Blueberry-Grape Oat Bars

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My focus in recent weeks has been how to make healthier food. I’m drawn to desserts, almost magnetized in some ways by it, so it’s hard for me to break out of my sugar fixation. I’m trying to find ways to make healthier snacks because they are usually very expensive in stores. I got the idea for this recipe while browsing the snack aisle of Harris Teeter. I noticed a box of oat-crumble bars, but the price for five bars was 3 dollars… 3 DOLLARS. “Not I” said the Alchemist.  So I decided to make them myself.

This post is actually the perfect time to discuss fat in food. “Why is it the perfect time?” you ask. Well, today’s medical school lectures were all about fatty acid metabolism and creation, so I get to study and write for the alchemist at the same time. Expect future posts on carbohydrates and proteins!

There are a lot of misconceptions about fats in food, so I’ll clear up some of this misinformation with this post. To start, fats are important in diets… just in moderation. Fats (also known as lipids) have three main functions in our bodies. They are a very important structural component of the phospholipid bilayer of our cells, they contain over two times the amount of energy of carbohydrates (in the human body this amount increases to 6 times the energy supplied by glucose per weight because glucose binds water), and they are essential for cell signaling. I’m going to focus primarily on energy metabolism because that is most relevant to food and cooking, but the other two functions cannot be stressed enough. Trust me, a little bit of fat in our body is not a bad thing. However, whenever possible make sure these fats are polyunsaturated. Trust me, polyunsaturated fats are essential. That’s why fish oil is being pushed so heavily in recent years.

When does fat become excessive? The most noticeable effect is weight gain. To maintain weight it is recommended to maintain an energy balance, which means calorie intake equals the calories used by the body. When too much energy is taken into the body from the diet, then the excess energy must be stored somewhere. In general, carbohydrates are stored as glycogen in the liver and fats are stored as triglycerides in liver and in adipose tissue. Adipose tissue is found throughout the body, which is why when we eat too much and don’t exercise, we tend to collect fat everywhere. These triglycerides are utilized when blood glucose levels are low. This process is stimulated by the reduction of insulin in the blood and the increase in glucagon.

This is a pretty technical process, but the important thing to remember is that if weight loss is your goal then eat less food energy than your body expends. This allows your body to utilize its stored energy sources. It is advantageous to eat periodically, store energy, and then use up all that energy between meals. If one consumes about 500 calories less than one expends, the body will use adipose stores for energy production and gradual weight loss will occur. Theoretically, 1 pound of body weight is equal to 3,500 calories, but it us recommended to lose 1 to 2 pounds a week. If body weight is lost too quickly, the weight is coming predominantly from loss of water and electrolytes. Also it is important to maintain a diet that contains carbohydrates, proteins, fats, fiber, and vitamins and minerals.

Cholesterol is another buzz word that is frequently heard when referring to diet. Like fat, the view that cholesterol is dangerous is simplified severely. Cholesterol is an important component of all membranes, especially myelin (in unesterified form), important for signal transduction in cells, precursor of bile acids, precursor of steroid hormones, precursor of vitamin D, and essential for embryo formation. So when do we run into trouble? There are four pathways in the life of cholesterol. These are synthesis, catabolism and excretion, uptake (recycling), and storage. In the standard American diet, however, the latter three pathways are compromised. The end result is that the only process the body knows is how to create more cholesterol.  High levels of LDL negate reuptake of cholesterol, saturated fats block storage of cholesterol, and low fiber inhibits excretion. This leads to plaque growth and atherosclerosis… the name alone sounds terrible.

Here are the take home points. Dietary fats are necessary for a healthy diet (particularly polyunsaturated fats), but when eaten in excess lead to weight gain. If weight loss is your goal, remember to eat a balanced diet and to aim to lose at most a few pounds a week by eating less calories than is required for the body daily to allow the body to use energy reserves. Cholesterol is important in moderation, but when eaten in excess can lead to high cardiovascular disease. Moderation in this context should be as minimal as possible, but cholesterol is nearly impossible to avoid throughout daily living. Eat plenty of fiber, reduce saturated fats in your diet, and minimize cholesterol in your diet and you are on your way to good health.

Crust

Ingredients

1 cup of oats
½  cup white sugar
½ cup of brown sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
3 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup shortening
1/2 cup of butter
1 egg
1/4 teaspoon salt
½ tsp of cinnamon

Filling

Ingredients

2 cups blueberries (fresh or thawed)
¼ lb of grapes
1 tbs of lemon juice
1/2 cup white sugar
3 teaspoons cornstarch

Directions

Preheat the oven to 375˚F.

  • Spread oats on a baking sheet and place in the oven for 15 minutes. The goal is to slightly toast the oats not to cook throughout. Remove from oven when done.
  • Meanwhile, prepare a 9×13 in pan by lightly greasing it.
  • In a medium bowl, stir together brown sugar, white sugar, flour, and baking powder. Mix in salt and cinnamon. Use a fork or pastry cutter to blend in the shortening, butter and egg. Dough will be crumbly. Pat half of dough into the prepared pan
  • In another bowl, stir together the sugar and cornstarch. Gently mix in the blueberries, grapes, and lemon juice.
  • Sprinkle the blueberry-grape mixture evenly over the crust. Crumble remaining dough over the berry layer.
  • Sprinkle the toasted oats on top of the berry and crumb layer.
  • Bake in preheated oven for 45 minutes, or until top is slightly brown. Cool completely before cutting into squares.

Servings: 16
Difficulty: Easy