I used to constantly waver from wanting to indulge in highly processed junk food to absolutely detesting foods that were so far removed from their initial, whole form. Eventually, swinging from one absolute to another got to be too much; I felt frustrated and overwhelmed when what I wanted to eat (what I had an impulsive, seemingly uncontrollable desire for) and what I knew would actually be good for me, didn’t go hand in hand. Sugar is hard to give up. High fat foods are difficult to say no to. Unless you’re walking around blindfolded, chances are you come face to face with highly refined and processed ‘foods’ everyday; the stores you shop at, the vending machines you walk by, the cafe you enjoy spending your Sunday mornings in, and the people you surround yourself with; if you’re trying to adopt a more whole foods plant based eating style, all of the former situations can easily leave you wanting to tug on your hair and scream, ‘where are the fruit-sweetened muffins and cakes??!!!!’
I still nonsensically eye the treats sitting behind display windows at cafes and restaurants, hoping some likeminded person in the kitchen of said cafe/restaurant decided to replace the white sugar in the muffins with dates or ripe bananas or, at the very least, a sweetener not entirely void of nutrients, like maple syrup. The former rarely happens. In fact, it only happens when I do a little research and actively seek out health food stores and vegan eateries (vegan by no means = healthy, but there tends to be a larger pool of healthy, often times raw, snacks present in a vegan cafe than at a regular cafe). Sure, there is definitely a time for indulging and going to town with big dollops of whipped cream and the thickest slices of fudge, but that time is not most of the time (in fact, it should be never but we’ve let ourselves believe we can’t live without the devilish stuff), and I like to create yummy edible things most of the time, so I’ve had to find my own way to sweeten and fudge-ify food sans the conventional staples.
These energy balls belong behind the display window at a trendy cafe. Better yet, they should be on show at the untrendy, but lovable, mom n pop cafe in your neighborhood. These nutrient dense snacks shouldn’t have to cost a bucket load of cash and more to buy, but for some reason, they typically do. I’ve come across coconut, cashew, and date balls that costed 2-3 Australian dollars a pop (1.5-2.8 USD). I suppose the former ingredients run a bit on the pricy side compared to sugar and artificial sweeteners, so I’m not about to advocate relying on store-bought health balls to get you through your afternoon work slump or morning workout, but it is also true that we get what we pay for; we vote with our dollars, do we not? What you buy is what you are choosing to support and further the prevalence of, whether it be factory farmed chicken or corn syrup or fruit-sweetened energy balls void of the former two unpleasant things.
I’d like to see less salt-injected, lean chicken breast around me, but the truth is, a lot of people would like to continue spending their money on it, so the salty, naked chicken isn’t going away any time soon (at least until lab meat takes off…). Same goes for corn-syrup doused ‘foods’; is corn syrup really food? I don’t know, but I lean towards saying ‘no, it’s not food in the same way tomatoes and beans and rice are food’. Same goes for hydrogenated oil. And many other ‘foods’ lining the shelves at grocery stores and airport terminals and gas stations that present themselves as perfect; perfectly delicious, enjoyable, enlightening, the end-all to your life problems; you should be WANTING to stuff your face with said foods, or so you’re led to believe, by the crafty and intelligent marketers, sure, but maybe also by your friends and family, who insist that you must be out of your mind or maybe even on the road to an eating disorder because you choose baked fries over twice-fried fries and 90% cocoa chocolate over 40% cocoa milky chocolate.
A life without conventional donuts and cinnamon rolls (and every other doughy thing you can think of) used to make me cower in fear; What do you mean I can still have a happy, fulfilling life without glazed donuts and McDonald’s french fries and ice cream floats? At first, reducing the amount of bad stuff I ate felt restrictive and, quite simply put, NOT FUN. It took months and months to slowly gather the information that really jumpstarted my healthier approach to eating; when you know the facts, it’s hard to go back. It also helps if you learn how to make a truly fudgy batch of plant-based brownies and chocolate frosting sans the powdered sugar. For the longest time, I let myself believe that the unhealthy ‘foods’ I came across everywhere, even the Tollhouse chocolate chip cookies I had been making since I was a kid, were permissible because life is short and a life without buttery cookies doesn’t sound like a very exciting, and, dare I say it, livable life. As I reiterate my former thought process now, I’m pretty appalled (to say the least). I had been conditioned to believe that highly refined foods were the epitome of enjoyment and happiness. Never in a million years would I have expected myself to be making the choices I am now.
After a long enough time of toying with the idea of being ‘healthier’ and truly caring about what I was putting into my body (maybe it will push away my anxiety and instrusive thoughts, maybe it will help me effortlessly lose weight, maybe I will even want to go outside and meet new people again), I finally made the leap. Sure, I still occasionally eat white flour and deep fried fries, but notice the OCCASIONal; when the unordinary occasion presents itself, I might have some fries, but for most of the seven days a week, I’m ‘indulging’ in crisp, baked potato fries and awe-inducing creamy coconut curries. My attention to calories and monitoring every high-carb morsel I eat has melted away. Eating more plant based means eating more high-carb whole foods, foods that ought to make you ‘fat’ by conventional wisdom, and yet, when coupled with moderate exercise, have repeatedly shown to aid in weight loss (I’m not touting an entirely plant based or vegan diet by any means, I don’t always eat that way).
It’s no surprise that I have a sweet tooth, so in an effort to combat the impending sweet cravings before they could take the reigns to my life, I replaced the refined sugar with fruit, allowing myself to eat three or four frozen bananas blended into ice cream for breakfast some mornings. If I have a bowl of it in front of me, topped with shredded coconut and a dollop of nut butter in an ideal world, I won’t even flinch when you tell me I can’t taste Haagan Daz ever again. The truth is, I could very well eat Haagan Daz again, I CAN if I WANT to; the only person stopping me is myself, but I am not keeping myself captive or deprived of exciting, sweet flavors; so long as blended frozen bananas are within arms reach I won’t feel doubtful of my newfound concern for health. The trick when giving up one bad habit is to replace it with another, obviously more thought through and healthy, habit. Simply removing the sugary processed foods from my diet would have left me hanging and hungry, and I would have most likely fallen off the wagon by binging on sweets in secret to compensate for ‘depriving’ myself. Four bananas in one sitting may frighten you; they contain a lot of sugar, don’t they? Yeah, they do, but bananas are bananas and white sugar is white sugar; while bananas slowly travel to your gut with their friends fiber, potassium, vitamins A, C, and B6 in tow, white sugar races there and wrecks havoc for the fun of it.
What really enabled me to fully embrace conscientious eating as a lifestyle and not a diet, was learning about the ins and outs of healthy cooking and baking. Once I learned that it wasn’t about giving up the childhood favorites (namely chocolate chip cookies and brownies with ice cream), but rather, that it was about remodeling them so that they could still be appetizing and yummy, but also be unexpectedly healthy, I felt more switched on and ready to jump into this world of food. My chocolate chip cookies now contain whole wheat flour and oats instead of all-purpose flour, and they don’t need help from a cup of sugar because they’ve got applesauce, dates, spotty bananas, and pumpkin/sweet potato puree to choose from. I kid you not, cookies made with sweet potato puree are delicious. And what about these energy balls? Well, they certainly don’t put up a fancy facade like the supposedly healthy snacks you come across at the grocery store. They are simple and simply good for you, packed with oats, natural peanut butter, tahini, dates, chia seeds, cocoa powder, cocoa butter, and some spices to taste. No troubleshooting or second guessing, just plain ol’ whole foods.
Each version makes 7 balls
Oat & date version:
1/2 cup rolled oats
1 tbsp natural peanut butter (or nut butter of your choice)
2 medjool dates
2 tsps chia seeds
1 tsp maca powder*
1-2 tsps apple juice (or sub with water)
1/4 tsp cinnamon
Dash of nutmeg (optional)
Pinch of salt
1/2 cup rolled oats
2 tbsps cocoa powder
1 tbsp cocoa butter*
1 tbsp tahini
1 medjool date
2 tsps chia seeds
Pinch of salt
*if you don’t have maca powder on hand, you can simply swap it with hemp/protein powder or oat flour (for a possible different flavor)
*you can substitute the cocoa butter with coconut oil, but know that the balls will begin melting if left too long out of the fridge; cocoa butter has a very high melting point and stays incredibly hard at even slightly warm temperatures (hence why it’s used in chocolate)
Oat & date: