Gluten-Free Cranberry-Ginger Granola Bars

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I must admit I am not the biggest fan of “commercially sold” granola bars. I just don’t see the point of a healthy bar that contains lots of sugar, butter and/or preservatives. It’s like those protein bars out there that contain 30 grams of sugar…doesn’t that defeat the whole purpose of being healthy? Also if I need a supplement meal or mid-meal snack I usually reach for a Parrillo Protein Bar or Quest Bar – how good are those?? I just never had a place for granola bars in my daily diet.

It wasn’t until I went to St. Thomas that I finally figured out how the well-loved granola bar fit into my life. During vacation we were everywhere, walking to shops, playing water sports, working out, and touring historic sites. Between the constant activity and the hot humid weather I quickly realized that I needed more than a low calorie protein bar to sustain myself. Enter the granola bar. I found that eating half a granola bar along with my protein bar gave me the extra energy I needed (in my supplement meal) to do all the things that we were doing. So although I don’t eat granola bars in everyday life very much – unless I have a sweet tooth – it has become a staple in my vacation meal planning. However, I still couldn’t help feeling bad about the ingredients and preservatives in these prepackaged bars. That was when I decided to create my own version that was actually a much truer take on a healthy granola bar.

I have to say my Gluten-Free Cranberry-Ginger Granola Bars are absolutely delicious! They are packed with healthy oats and nuts, with bursts of cranberry flavor running through every bite. I also throw in some crystallized ginger for a nice little unexpected twist. The best part…these bars contain 2 of the healthiest food items around….organic extra-virgin coconut oil and flaxseeds.

Flaxseeds are one of my favorite seeds, such an amazingly healthful food in such a little package. For those of you who are not familiar with them, flaxseeds are tiny hard seeds that are loaded with omega-3 fats. They come in golden or brown – I much prefer the taste of the golden flaxseeds, which have a moist nuttier flavor compared to the brown, which taste a little chalkier and drier to me. In addition to being high in omega-3 fats, flaxseeds also contain lignan, which is a chemical compound found in the seed coat of a flaxseed that contains antifungal and antiviral properties. Lignan also is linked to helping fight certain types of cancer.

Other well noted benefits of flaxseeds are that they support heart health, aid in weight loss, decrease inflammation, lower the risk of diabetes and are a high source of fiber. In other words, they are something that you probably want to incorporate in your diet! One important thing to note about flaxseeds are that the seeds (in whole form) are not digestible by the human body so the only way to benefit from their amazing properties is to grind them up before eating. I know that it is a little more work but it is much more preferable to freshly grind flaxseed yourself than to buy already ground flaxseed meal. Freshly ground flaxseeds are of a fresher quality and retain their full nutritional value, which may otherwise degrade in a pre-ground bag that has been sitting around for a while. What I do to make things easier is to grind up a weeks worth of flaxseed every Sunday and store it in an airtight container in the refrigerator. Important note – this stuff needs to be refrigerated in order to stay good. I store the ground flaxseed for the week in the refrigerator and the bag of whole raw flaxseed (waiting to be ground) in the freezer, the same place where I store all of my nuts. As Rachel Ray always says, “Oil Can Spoil” so that is the safest place for them. Don’t know how I suddenly got to talking about nuts but oh well. 🙂 Okay back to these great granola bars!

The second important ingredient which helps to make these granola bars so incredibly healthy is the use of organic extra-virgin coconut oil, instead of other oils or butter. Extra-virgin coconut oil, as we all know, is a very healthy saturated fat that has countless benefits such as supporting heart and brain health, promoting cellular health, reducing the risk of Alzheimer’s, aiding in nutrient absorption and digestion, improving thyroid function, improving skin, reducing the risk for Type-2 diabetes, as well as many more. What makes coconut oil so great? The medium-chain triglycerides (MCTs) contained within the coconut oil. Ok time for a mini science lesson! Coconut oil consists of both long-chain saturated fats and medium-chain triglycerides; however, it’s the medium-chain triglycerides that we are so interested in! Coconut oil contains a large percentage of MCTs, around 62-65%. So what makes MCTs unique is that they are metabolized differently than other fats. Instead of having to be manipulated by the body and absorbed by the lymphatic system the way long-chain fatty acids are, MCTs bypass all that and are shuttled directly through the portal artery to the liver, where they produce a thermogenic reaction while being metabolized. The result of this accelerated metabolic conversion is that instead of being stored as fat, the calories contained in MCTs are very efficiently converted into fuel for immediate use by organs and muscles.

Even better, lauric, caprylic and capric acid, which are all medium-chain triglycerides, are found to have antiviral, antimicrobial, antifungal and antibacterial properties. Lauric acid, which makes up 50 percent of the MCTs found in coconut oil, also aids in skin health and lowers the risk for heart disease!

I use coconut oil every single day, multiple times a day. It is one of my go to oils for everyday cooking and even baking! So my coconut oil obsession began a long time ago – although it didn’t technically start off with actual coconut oil. I’ll explain. My husband and I have been fans of a fitness and nutrition guru named John Parrillo for many years. We purchase his protein bars and Adam has even been to the Parrillo Training Camp in Ohio. Anyways, in addition to buying his protein bars which are amazing and do not contain processed sugars or other unnecessary ingredients that many protein bars do, Adam used to get a cooking oil that John Parrillo -who has been touting the amazing benefits of MCTs for bodybuilding for the last 20 years – makes. His oil is a pure C8 medium-chain triglyceride (MCT Oil) from fractionated coconut oil. Huh? Basically it is a coconut oil that has been broken up, with only the medium-chain triglycerides taken and used to create a “purer” oil that only gets delivered directly to the liver where its C8 MCTs are turned into ketones and used for energy – exactly what you need in competition training when you are looking to lose fat and can’t eat a lot of carbs but need to acquire energy (calories) from another source. Long story short, as time passed, our needs and preferences changed leading me to want to focus on getting MCTs in a more “unprocessed” way to use in my daily cooking routine. This obviously led me right to coconut oil – which is what Parrillo’s oil is processed from.  I found unrefined organic extra-virgin coconut oil to be a much more versatile oil that is stable enough to be used for cooking and baking, yet still provides all of the aforementioned benefits. Ever since then I’ve been hooked! One important thing, I do want to note that although coconut oil has many healthful benefits, it does contain long-chain saturated fats and is still calorically dense so please use it in moderation – 1-2 tablespoons per day for one person is plenty!

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For the recipe, you will need gluten-free old fashioned rolled oats, chopped pecans, slivered blanched almonds, raw whole golden flaxseed, organic extra-virgin unrefined coconut oil, organic honey, organic brown sugar, pure vanilla extract, kosher salt, crystallized ginger, and dried cranberries.

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Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.

Spread the rolled oats, pecans and almonds out on a sheet pan and bake them for 15-18 minutes, or until the nuts are golden brown and fragrant. (I like my nuts to be very toasted so I bake everything for around 17 minutes.) Just be careful, nuts can go from golden brown to burnt very quickly so keep one eye on them near the end – I’ve charred a lot of nuts in my time! When the oats and nuts are golden, remove them from the oven and let them cool for a couple minutes, then transfer them to a large mixing bowl. Set the bowl aside for later.

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Reduce the oven temperature to 300 degrees F.

Take the golden flaxseed and finely grind it in a coffee grinder. Remember, the seeds are not digestible by themselves so you must grind them in order to reap the wonderful benefits of this amazing food.

Add the ground flaxseed to the oats/nuts mixture and set the bowl aside.

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Now let’s move onto the coconut oil honey sauce. Place the coconut oil, brown sugar, honey, vanilla extract, and kosher salt into a small saucepan and bring it to a boil on medium heat. Cook and stir the contents for 30 seconds to 1 minute – it should foam and bubble up – then remove from the heat and set aside.

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When you remove the sauce from the heat the foam will dissipate, just make sure to stir it a few times to help it along.

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Chop up the crystallized ginger chunks into smaller pieces and add them to the oats mixture, along with the dried cranberries.

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Pour the warm coconut oil honey mixture over the oats mixture and stir everything together – you will need a little arm muscle for this task. Make sure everything is evenly mixed and coated in the coconut oil and honey mixture.

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Next you will need to line a quarter sheet pan with parchment paper (you can also use a 9×13 rectangle baking dish if you don’t have a quarter sheet pan) and pour the granola mixture into the pan. (It helps to keep a tab of extra parchment paper running up both sides for easy granola/parchment removal.) Dampen your fingers with water (not too wet) and press the mixture evenly into the pan – don’t forget the corners. You want everything tightly packed and the granola layer to be even.

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Bake the granola in the 300 degree oven for 25-30 minutes or until the granola is golden brown. This is one of my favorite times during the baking process because the incredible smell will begin to permeate throughout the house, producing this incredible aroma of baked nuts and honey! It’s intoxicating!

When the granola is ready, remove it from the oven and allow it to cool at room temperature for at least 2-3 hours before cutting into it. I always keep the granola out for around 3-4 hours, covering it at hour 2 with plastic wrap.

When ready, pull out the granola by tugging on the parchment paper tabs and set it on a board. Cut the granola into bars by using a sharp knife and pressing down. You can make them as big or as little as you’d like – I like to make 12 regular sized bars.

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What I also love to do is wrap each bar individually in plastic wrap so I can travel with them or to pack with Adam’s lunch.

These granola bars are tastiest when eaten at room temperature, but I like to store them in the refrigerator or the freezer – for a long storage.

Hope you all enjoy them!!

Cranberry-Ginger Granola Bars
Author: 
Recipe type: Granola Bars, Gluten-Free, Breakfast, Snack
Prep time: 
Cook time: 
Total time: 
Serves: 12 bars
 
Ingredients
  • 2 cups gluten-free old fashioned rolled oats (Brand: Bob's Red Mill)
  • ½ cup chopped pecans
  • ½ cup slivered blanched almonds
  • ½ cup organic raw whole golden flaxseed, freshly ground (Brand: Bob's Red Mill)
  • 3 tablespoons organic extra-virgin unrefined coconut oil (Brand: Nature's Way)
  • ¼ cup organic brown sugar
  • ½ cup plus 1 tablespoon organic dark amber honey
  • 1½ teaspoons pure vanilla extract
  • ¼ teaspoon kosher salt
  • ½ cup crystallized ginger chunks, chopped (Brand: Whole Foods Australian Crystallized Ginger Chucks)
  • 1 cup dried cranberries
Instructions
  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F
  2. Spread oats, pecans and almonds on a sheet pan and toast in the oven for 15-18 minutes or until lightly golden brown and fragrant. Transfer to a large mixing bowl and set aside.
  3. Reduce oven to 300 degrees F.
  4. Grind golden flaxseeds in a coffee grinder and add to oats mixture.
  5. Place coconut oil, brown sugar, honey, vanilla extract and kosher salt in a small saucepan and bring to boil over medium heat. Cook and stir for 30 seconds to 1 minute then remove from heat and set aside.
  6. Chop up ginger into small pieces and add to oats mixture bowl.
  7. Add dried cranberries to oats mixture bowl.
  8. Pour honey mixture over oats mixture and stir well (everything should be evenly coated in the honey mixture).
  9. Line a quarter sheet pan with parchment paper (leaving tabs on each side for easy removal) and pour granola mixture into the prepared pan. Wet your fingers (with water) and press the mixture evenly into pan. Smooth out top surface so there aren't any massive lumps and valleys. (You can also use an 9x13 rectangle baking dish).
  10. Bake pan for 25-30 minutes, until granola is golden brown.
  11. Cool granola for 2-3 hours at least (so it sets) at room temperature before cutting into bars. (I cover the bars with plastic wrap 1 hour into cooling process).
  12. Cut bars by pulling parchment paper (with granola) up and out of pan - it will come out very easily - then cut with a sharp knife.
  13. Wrap bars individually in plastic wrap and store in refrigerator or freezer for longer storage.
  14. Serve at room temperature.
  15. OPTIONAL: You can also crumble bars to create fresh granola for oatmeal or yogurt. Store in airtight container.

 

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