my favorite combination.


Puffed Kamut Energy Bars
Author: Rachael Hartley, RD, LD, CDE
Serves: 10-12
Adapted from [url href="http://www.foodandwine.com/recipes/fruit-and-nut-energy-bars" target="_blank"]Food & WIne[/url]
  • 1 cup pecans
  • 1/2 cup almonds
  • 1/4 cup peanut butter
  • 5 dried unsweetened apricots, quartered
  • 1 tablespoon flax or chia seeds
  • 1 tablespoon canola oil
  • 2 cups puffed kamut
  • 1/2 cup dried currants or dried blueberries, preferably unsweetened
  • 1/2 cup unsweetened shredded coconut
  • zest from 1 lemon
  1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Line a medium baking dish with parchment paper or rub with oil.
  2. In a food processor, pulse the pecans, almonds, peanut butter, apricots, chia or flax seeds, and canola oil until coarsely chopped.
  3. Scrape nut and fruit mixture into a large bowl. Stir in puffed kamut, currants, and coconut.
  4. Spread mixture evenly into the prepared baking dish and press down to flatten. Sprinkle the lemon zest evenly over the top.
  5. Bake for 25 minutes until browned at the edges.
  6. Let cool then carefully cut into rectangles, or totally butcher it and eat it in chunks. That's cool too.