April is here, which means the craziness of the end of the semester is about to set in. Final rounds of midterms are creeping up and that semester-long project you’ve been putting off in the back of your mind has become a reality.
With busier days and loaded schedules, it’s hard to stay energized, motivated and just plain awake. Sure, coffee and Mountain Dew provide a jolt of caffeine. But those aren’t your only options and definitely not the best ones when it comes to providing your body with the energy it needs to get through a marathon day. Instead, make sure your body is properly fueled with the foods it needs to keep it humming all day long.
A common mistake that many students make, including myself, is putting off or skipping a meal in favor of finishing that last problem set or wrapping up a paper. While you may think this will save you time and improve productivity, it can actually end up doing more harm than good.
The brain relies on glucose for its primary source of fuel. When you go for several hours without eating, which occurs when you skip a meal, the brain’s glucose supply is not replenished and becomes depleted. Without the energy it needs to properly function, the brain’s ability to concentrate, focus and stay alert all decrease significantly, making it harder to study and perform well. In addition, low blood glucose can really put a damper on your mood, making you impatient, easily frustrated and cranky.
On the other hand, when your body receives food as fuel every few hours or so, through regular meals and snacks, the brain’s supply of glucose stays at adequate levels allowing it to perform and function optimally.
Now I understand that, as busy college students, sometimes it’s just not possible to eat well-rounded, regular meals when you have to spend the whole day in the library. Instead, at times like these, pack a few hearty snacks that you can munch on every couple of hours to keep your metabolism humming and brain a-buzzing.
A tried and true favorite and classic go-to, the granola bar, is a perfect option. However, it’s important to note that all bars are not created equal. In fact, many bars on grocery store shelves are packed with processed, unrecognizable ingredients and more added sugar than a Snickers bar. With a myriad of information packed onto nutrition labels these days, deciphering and distinguishing the important facts can be tricky and overwhelming, especially when you’re standing in an aisle full of granola bars that all appear to be similar. Lucky for you, I have a few simple suggestions to look for when choosing a bar. If you follow these helpful tips, picking a nutritious, delicious and energizing bar will be a breeze!
When analyzing a nutrition label focus on calories, protein, fiber, sugar and fat.
Look for bars with:
- Between 100 and 220 calories to keep daily caloric intake in check.
- At least five grams of protein. Unlike simple carbohydrates and sugars, protein has staying power and choosing a bar with ample protein will stave off your appetite and keep hunger pains at bay.
- At least three grams of fiber. Most people do not get the recommended 25 grams of fiber each day. Choosing a bar high in fiber will help you meet this mark and keep you feeling satisfied, full and focused.
- No more than 15 grams of sugar. Simple sugars do not provide the same kind of long-lasting energy that whole grains, protein and fat do. Choose bars that are sweetened naturally with dried fruit like raisins, cranberries, dates and apricots, as these all contain fiber (bars with sugar, corn syrup, or brown rice syrup do not have this natural fiber). Remember, you’re eating a granola bar, not a candy bar.
- No more than 12 grams of total fat and two grams of saturated fat. It’s important to avoid bars loaded with saturated fat as this type of fat clogs arteries and can negatively affect cardiovascular health. Instead, choose bars with the majority of the fat content coming from heart-healthy fats like those found in nuts, seeds and nut butters. Above all, don’t fear the fat. The body needs fat as it provides a great source of long-lasting fuel and will help you feel satiated for hours.
Read on below for a few top picks and a few bars to leave on the shelf.
- Kashi Crunchy Granola Bars Honey Toasted 7 Grain
- Luna Bar Vanilla Almond
- Nature Valley Chewy Protein Bars Peanut Butter Dark Chocolate
- Larabar Alt Cinnamon Apple Crisp
- Quaker Chewy Dipps
- Cliff Bar Chocolate Brownie
- Sunbelt Peanut Butter Granola Bar
- Kudos M&M Bar
And better yet, if you do happen to have a few extra minutes to spare, make your own!
This easy recipe is no bake, takes only minutes and uses just a few simple ingredients with the option to add more if desired.
Healthy Homemade 5 Ingredient Granola Bars
Yields: 10 bars
- 1 cup packed medjool dates, pitted
- 1/4 cup honey, maple syrup or agave
- 1/4 cup creamy salted natural peanut, almond or cashew butter
- 1 cup roasted unsalted almonds, loosely chopped
- 1 1/2 cups rolled oats
- Optional add-ins: chocolate chips, dried fruit, nuts, banana chips, vanilla, cinnamon etc.
Process dates in a food processor until small bits remain (about 1 minute). It should form a “dough-like” consistency.
Optional: toast your oats in a 350-degree oven for 15 minutes or until slightly golden brown if desired. Otherwise just leave them raw.
Place oats, almonds and dates in a bowl — set aside.
Warm honey and peanut butter in a small saucepan over low heat. Stir and pour over oat mixture and then mix, breaking up the dates to disperse throughout.
Once thoroughly mixed, transfer to an 8×8 dish or other small pan lined with plastic wrap or parchment paper. Press down until uniformly flattened. Cover with parchment or plastic wrap, and let set in fridge or freezer for 15-20 minutes to harden.
Remove bars from pan and chop into 10 even bars. Store in an airtight container for up to a few days.
Recipe source: The Minimalist Baker