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Granola Bars: Homemade and Amazing

I have referred to my daughter’s cooking in past blogs and I can’t resist sharing her latest treat with everyone.  These granola bars with blueberries (or any berry of your choice) and yogurt drizzle are not only healthy, but incredibly delicious.  They are a good source of protein, omega-3, biotin, vitamin E, magnesium, iron, vitamin C, vitamin K and fiber.  I never considered making my own granola bars until I tasted these and I have a feeling you will agree.

There is only one caveat – resist the urge to eat the entire batch at once.  We wrap them individually and keep them in the refrigerator so we don’t finish them off as fast as we make them.

Note – the yogurt drizzle contains sugar (the only non-healthy item in the entire recipe) so you can choose to skip it altogether as we sometimes do, or just lightly drizzle the bars with it.  As an additional note, the directions below will make much more yogurt coating than we have ever needed or used.


Ingredients for the bars:

2 cups rolled oats
1/2 cup brown rice krispies
1/4 cup whole roasted almonds, roughly chopped
2 tablespoon chia seeds
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup peanut butter or almond butter (I typically use peanut butter)
1/2 cup honey
1 1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1 (rounded) cup fresh blueberries or 3/4 cup dried blueberries

Ingredients for the yogurt drizzle:

1 tablespoon water
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon gelatin
1/4 cup greek yogurt
1 tablespoon honey
pinch of salt
1 1/2 cups powdered sugar

Directions for bars:
  • Skip this step if using dried blueberries.  Roast fresh blueberries in 350 degree over for 30 minutes or until they pop and shrink.  Best to coat baking sheet with parchment paper – then blueberries won’t stick
  • In a large bowl combine the oats, rice krispies, almonds, chia seeds and salt.
  • Combine almond or peanut butter with honey and microwave for about 40 seconds or until mixture is pourable
  • Add vanilla to warm honey mixture
  • Add honey mixture to the dry oat mixture and combine – it will be thick!
  • Add dried blueberries
  • Coat a 9 X 13 pan with parchment paper and pour mixture into pan and press down evenly and until tightly packed
  • Place in freezer for one hour, then cut into bars
  • Bars should be stored in refrigerator to keep fresh and hold their shape better.

Directions for yogurt drizzle:

  • Combine water, vanilla and then whisk gelatin in and let thicken for about 5 minutes
  • In another bowl, combine yogurt, honey and salt
  • Microwave yogurt mixture for 15 seconds, mix and repeat till warm, but do not let it boil
  • Add gelatin mixture to yogurt mixture and whisk together
  • Add in powdered sugar and whisk until thick, but pourable
  • Drizzle bars with the yogurt
  • The bars will be sticky now – we usually just wrap them (one or two together) with plastic wrap and store in the fridge for later eating. The yogurt will harden in the refrigerator.


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Boost Your Mood With Food

imagesMost of us are aware, at least on some level, that what we eat can affect our mood.  However, we generally don’t understand why or how.  There are many different avenues in which our food consumption can affect our mental health, but the primary physiological explanation is neurotransmitters.

Neurotransmitters are the chemicals in our brain that regulate mood and behavior, and they are affected by our food intake.  Some of the most important neurotransmitters are serotonin, dopamine and endorphins.

  • When the brain makes serotonin, we tend to feel happier and more relaxed and are less likely to suffer from mood swings and depression.  Serotonin is also linked to feelings of satiety and satisfaction – which is very important when trying to avoid overeating or emotional eating.
  • High levels of dopamine are related to feelings of pleasure.  And, dopamine also helps with appetite control, focus and muscle coordination.
  • Endorphins, possibly the most well known neurotransmitter, are associated with euphoria and can act as natural painkillers.

Below are some of the foods that aid in the production of these and other neurotransmitters and have been shown to boost mood and reduce feelings of depression and anxiety. 

Dark Chocolate:  There are scientific reasons why you feel happy after eating chocolate and one is called anandamide.  This is a neurotransmitter produced in the brain that temporarily blocks feelings of pain and depression.  It is also believed that other chemicals in chocolate slow down the breakdown of this chemical, so it stays in your system longer allowing the ‘happy’ feelings to last.

Additionally, serotonin and endorphins are released when chocolate is eaten.  And, if all of this is not enough, chocolate also contains magnesium, which helps the body manufacture serotonin, that all-important calming brain chemical.

Bananas:  Bananas are rich in tyrosine, which is needed by your body to make dopamine, a natural chemical that boosts your mood.  They are also rich is B vitamins, especially B6, which helps sooth your nervous system.  And they are a good source of magnesium, another nutrient associated with positive moods.

Complex carbohydrates:  Foods such as whole-wheat bread, pasta, oatmeal and brown rice are rich in tryptophan, an amino acid that converts to serotonin in the brain. Other nutrient-rich carbohydrate choices include starchy root vegetables (such as sweet potatoes and corn) and legumes.

Foods Rich in Omega-3:  Coldwater fish, (such as wild salmon and mackerel) walnuts and sunflower seeds, support healthy function of the brain and nervous system and have been shown to elevate mood and reduce anxiety and depression.  Some studies have shown that omega-3 fats can be as effective as anti-depressant medication in treating depression.

Dark Green Vegetables:  Vegetables like spinach, asparagus and broccoli are all high in folate, a B vitamin, that is needed in the brain for the synthesis of serotonin and dopamine. One Harvard Medical study found that raising the level of folates in the diets of depressed patients helped improve their mood. 

Avocados:  Healthy fat like that those found in avocados helps raise dopamine levels and increase endorphins.

Purple Berries:  Anthocyanins are the pigments that give berries like blueberries and blackberries their deep color. These antioxidants aid your brain in the production of dopamine.

Probiotics:  These have been shown to improve mood.  Our bodies have serotonin receptors in our gut, and an imbalance in good and bad bacteria can disrupt the production/reception of serotonin. Probiotics keep levels of bad bacteria down. You can find probiotics in yogurt, cottage cheese and some cereals.

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Oatmeal Might Be A Superfood After All

We all know that oatmeal is good for you and can be a great way to start the day.  But it wasn’t until my daughter started eating it and then got her younger brothers to eat it, that I took a second look.  I was aware, like most of us, that oatmeal had fiber, and I had seen all those commercials about it lowering your cholesterol.  But I thought a lot of this was just overblown advertising.  However, when my kids started asking for it as a snack after school, I decided it was time to do a little more research.oatmeal

As a child, I ate the instant maple brown sugar kind in those little brown packets. At the time, I thought it was tasty and sweet.  But as I got older, it was too sweet and uninspiring for me to keep eating it.  It wasn’t until recently that I had the ‘real stuff’ – the slow cook rolled oats or the steel cut version.  What a difference!  Before trying it, I was under the impression that the ‘real’ oatmeal took forever to cook.  But it takes maybe 10 to 15 minutes – quick enough for most crazy rushed mornings.

I listed many of the nutritional information and health benefits of slow cooked oatmeal below. One half cup of oatmeal uncooked (which about doubles after cooking) has the following nutritional content.

Protein: 5 to 6 grams of protein depending on the type.  Oats have one of the highest protein levels of any grain, even beating out today’s favorite, quinoa.  Oats, like many other whole grains, is a complete protein – meaning it contains all 10 essential amino acids. Oats have a one of the highest levels of these amino acids, again, beating our other whole grains like quinoa and brown rice.

Fiber:  4 grams of fiber.  Women need between 21 and 25 grams of fiber per day and studies show that the majority of Americans get only about 15 grams a day.  If you add fruit, such as bananas or apples, to your oatmeal, you will pump your fiber intake up to by an additional 3-5 grams of fiber.  This one meal will meet 1/3 of your recommended daily fiber needs.

Beta glucan:  This is a type of fiber that appears to be the all-star compound in oatmeal. There have been hundreds of studies published on beta-glucan and how it naturally boosts your immune system. Beta-glucan stimulates immune cells that ingest and demolish invading pathogens and stimulates other immune cells to attack. In addition, beta glucans stimulate lethal white blood cells (lymphocytes) that bind to tumors or viruses, and release chemicals to destroy it.  And to top it off, our bodies do not produce beta-glucan, so you have to ingest it to get it.  Hello oatmeal!

Low in fat and calories: Approximately 3 grams of fat and 150 calories per serving.

Whole Grains: Oatmeal is a whole grain, and eating whole grains can lower your risk for several diseases, including high blood pressure and type 2 diabetes. Oatmeal also contains lignans, a plant chemical that has been found to prevent heart disease.

Low Glycemic Index (GI):  Oatmeal has a low glycemic index (Steel Cut have an index of 42, standard rolled oats have an index of 55.). (Instant has 83 – NOT a low GI food.)  GI measures the actual impact that a carbohydrate food has on blood sugar.  Foods with low GIs provide sustained energy and do not spike insulin levels.  As such, we feel full longer which can aid in dieting and fat loss.  In addition, low GI diets are associated with decreased risk of cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, stoke, depression and certain cancers, to just name a few.

Lower Cholesterol: Since 1963, study after study has proven the beneficial effects of oatmeal on cholesterol levels.  Yes, the commercials are actually true!  Studies show that in individuals with high cholesterol (above 220 mg/dl), consuming just 3 grams of soluble oat fiber per day (an amount found in one bowl of oatmeal) typically lowers total cholesterol by 8-23%. This is highly significant since each 1% drop in serum cholesterol translates to a 2% decrease in the risk of developing heart disease.

Iron:  10% of recommended daily amount

There are so many ways to dress up oatmeal and add variety and nutrients.  Our favorite way is to add peanut butter, banana and a teaspoon of honey.  We eat the natural peanut butter so the honey gives us a little sweetness.  You can also add any kind of nuts or seeds to get a little crunch.  Another favorite is to add nonfat Greek yogurt – it adds a little creaminess and pumps up the protein.  Fruit is also a popular option – we usually use bananas at this time of year, but any fruit works beautifully.  Cinnamon and flax seeds are other options to jazz up your oatmeal.  The possibilities are bountiful and each one only increases the healthfulness of the meal.  If you had relegated oatmeal to the back shelf, it may be time to give it a second look.

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