Is January 20th too late to make a New Year’s resolution? Does it not count because technically we are almost a month into the new year? Am I in violation of some sort of unwritten resolution set of rules? Well I don’t care- I am doing it anyway. Right here and right now I’m declaring that my new year’s resolution is to eat less sugar. There I said it…and now I have to follow through with it. That’s the problem with resolutions, and the reason why I don’t usually make them. It’s easy enough to make a resolution, and to tell people about it, but actually committing to it, for a whole year- yikes!
The funny thing about this resolution is that I don’t have a what I would call a “problem” with sugar. By this I mean that I am not the type of person who scarfs down a whole box of cookies or polishes off an entire pint of Ben and Jerry’s (I am more a whole bag of chips kind of girl- maybe I’ll tackle that one next year). Recently though I’ve become aware of all the hidden sugar that’s in the things I eat everyday. I’m talking about things that I wouldn’t normally think of as high sugar foods. Things like bread, yogurt, granola bars, crackers and pasta sauce. All these things have added sugar and some have quite a bit…twenty- two grams of sugar in one cup of French vanilla yogurt! I decided that if I really want to cut down on the hidden sugar in my diet I needed to make some changes.
Some are easy- buy plain yogurt and add my own fruit with a tiny drop of honey, look for a bread and pasta sauce with lower amounts of sugar. The granola bars though, that was a bit harder. I’ve found that in general the kinds with less sugar tend to be dry and tasteless. I want a low-sugar chewy granola bar that doesn’t taste like sandpaper in my mouth and doesn’t fall apart and leave half behind in its little wrapper. Sounds simple right? Apparently not because I just can’t find them. So I made my own. Granola bars are actually quite easy to make. The best part is that you can customize them to your individual taste preferences. I’m giving you a recipe to follow, but please feel free to just use it as a guide. You can mix it up with different nuts or dried fruit, or even substitute the almond butter with peanut butter. Just remember to look for unsweetened dried fruit and unsalted, unroasted nuts. Oh, and please don’t use the almond or peanut butter that has added sugar and oil! I will never understand this- why does a ground up nut paste need oil added to it?
Granola bars consist of three separate parts. First you have the dry mix of oats, nuts and seeds. These are mixed together on a baking sheet and toasted in the oven.
Next you have dried fruit. I used a mix of cranberries and apricots because that’s what I like, but the possibilities are endless. Pineapple, mango, papaya, apple rings, raisins…you get the idea. Finally you have the glue that holds it all together. This is where the sugar part comes in. The original recipe that I used called for 1/4 cup of honey and 1/4 cup of turbinado sugar. At first glance this doesn’t sound too bad. I mean there’s no refined white sugar so it’s okay right? Well I am no dietician but sugar is sugar and this amount means that each granola bar contains 15 grams of the sweet stuff. That seems like a lot considering that the Nature Valley fruit and nut bars that I buy only have 13 grams per bar. I knew I could do better. I didn’t want to just cut the amount of honey in half though because I was afraid of messing with the dry versus wet ingredient ratio and ending up with crumbly bars instead of chewy ones. So I decided that the best solution was to substitute the honey for agave nectar. Yes, I know that there has been some controversy lately over this product and whether it really is a healthy alternative to sugar or instead an evil twin of high fructose corn syrup in disguise. I’m not going to get into the whole debate here because it could take all day, and besides I only know what Google tells me so you might as well look it up on your own. In the end, my take on it is that agave syrup has a much sweeter flavor than most sugars so you can use less of it which is always a good thing in my book. I ended up using 1/4 cup of agave syrup and cutting out the turbinado sugar altogether. After doing a bit of math (gulp) I figured out that my new and improved granola bar only contains 8 grams of sugar per bar. Not bad. The three parts are mixed together and pressed into a square baking dish (a straight sided one is best, but if you’re like me and only have a glass square dish with rounded corners it’s okay. You will just end up with some bars with rounded edges- no big deal). Chill the whole thing in the fridge for about half an hour and then take them out and slice into bars.
There you have it. A reduced sugar granola bar and my first step toward fulfilling my resolution. That wasn’t so bad- now I just have to keep it up for the next 11 months and 11 days.
Chewy Almond Granola Bars
Adapted from Eating Well
Makes: 8 bars
2 cups rolled oats
1/3 cup raw almonds (unsalted, unroasted) coarsely chopped
1/3 cup sunflower seeds (unsalted)
2 tablespoons ground flax seed
1/2 cup unsweetened dried cranberries
1/4 cup unsweetened dried apricots, coarsely chopped
1/4 cup raw almond butter (the kind that is just ground almonds, no added oil, sugar or salt)
1/4 cup agave (I used the honey flavored)
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1/8 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon orange zest (optional)
1. Preheat the oven to 350ºF. Line a 8” square baking dish with waxed paper, leaving a few inches of the paper overhanging the edges of the dish. Coat lightly with cooking spray.
2. On a large rimmed baking sheet combine the oats, almonds, sunflower seeds and ground flax. Bake for 10 minutes, stirring once after 5 minutes. Remove from the oven and place in a large bowl.
3. Add the dried fruit to the bowl and stir into the oat mixture.
4. In a small saucepan over medium-low heat cook the remaining ingredients (almond butter through orange zest) about 3-5 minutes or until bubbly. Immediately remove from heat and pour over the oat and fruit mixture. Mix well with a wooden spoon making sure that all the dry ingredients are coated with the wet ingredients.
5. Transfer to the prepared baking pan and using your hands press into the dish (you may have to let it cool a few minutes). Be sure to press down on all the corners, removing any air pockets and preventing a crumbly bar.
6. Transfer the pan to the refrigerator for about 30 minutes to cool and harden. After cooling remove the bars from the pan using the wax paper over hang. Transfer to a cutting board and cut into 8 bars. Store in airtight container.