Thursday, March 29, 2012

Ultimate Protein Bar Recipe

Ahh, the venerable protein bar.  An easily portable, balanced snack to help you achieve your fitness and dietary goals.  But have you ever read the nutritional label for a commercial protein bar? 

Most protein bars are loaded with wheat gluten, soy lecithin, processed/refined sugars, artificial dies, unintelligible ingredients and a shitload of preservatives to extend shelf life.

The solution to this problem is an obvious one – make your own!  

There are many ways to make protein bars.  This thread on literally lists hundreds of recipes.  But they are all lacking.  It is easy to combine rolled oats, protein powder and peanut butter, and call that a “protein bar.”  Other recipes will have you bake the protein powder, which possibly denaturizes the protein.  But the majority of these recipes are just protein powder combined with fat from nuts and carbs from a grain (oatmeal, flour, etc.).  But we can do better than that!

The biggest obstacle is figuring out how to incorporate the protein powder for maximum benefit.  I contacted Optimum Nutrition to inquire if baking their 100% Whey Protein would cause any loss of potency.  The woman who replied danced around the issue and provided no clear answer, furthering the suspicion that baking whey protein is probably a bad idea.  Armed with this knowledge, the best approach would seem to be a baked protein bar “base” for texture, topped with the minimally processed protein powder. 

The result was… spectacular.  Perfectly balanced macronutrients, healthy fats, complex carbs, and low sugar.  It even looks like a commercial product.  

I am throwing down the gauntlet.  If you have a protein bar that can compete with this, I want to see it.  

Ingredients – 

Protein Bar Base:
  • ~1.5 cups roasted sweet potato (1.5 cups rounds/one-inch cubes, or 1.25 cups small cubes, or 1 cup shredded)
  • 1 cup cooked quinoa, roasted
  • 1 cup whole, unsweetened cranberry (if previously frozen, thawed at room temp)
  • 1 banana (organic)
  • 1/2 cup cacao powder
  • 1/4 cup cashew butter  (or any nut butter)
  • 5 egg whites (preferably organic, pasture raised)
  • 1/4 cup hemp seeds (organic, shelled)
  • 1/4 cup sunflower seeds (shelled)
  • 1/4 cup coconut flour 

Chocolate Protein Frosting:
  • 8 scoops whey protein
  • 1/4 cup almond milk
  • 1 cup frozen berries
  • 1 cups coconut oil

Vegan version – sub silken tofu for egg whites, plant-based protein powder for whey protein
Paleo version – sub almond meal for quinoa

Ingredient List Explained -
There are five super foods here!
Sweet Potatoes – High In Vitamin A, Vitamin C, and other nutrients.  Low in calories and low GI Index.
Cacao Powder – The basis for all chocolate products, cacao has more antioxidants than any other food on this planet, more than berries, green tea, etc.
Coconut Oil – If you don’t know about coconut oil, educate yourself! 
Berries – High in antioxidants and loaded with other healthy nutrients, low sugar and low GI Index. 
Hemp Seeds – Gaining a lot of popularity, excellent source of Omega 3 fats and protein.

Execution – 
Although not required, a food processor and standing mixer will make this recipe a much faster and enjoyable process.

If you lack the tools, you can do this all by hand.  However, all fitness goals start in the kitchen, invest in a food processor you cheap ass.   

Preheat oven to 400 F.  Peel sweet potatoes, and cut into rounds or one inch cubes.  Bake in the oven for 15-20 minutes, flip over and cook another 15-20 minutes.  During the last ten minutes, place the cooked quinoa on a piece of foil and place in oven.  The quinoa is already cooked, we just want to toast it to add some texture.  Remove potatoes and quinoa and allow to cool.  

In a food processor combine sweet potatoes, cacao powder and whole cranberries, process until mixed.  Add banana and continue processing until combined.  The result will look something like a very thick cake batter.  Transfer to a bowl.

Add sunflower seeds, hemp seeds, coconut flour and toasted quinoa into the bowl with the sweet potato puree.  Don’t worry about mixing these in, we will get to that.

Start whipping your egg whites in a standing mixer.  Beat with whisk attachment until the texture resembles shaving cream (no need to beat all the way to stiff peaks).   About five minutes.   

Switch to the paddle attachment on the mixer.  Fold in the bowl of sweet potato puree, and blend on low until combined.  It will closely resemble a muffin batter at this point.

Spread/pour mixture into a greased 9 x 13 glass baking dish.  Cook for 25-30 minutes at 325 F.   

It is done when a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.

Set aside to cool. 

While cooling, make chocolate frosting.  Using a double broiler, or simply fill a sauce pan with a little water and set a glass bowl inside, liquefy the coconut oil until about half is melted.  You don’t want to cook the coconut oil, just heat it above 78 F so it transforms to a liquid state. 

Process protein powder and frozen berries in food processor.  Pour in partially liquefied coconut oil.  Process until a runny frosting consistency is achieved.  Don’t worry, it will re-solidify in the fridge. 

Pour on top of the still warm but not hot protein bar base, transfer to fridge, and allow to cool until hardened.  Anywhere from 1-2 hours.  Cut with a plastic knife into desired portion size.

Nutritional Value (24 Servings)
Calories: 199
Fat: 11 g
Carbs: 12 g   
Sugar: 3 g
Protein: 12g

Wow, that is a lot of fat!  You bet your ass it is, with ~80% of the fat coming from the coconut oil, a special medium-chain fatty acid that your body can immediately convert to energy. 

And a lot of carbs!  Yep, not all carbs are created the same, and these are all good carbs.  Besides, you can’t feed your starving muscles with protein unless you have some carbs to deliver the nutrients to the muscle.  

So there you have it.  A great tasting, healthy, portable snack or meal replacement.  Enjoy!

Sunday, March 11, 2012

The Holy Grail of Fitness - Is it Possible?

The Holy Grail of Fitness, reducing body fat and gaining muscle at the same time.

How is this possible?  Supposedly via Intermittent Fasting.

Long thought impossible, this guy has supposedly solved the problem - Lean Gains.  Very interesting articles, worth the read.

Salmon, Spinach and Red Lentil Burgers

Salmon is an excellent lean protein and a great source of Omega 3 fatty acids.  Add in some spinach for additional nutrients, red lentils for filling/binding, and you have got a healthy creation that can be used in sandwiches, on salads or just devoured directly.

  • 2  pounds salmon
  • 1  cup raw cashews
  • 0.25 cup fresh parsley
  • 2  cups loosely packed heirloom spinach
  • 2  eggs, lightly beaten
  • 3 tsp Dijon mustard
  • 1 tsp  Ginger powder
  • 1  cup  cooked red lentils
  • 1  pinch  salt and pepper to taste
  • 3  tbsp  Olive oil, divided in 3 parts
Cook lentils.  Soak cashews for 15-30 minutes.  Rough chop the salmon filet.  Process 1/4 of salmon in food processor with all seasoning until paste like.  Lightly steam spinach, wring out all liquid. 
Then process cashews in food processor to rough meal consistency.  In a large bowl, mix together the remaining salmon, salmon paste, processed cashews and spinach.  Form in to ten patties.  Refrigerate for 30 minutes.

Get pan hot over medium heat, add 1 tbsp oil, and cook three minutes per side.  Repeat for remaining burgers.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Paleo Dino-Muffin Recipe

I recently read a blog that stated people following the Paleo diet should not be baking anything.  This isn't how our ancestors ate.

To that guy, I say welcome to the 21st century.  Our ancestors also didn't have supplements, yet the Paleo community pushes these hard.  All that matters is that people eat more healthy.

With that in mind, I set out to create a balanced, easily portable, healthy Paleo-style snack item.  The biggest challenge was creating some sort of baked good that didn't include any flour or grain.  Think about portable snacks from around the world - empanadas, sandwiches, wraps, gyros, etc.  Common theme - some sort of wheat/corn based wrapper. 

The solution - Almond Meal.  Combine that with some coconut flour for sweetness, and some starch from Potato flour and you have a basic Paleo friendly base for baked goods.

I went with the kitchen sink approach.  The Dino-Muffins included the following ingredients.

  • 4 eggs
  • 2 bananas
  • 1 cup melted coconut oil
  • 1 cup unsweetened almond milk
  • 4 tbsp Honey
  • 0.5 Cup cranberries
  • 0.5 Cup chopped onion
  • 3 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 2 sprigs Rosemary, just leaves
  • 1 tbsp organic grass fed butter
  • 12 ounces chicken breast
  • 10 ounces beef liver
  • 1 cup broccoli
  • 0.5 cup carrots
  • 0.5  cup parsnips
  • 0.25 cup rainbow chard
  • 1  lime, juiced
  • 1  lemon, juiced
  • 0.75 cup coconut flour
  • 0.5 tsp baking powder
  • 0.5 tsp baking soda
  • 2 cup almond flour
  • 1 tbsp hemp seeds
  • 0.25 Potato Starch
  • 0.5 cup shredded coconut
 This was a momentous effort.  I already had cooked chicken and beef liver, which I shredded in the food processor.

I then cooked the onions and garlic in butter with rosemary, salt and pepper. 

Next was steaming.  First the carrots and parsnips, then the broccoli, and finally the rainbow chard.  Just a minimal steam to soften the veggies since they would cook again in the muffins.

Two hours later and after almost killing the food processor, all prep was done.  Combined all non-flour ingredients, then sifted together almond meal, coconut flour, potato starch and baking soda/powder.  Combined everything together.   It was then time to "pour" the batter into muffin tins.  But the mixture was more like stuffing, which I had to loosely pack into the liners.  Definitely would need to add more liquids next time.  Topped with either Hemp Seeds or Sunflower Seeds. 

Into the preheated oven at 350 degrees for ~25 minutes.
The result - pretty damn tasty.  They didn't rise much, would need to up the baking soda/powder next time, but overall came out very filling and a nice balance of sweet and savory between the meat filling and cranberry / citrus juice mixture.

The nutritional profile for these Dino-Muffins:
Cal          Fat       Sat Fat      Carbs  Sugar  Protein
240.3    16.7        9.9           16.1      6.7       10.2

Not a bad ratio for a muffins loaded with quality protein and veggies.  Fat content seems high, but it is mostly healthy fats from the coconut oil and almond meal.

Will make again, but given the amount of work, back to chicken breast and steamed veggies for now.

Friday, March 2, 2012

Beef Liver - It's Not as Bad as you Think!

The Paleo diet is constructed around the idea that we should eat the same way our ancestors did.  Scavenge around for nuts, fruits and seeds, and eat lean meats from wild game and fish.  Seems logical. 

The proponents of the Paleo diet believe that carbohydrates, especially processed carbs, are the major reason for obesity and numerous health related problems in modern diets. 

They argue that it is only in the last ten thousand years, since the widespread adoption of agricultural practices, that humans began consuming high amounts of carbs in the form of grain and legumes; wheat, barley, oats, beans, etc. 

But our ancestors didn't necessarily eat filet mignon and boneless skinless chicken breast.  When they did catch/find the occasional wild game, they would consume the whole animal, especially the offal parts; ie liver, kidney, heart and brain.

I have had liver a few times, never really caring for the taste or texture.  But in expanding my mind, and meat options, I thought I would give beef liver a try.

Whole Foods, the mega-chain I openly despise, has been receiving more and more of my hard earned dollars.  It is four blocks from my house, and some of their products are hard to find at other stores, even for a comparable price.  I needed more organic medjool dates, and stopped to browse the meat section.

On display were organic, 100% grass fed beef livers.  Ahh, the good stuff, grass fed beef.  Once you try, you will not go back to corn-fed, antibiotic treated traditional beef.  The flavor and nutritional profile of grass fed beef is vastly superior. 

Quick Google search for recipes and I got busy in the kitchen.

If you marinate the beef in milk, it will slightly reduce the strong liver taste.  30 minutes in some almond milk, and then in to the skillet with organic salted butter, onion and garlic.

About 6-8 minutes per side depending on the thickness, cooked over medium heat.

Most recipes recommend cooking the onions, then removing, then cooking the meat and adding the onion back.  I just left it in because I was tired and it was late.  This resulted in some burnt onions, but I was just after the meat.  I need the beef liver for an upcoming creation..

The result was pretty tasty.  Nice texture, not too pasty.  But it sure stunk up the apartment!

Beef liver is high in cholesterol, but does provide an awesome assortment of vitamins and minerals.  Eaten on occasion, a great addition to a high protein Paleo style diet.