Coconut & Date Protein Bites

As part of Food & Nutrition Magazine’s Test Kitchen Program, I made this month’s recipe, Coconut & Date Protein Bites.

These little bite-size snacks are gluten-free, full of coconut flavor and have a hint of sweetness, without any added sugar.

Original Recipe, via Food & Nutrition Magazine

Ingredients:

  • 1/4 cup siggi’s Vanilla 0% Yogurt
  • 1 cup Medjool Dates, chopped (about 12 to 13 large dates)
  • 1 cup raw cashews
  • 1/4 cup hemp seeds, hulled
  • 1/4 cup chia seeds
  • 1/2 cup almond meal
  • 1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt
  • 1/2 cup shredded unsweetened coconut plus more for rolling

Directions:

  1. Combine all ingredients in a food processor and blend to desired consistency. We like keeping the pieces larger for a crunchier ball.
  2. When desired consistency is reached, form 1-ounce balls then roll in the shredded coconut to coat.
  3. Store in the refrigerator and enjoy as a quick snack!

Total Time: 20 minutes

Yield: 18 bites

Recipe Test Notes

I wanted to increase the protein of these little bites, so I included some hemp protein powder. While I was preparing the bites, I found that the mixture was extremely dry, probably due to adding the dry protein powder, so I added more Siggi’s yogurt. Since it was still dry, I added 1/4 cup melted coconut oil to bind the mixture a little bit better. I chose coconut oil because I wanted to boost the coconut flavor of the bites. It worked well!

Jen’s Final Recipe

Ingredients:

  • 5.3 oz cup of Siggi’s Coconut 2% Yogurt
  • 1/4 cup of unrefined virgin coconut oil, melted
  • 1 cup Medjool Dates, chopped (about 12 to 13 large dates)
  • 1 cup unsalted, dry roasted, sliced almonds
  • 1 packet (or 4 T ) of Hemp Pro 70 protein powder
  • 1/4 cup flax seeds, ground
  • 1/4 cup chia seeds
  • 1/2 cup coconut flour
  • 1/4 teaspoon sea salt
  • 1/2 cup shredded unsweetened coconut

Directions:

  1. Combine all ingredients in a food processor and blend to desired consistency.
  2. When desired consistency is reached, form 1-ounce balls (I didn’t roll them in coconut because they weren’t sticky enough)
  3. Store in the refrigerator and enjoy as a quick protein-packed snack!

Yield: 15 bites

 

A bit about the nutritional benefits of the ingredients

Coconut flour 

Coconut flour is a great gluten-free alternative to all-purpose flour. It has a hint of coconut flavor and is considered an excellent source of fiber with 6g of fiber per 2 tablespoons. It is also high in iron!

Coconut oil

High in lauric acid, a medium chain triglyceride, coconut oil can be substituted for butter in vegan recipes, but it is still high in saturated fat, so don’t overdo it!

Siggi’s 2% Icelandic-style yogurt

Siggi’s 2% yogurt provides 170 kcal per container, with 5 g of fat and 15 g of protein, with no added sugars! It is also a good source of calcium.

Hemp protein powder

Four tablespoons of this plant-based protein powder provides 130 kcal, 3.5 g of fat, and 15 g of protein.

Chia seeds

Chia seeds are high in omega-3 fatty acid–or alpha-linolenic acid–which help to raise HDL cholesterol (good cholesterol!) which promotes heart health.

Flax seeds

Flax seeds are another great source of omega-3 fatty acid! They are also a great source of fiber and protein. Flax seeds also contain Vitamin B1, Manganese, Magnesium and Phosphorus. Magnesium and Phosphorus both play an important role in bone health.

Dates

Adding dates to baked goods provide a sweetness without adding sugar. The are a good source of fiber and are fat-free! 1.5 oz of dates also contain 280 mg of Potassium.

Almonds

Almonds are high in monounsaturated fats (the good kind!) which may reduce the risk of heart disease. They are also a good source of the antioxidant Vitamin E! Almonds also contain a lot of magnesium and potassium, both of which are important for heart and muscle function.

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Blue Apron Meal Delivery Service Review

After hearing about Blue Apron (and the many other meal-delivery services out there), I finally decided to try it. I picked Blue Apron because I had a discount code for three 2-person meals for $19.99 ($59.00 regularly) and because I’ve been in a recipe rut and hate grocery shopping.

Note: this is not a sponsored review, just my honest opinion in case you were curious about these meals.

Friday my first box of food got delivered in a large box filled with ice packs to keep the food cold. I wasn’t home at the time but Jordan unpacked it all and put everything away, so it was in the fridge when I got home. They sent three recipe cards, along with labeled ingredients, indicating what goes with which recipe.

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Last night I decided to make the Basque-Style Cod. On the back side of the recipe card, there are step-by-step instructions on how to cook the meal.

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I followed it as I would a normal recipe, it was super easy. If you have any basic cooking knowledge at all, it will be be a breeze. The grain in this recipe was freekeh, something I had never heard of before. Similar to farro, it is an ancient grain made from durum wheat. Freekeh is a good source of protein and fiber, as well as lutein and zeaxanthin, carotenoids important for eye health. It is also great for the gut–it’s a prebiotic that can increase the healthy bacteria in your intestines which improves digestion.

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While the freekeh was cooking, I chopped up the pepper, onion, garlic. Unfortunately when chopping the pepper I found some mold inside. Yikes! But I actually had some peppers in the fridge so I didn’t have to miss out on that ingredient. I took a picture of the mold and immediately emailed Blue Apron. They responded quickly and provided me with a $9.99 discount on my next delivery. That was pretty awesome of them!

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Next I made the parsley and almond relish. The directions said to chop it up into a paste-like consistency, which I found difficult to do with a knife, so I threw it in my food processor to get the appropriate texture.

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The relish called for olive oil, but I didn’t have any on hand (that’s one of the few ingredients they don’t give you, along with salt and pepper), so I used almond oil instead!

Then I made the sauce,  cooking the onions, garlic and pepper, adding in the vinegar, spices they provided, and oil. It called for olive oil and since I was out, I used avocado oil instead. It came out great!

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Next I added the can of tomatoes they provided.

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Then I quickly cooked the cod with a little bit of salt and pepper.

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In about 45 minutes, the meal was complete!

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The verdict: it was delicious! The flavors were bright and everything was very fresh. The meal served two very generous portions. I plated them both and put one in the fridge for Jordan and enjoyed mine for dinner. Overall, I was really happy with my first Blue Apron meal! I would definitely recommend it to anyone who loves to cook and wants to try new recipes but hates shopping for random ingredients.

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Nutrition Spotlight: MCT Oil

The nutrition field is super exciting. I feel like every day there is a new health food trend on social media. I find it all fascinating and the first thing I do is go to the research to see if these health claims are true! (PS: I found a great resource called Cleveland Clinic’s Supplement Review that gives you evidence-based information on popular supplements!) Anyway, recently I’ve been seeing MCT (or Medium Chain Triglyceride) oil making an appearance on social media. I thought it was interesting because we learn about MCTs in metabolism. Now it is on my facebook feed! MCT oil is being sold in health food stores claiming miraculous health benefits and it’s pretty expensive.

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What is a Medium-Chain Triglyceride (MCT)?

First of all, a triglyceride is what makes up fat. It is molecule made up of a glycerol backbone with three fatty acid chains attached.

structure of a triglyceride

Medium-chain triglycerides are those with medium-sized fatty acid chains attached to the glycerol backbone.

Fatty+Acid+Structures

The difference between MCTs and short and long chain triglycerides is the process that they undergo when they are broken down by the body. MCTs are absorbed directly into the liver from your intestines to be used as energy, while the others have to pass into the lymphatic system first. MCTs don’t require bile to be digested, while the others require bile for breakdown. Palm kernel oil and coconut oil are both rich sources of MCTs. Dairy fats (like from butter, cheese and milk) also contain MCTs. This feature is why products claim they are a good source of energy.

Are there any health benefits?

MCT oil is usually used for those on a ketogenic diet. This diet is used to treat neurological diseases like epilepsy. MCTs are also used as a supplement for those with malabsorption problems like inflammatory bowel disease. But chances are you are seeing MCTs because they claim to help you lose weight! Some studies show that use of MCT oil can promote weight loss because keeps you full longer. But most other studies have been inconclusive. Calories are another thing to consider.  One tablespoon of MCT oil contains 115 calories, which is something to keep in mind if you are watching your intake. Cleveland Clinic Supplement Review states that MCT oil is a “safe and effective short-term product for weight loss, metabolic syndrome, obesity and improving inflammatory markers. This is a high-calorie food, however, and it is quite filling, so it may act as a replacement for other calories in the diet.”

I am a proponent for getting your nutrients from actual food versus supplements, so I’d recommend to get your MCTs from foods, such as dairy, cheese or milk, rather than oil. I know I’d rather eat real food than to just eat a tablespoon of oil. Also, keep in mind that MCTs are a saturated fat, and eating too much saturated fat can lead to heart disease. So unless you are eating a very healthy diet most of the time, I wouldn’t go crazy with MCT oil. My Plate recommends that 20 to 35 percent of your daily total calories come fat, which should include unsaturated fats, those healthy fatty acids like omega-3s and omega-6s we get from nuts, seeds, olives, avocados and fatty fish like salmon. These are important for improving HDL (good cholesterol)  and lowering LDL (bad cholesterol) and pertinent to heart health!

I enjoyed researching MCT oil and I hope that you are now better informed. If there is anything other hot nutrition trend you’d like to me write about, leave a comment or email me!

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Nutrition Spotlight: Beets

Beets don’t get enough credit, in my opinion! They are the vegetable that I usually forget about, until I find something like beet hummus and become obsessed. Beets are great if you like that rich, earthy flavor.

Not only do they add great color to any dish, one cup of beets contains about 60 calories and 4 grams of fiber. They are a good source of the minerals copper and magnesium and have 148 µg of folate, or 37% of your daily target. Folate is an extremely important vitamin because it plays a crucial role in DNA synthesis. Beets  are also fat free. The greens can even be cooked and are extremely high in vitamin K, which is essential for blood health as it plays an important role in blood clotting. The greens are also high in vitamins A, C, B-2, and E, as well as copper, potassium, manganese and magnesium.

 One thing you might have heard about beets is that they are gaining popularity as an ergogenic aid, or something that is said to improve sports performance. Beet juice is rich in nitrates. In the body, nitrate is converted to nitric oxide, which plays an important role in blood and oxygen flow. (Not to be confused with nitrites in processed meats–when these compounds are exposed to high heat in the presence of protein, they can turn into compounds called nitrosamines–a possible cancer causing agent. This is a good post about the differences between the two.) But the nitric oxide from beets is different.

The theory is that consuming beetroot juice before hard workouts improves performance and delays muscle fatigue. The research I looked at was inconclusive–some articles say nitric oxide improves performance, while other articles found that it didn’t. Whether it helps or not, beets are still super healthy and are a great addition to your diet.

Beets can be boiled to make removing the skin easier. They can be peeled, chopped and roasted. They can be added to salads. Beets can also add an amazing red color to anything if you are looking for a natural food dye. Red velvet cake anyone?

Here are some recipes using beets that I have been meaning to try. Right now, my favorite is beet hummus. I cannot get enough and I’m going to try to make my own soon using the below recipe for beet and tahini dip.

Beet and Tahini Dip

Roasted Beets with Moroccan Spices

Baked Rosemary Beet Chips

Beet It Juice

What is your favorite way to eat beets?

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Chocolate Peanut Butter Oatmeal Protein Bars

Are you looking for a grab-and-go protein bar that is also super easy to make at home? Tonight I made these chocolate peanut butter protein bars and they are delicious and filling! The addition of oats makes these bars a good source of fiber and iron, a perfect pre-or post-workout snack.

Chocolate Peanut Butter Oatmeal Protein Bars

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Ingredients

1 cup natural peanut butter
1/2 cup maple syrup
3 scoops of chocolate protein powder* (or equivalent of 3 oz)
1 tsp. vanilla
2 eggs
1/2 cup unsweetened coconut flakes
2 cups of raw oats
1/2 tsp. baking soda

Instructions
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F
2. Grease a 9×9 baking pan
3. Mix together peanut butter, maple syrup, protein powder, and vanilla in medium bowl
4. Add in eggs and mix well
5. Stir in oats, baking soda, and coconut flakes until completely mixed
6. Spread “batter” into bottom of pan with a spoon (it will be thick!)
7. Bake for 15 minutes until top of bars seem dry and they are brown on the edges
8. Let cool in pan and cut lengthwise to make 15 bars

*I used Designer Whey Chocolate protein powder, which has 18 g of protein and 100 calories per scoop.

I packaged them up in individually to make it easier to grab one on my way out the door.

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Nutritional Information for one bar

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*Recipe adapted from PopSugar’s Gluten Free Oatmeal Protein Bars

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