Between balancing a busy career with an active lifestyle, I’m always on the lookout for quick and healthy snacks to fuel my body for the next client appointment or workout. As much as possible, I try to prepare my 5-6 daily meals from scratch. So while it would be nice to sit down to the likes of grilled chicken, fresh salads, and roasted sweet potatoes for all of my meals, the reality is that I need a few grab-and-go options. Enter protein bars.
I’m not a fan of most of the protein bars you’ll find on grocery and health food store shelves. They tend to be nothing more than high-sugar (or sugar-alcohol), high-fat, low-fiber candy bars in disguise. Anyone who’s tried their fair share of these bars, knows they are notorious for less than pleasant gastro side effects. This being said, I will put forth the disclaimer that I do enjoy the occasional Quest Bar.
I’ve been making my own protein bars and muffins for a couple years now. Both my husband and I eat them pre- and post-workout, as snacks throughout the day, and sometimes as a cure to that after-dinner sweet craving. Websites such as bodybuilding.com, proteinpow.com, and rippedrecipes.com have some really great (& easy!!) recipes that I refer to on a regular basis.
Thanks to my Instagram obsession, I’ve come across @jazzythings and her awesome recipes for healthy versions of everyone’s favorite eats. If you want clean eating #foodporn, check out her page!
Jazzythings’ recipes have had me trying coconut sugar lately. As a huge fan of all-things coconut, I was curious to learn more about this sweetener and whether or not it shared some of the great nutritional benefits as coconut oil and coconut flour. Perfect for fall, I recently made her Apple Cinnamon Protein Bread which called for ½ cup coconut sugar as a sweetener.
In a large bowl, I mixed both oat and almond flours, vanilla protein powder, baking soda, cinnamon, egg whites, melted coconut oil, and applesauce. Poured this lovely concoction into a loaf pan and then sprinkled diced apple chunks and more cinnamon on top. I knew this was going to be good!
With 45 minutes of baking time, I had a chance to do some quick research on coconut sugar.
Coconut sugar comes from the sap of the coconut tree. The trees’ flowers are cut to release sap which is then boiled and dehydrated. The end result is a crystallized, caramel colored sugar that resembles brown sugar in both taste and appearance.
So why use coconut sugar over brown sugar or cane sugar?
There are multiple nutrition and health benefits tied to coconut sugar. A major one being that is lower on the glycemic scale in comparison to other sugars. Glycemic index (GI) is a measure of how quickly a food raises a person’s blood sugars. Low glycemic foods are generally recommended for blood sugar regulation and weight management. According to a study conducted by the Philippine Department of Agriculture, coconut sugar has a glycemic index (GI) of 35, which puts it into the low-GI category (1). To provide a comparison, regular table sugar has a GI score of 65, placing it in the medium GI category (56-69).
The idea of coconut sugar having less impact on blood sugar may sound promising, however when you take a look at it closer, aka under the microscope, one would see that coconut sugar is actually about 75% of the same molecules that make up table sugar. It also has the same number of calories and carbohydrates per gram as table sugar.
So if coconut sugar is 75% the same as table sugar, what makes up the remaining 25%? That would be a combination of inulin, antioxidants, vitamins and minerals. Inulin is a prebiotic fiber. In simple terms, it is source of food for the good bacteria in your gut. Because inulin is a fiber, it slows the digestion of coconut sugar. This contributes to a lower GI score because sugar is released more slowly into the blood stream.
As for vitamin, mineral and antioxidant content, it is true that coconut sugar contains more B-vitamins, iron, magnesium, and zinc in comparison to table sugar. This is largely because coconut sugar is not-refined like table sugar. The refining process strips away these naturally-occurring nutrients. So while coconut sugar does provide more nutrients, the amount is very small. To consider coconut sugar a good source of anyone of these vitamins or minerals would require you to eat a very large amount. Keeping in mind that coconut sugar is in fact primarily sugar and has the same amount of calories as table sugars, the small nutritional benefits do not justify doing such.
I used ½ cup of coconut sugar to make @Jazzything’s Apple-Cinnamon Protein Bread. Package directions for Madhava Coconut Sugar indicate it can be used cup for cup to replace cane sugar in recipes.
As I anticipated, the bread turned out great. Moist, flavorful and hearty. The coconut sugar likely lent to a classic caramel flavor.
Jazzythings Apple-Cinnamon Protein Bread
- 1 cup oat flour
- ½ cup almond flour
- 1 scoop protein powder
- 1 tsp baking powder
- ½ cup coconut sugar
- 1 tsp cinnamon
- 3 egg whites
- 1 tbsp melted coconut oil
- ½ cup unsweetened applesauce
- 1 ½ apples (cut into chunks)
- Combine all ingredients in a bowl and mix together.
- Add chunks of apple to batter.
- Pour into loaf pan.
- Bake at 350 F for approximately 45 minutes.
Nutritional Information (per slice, recipe makes 12 slices):
133 calories, 4.3 gm fat (1.3 gm saturated fat), 19 gm carbohydrate (2.1 gm fiber) (11 gm sugar), 6 gm protein.