Let’s start at the beginning, shall we? Firstly because it just makes sense. Secondly because the ingredients in this recipe are a lot more aesthetically pleasing than the the end result. I mean, I suppose protein bars could look sexy, if you put them in the hands of some scantily clad, fantastically fit couple.

But as you might imagine, I can only afford to pay my models with belly rubs and dried banana-chicken wraps.

But I sorta kinda love this photo!

Anyway. Let’s talk about protein bars. Some might be surprised to hear I eat them, every single day. Yes! I eat processed food! Of course when I needed to clean up my diet and focus on eating less wheat and dairy, I naturally leaned towards higher-quality, more nutritional choices. And while I’ll gladly nosh on a Simply Bar anyday, I wanted another option. Something that really encompassed what I (and I suspect you) want in a protein bar. Homemade. All-natural. Full of protein (let’s just say, there are some seriously mislabeled “protein bars” out there.) DELICIOUS. Ooey-gooey-fudgey delicious. How about a no-bake protein bar? That seemed like a good idea too. Gluten-free, dairy-free, and soy-free. Why is it so hard to find a gluten-free, vegan, sugar-free, soy-free protein bar? hmmm. And thankgoodness I eat nuts.

Nope. I’m not actually anti-soy. You can still count me in the “everything in moderation” camp. I just wanted to focus on other ingredients for my protein bar.

Like hemp seeds! Did you know that hemp seeds are the only plant source containing every amino acid, and the essential fatty acids in the ideal ratio fit for human consumption? Well, you do now. And you know why they needed to be a signature ingredient in my all-natural, good clean fuel bar.

Now let’s talk protein. With all the choices out there, where does one begin? I knew I wanted a vegan protein, and not soy. I first tested this with Sun Warrior Warrior Blend Natural Flavor protein powder, an unflavored blend of organic pea, hemp and cranberry proteins. (No, I didn’t know cranberries were a quality protein source either.) It’s pretty fantastic and works great in this recipe, and their chocolate version is great for drinking, but both are a little pricey.

So, I’m super excited to have discovered True Nutrition. This cool site lets you mix and match a custom blend of protein powder from a variety of protein sources, supplements, and flavors. For my protein bars, I chose an unflavored blend of 50/50 rice/pea protein powder. And for my everyday drinking protein powder, I went with a 40/30/30 Hemp/Pea/Rice blend with natural chocolate banana flavor (yup, you guessed that right, they have all-natural, stevia-sweetened flavors too!) At about $12/lb, I felt like had won the lottery! The rice/pea unflavored blend is perfect for my bars, and the chocolate banana stuff? It’s totally awesome and makes me wish I had a reason to drink a protein shake every day. Which I suppose I would, if I lifted weights seven time per week instead of four. (By the way, there are all kinds of protein – including egg white, various grades of whey, casein, even beef protein powder! For all you protein-lovers out there, not just the veg-heads.)

Regardless of whether I lift weights or not, these bars have become my go-to pre-workout snack, supplying the perfect blend of energizing carbs, protein and good fat. They’ve also been trecking with me to Vegas and Chicago, providing great fuel when it’s hard to find good choices on-the-go. They’re even great for dessert when you find yourself craving a late-night sweet. Yes, I made sure to cover all the bases for you.

But do you know the best thing about carrying homemade protein bars in your purse cross-country? Getting to share them with your friends. Nothing made me happier than having the chance to offer Ricki one of these sweet, nutritious treats – except maybe the compliments she gave up in return! And with that, I happily offer them to you too.

One last thing before the recipe. Because I was so smitten with my all-natural vegan protein powder from True Nutrition, I dropped them a note to say so. And thinking of many of you guys, I wanted to inquire about the gluten-free status of their products, since I couldn’t find anything definitive on their website. I received a quick and friendly response from Carl, who assured me that all of the proteins, supplements and flavorings are gluten-free except for one optional supplement, glutamine peptides. The facility is strictly regulated to avoid cross-contamination, but because of that one available supplement, they must state that the facility contains wheat. So please keep that in mind, depending on  your level of sensitivity.

If you DO want to try a custom blended protein powder from True Nutrition (and I highly recommend you do!) they kindly offered up one more incentive: when you use the code CARAS at checkout, you’ll receive 5% off your order (hey, every little bit counts, right?!)

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Mint Chocolate Brownie Protein Bars

Yield: 16 bars

Fudgey mint chocolate high-protein bars that are all-natural, gluten-free, refined sugar-free, soy-free and vegan.

Ingredients:

1 cup (114gm) walnuts
2 cups (280gm) dates
3/4 cup (90gm) hemp seeds
3/4 tsp mint extract
1 teaspoon clear liquid stevia, such as NuNaturals
1 1/2 cups (150gm) unflavored vegan protein powder, such as True Nutrition 50/50 Rice/Pea blend (see full blog post for more information and discount code)

6 tablespoons (30gm) cocoa powder
1/4 cup + 1 tablespoon brown rice syrup

Directions:

In the bowl of a large food processor, process the walnuts for 2-3 minutes, until very soft and nearly smooth (almost like a nut butter.) Add the dates and hemp seeds, and process again until the mixture forms a paste, stopping several times to scrape the sides and bottom of the bowl. Blend in the mint extract and stevia. Add the protein powder and cocoa powder and blend again until incorporated. Finally, blend in the brown rice syrup. The mixture will appear crumbly but will hold together when pressed.

Line a 9x9" baking dish with foil. Pour the mixture into the pan and press firmly with your hands into a packed, even layer. Let the bars set in the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes.

Using the edges of the foil, lift the bars out of pan and transfer to a cutting board. Slice into 16 squares, and wrap each individually in plastic wrap. The bars may be stored at room temperature.

Nutrition Facts:

Nutrition Facts

Amount Per Serving
Calories 183
Total Fat 7 g
Saturated Fat 1 g
Polyunsaturated Fat 5 g
Monounsaturated Fat 1 g
Cholesterol 0 mg
Sodium 49 mg
Potassium 219 mg
Total Carbohydrate 21 g
Dietary Fiber 3 g
Sugars 15 g
Protein 12 g

This post is linked to Slightly Indulgent Tuesdays.