Granola Bars. Health food or sugar & fat bombs masquerading as a wholesome snack? The answer quite simply is: it completely depends on what ingredients go into the bars.
I used to buy granola bars at the grocery store without a second glance (or first glance for that matter) at the nutrition label. A few years ago, when I started making a conscious effort to research what was in the food I purchased, I was disappointed to discover that most pre-packaged granola bars are over-processed and filled with sugar. One of my favorite brands of granola bars while growing up – hint: it has “Nature” in the title – lists sugar as the second ingredient, with both honey and brown sugar syrup following close behind for a combined total of a whopping 12 grams of sugar per serving. That’s a lot of sugar for a supposedly “healthy” snack or breakfast, folks. Dessert? Sure. Pre-workout fuel? No thanks.
Then we come to the multitude of recipes for homemade granola bars. Scour the Internet for said recipes, and I guarantee you’ll find that most call for butter, oil, and at least two types of refined sugar. Are those ingredients really necessary to achieve a delicious homemade granola bar?
I think not.
So I set out to make a batch of granola bars that a) taste fantastic and b) meet my nutritional preferences. I adore the flavor combination of chocolate and dried cherries, but lurking in certain versions of both ingredients is a large amount of – you guessed it – sugar. In order to fulfill my desire for low-sugar granola bars, I used unsweetened dried cherries (found at Trader Joe’s) and Sunspire grain-sweetened chocolate chips [one of my pantry staples; sweetened only with malted grains, these chocolate chips have half the amount of sugar (4 grams per serving) of regular chocolate chips (8 + grams per serving)]. In order to keep the fat content in check I replaced the typical addition of butter or oil with unsweetened applesauce and a modest amount of creamy peanut butter, which yields a pleasantly chewy granola bar.
Cherries & Chocolate Peanut Butter Granola Bars
- canola oil cooking spray
- 1/2 cup unsweetened applesauce
- 2 Tbsp brown rice syrup (alternately, you could use the equivalent amount of honey, agave nectar, or pure maple syrup)
- 1/4 cup creamy natural peanut butter, at room temperature
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
- 1 cup old fashioned rolled oats
- 1 cup puffed brown rice cereal
- 1/4 tsp salt
- 1/2 cup unsweetened & unsulfured dried cherries
- 1/2 cup grain-sweetened chocolate chips
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
- Line an 8 x 8 inch square baking pan (or a 9 x 5 inch loaf pan for thicker bars) with parchment paper so the sides hang over the edge of the pan. Lightly coat with canola oil cooking spray; set aside.
- In a medium bowl, combine the applesauce, liquid sweetener of your choice, peanut butter, and vanilla extract; stir until the mixture is completely homogenous.
- Fold in the rolled oats, puffed rice cereal, salt, dried cherries, and chocolate chips. Spoon batter into the prepared pan, spreading into an even layer, and bake until lightly golden brown, about 20 minutes (add a few additional minutes of baking time if you’re using a loaf pan).
- Allow to cool in pan for about 10 minutes, then remove by picking up the sides of the parchment paper. Allow to cool completely on a wire rack before cutting into bars.