Are shop-bought energy balls as ‘healthy’ as they sound? We asked a nutritional therapist to weigh in
When it comes to snacking, our choices can be very much driven by convenience, cravings and the extent of our hunger pangs. Come 11am, many of us can be found reaching for our trusty drawer of treats however, the demand for healthier alternatives to our bars of Kit Kat (anyone else getting hungry?) is on the rise with a bevy of protein balls springing up on our supermarket and health shop shelves to meet it.
Protein snacks have proven to be a popular recommendation by the nutrition experts we’ve featured in the past due to the fact that they keep us fuller for longer and prevent blood sugar level spikes occurring in between meals. However, a handful of nuts or a boiled egg does little to excite the taste buds, so it’s no surprise that the cake-like deliciousness of a protein or energy ball has piqued the interest of our appetites. Bounce’s and Deliciously Ella’s ranges are among the most well known and are often seen as a quick and easy way to tide us over until dinner. “Both are high in protein snacks, so they can help keep energy dips away when eating them,” says nutritional therapist and Director of Nutrition at Bodhimaya , Daniel O'Shaughnessy, (Dip ION FdSc mBANT CNHC). “They contain quite honest ingredients - no hidden nasties such as processed oils, preservatives or binders and the Deliciously Ella ones actually show you how to make them if you want to do so at home.”
However sugar-wise, the truth isn’t as sweet. “Both have quite high levels - averaging around 40g of sugar per 100g (8 teaspoons) or about about 2-3 tsps per ball,” he notes. “Even if they state that they contain no refined sugar, sugar is sugar no matter what form it's in.”
If you do have a sweet tooth though, protein balls could provide a slightly less sugar-laden option than say, a Twix. ”Saying this, if you are coming from a very high sugar diet and often reach out for cookies and chocolate, then one of these energy balls is a better option,” says Daniel.
Additional words of wisdom? “Be mindful of these bars promising miracles,” he says. “Often the special ingredients like maca and spirulina in them are in very low amounts.” Which ones are the healthiest of the bunch? We asked Daniel to share his thoughts.
Daniel’s top shop-bought picks
Deliciously Ella Cacao & Almond Energy Ball, £1.79
12.5g of protein per 100g, 5g per 40g
31.8g of sugar per 100g, 12.7g per 40g
“These are probably the healthiest of Ella’s energy balls,” says Daniel. “They come with the recipe too so that you can make them at home. Plus, they’re dairy, gluten and refined sugar free,” in case you have any intolerances or specific food allergies.
Raw Health Organic Spirulina Orange Energy Balls, £2.55 for a 3 pack (60g)
8g of protein per 100g
38g of sugar per 100g
In terms of the natural, organic and raw ingredients used, this scores highly from Daniel. Containing orange, cacao, dates, walnuts, almonds and spirulina powder, it makes for an especially appealing and crunchy choice.
Bounce V Life Cashew Peanut Vegan Protein Energy Ball, £2
23g of protein per 100g, 9g per 40g ball
17g of sugar per 100g, 6.8g per 40g ball
For a high vegan protein option, this makes for a suitably moreish pick. New from Bounce, we can vouch for how tasty this particular flavour is (it’s like a pint-sized piece of cake).
Crussh Cacao & Hazelnut Energy Balls, £1.95 for a 3 pack
11.5g of protein per 100g, 6.4g per serving
22.3g of sugar per 100g, 12.4g per serving
“These are gluten-free, dairy-free, vegan and also quite low in sugar compared to others,” says Daniel. “The cacao can naturally give you a lift and it’s magnesium rich too.”
Bounce Coconut & Macadamia Protein Bliss Ball, £2
22g of protein per 100g, 9g per 40g ball
25g of sugar per 100g, 10g per 40g ball
“This is probably one of the lowest sugar ones (even though they are all so high!)” says Daniel. Taste-wise, it’s one of our favourites in the office.
And if you’re going to make them at home…
Be sugar-aware. “Keep the sugar low, you obviously want it to taste good so a little sweetener is okay, but use dates or dried fruit sparingly,” advises Daniel. “A rule of thumb is not to add more than one ‘sweet’ item to the recipe.”
The ideal snack for making from scratch to better control what goes in them, here’s Daniel's go-to protein balls recipe to provide some ample food for thought.
Raw Brazil Nut, Coconut & Apricot Energy Balls recipe
Prep time: 10 minutes
Chill time: 30 minutes
(makes about 9 balls)
1½ cups raw, unsalted brazil nuts (“Brazil nuts are rich in nutrients, particularly selenium which is essential for healthy-looking skin. It promotes skin health by improving the elasticity of the skin. This is because it facilitates glutathione [an antioxidant] which combats free radicals that deteriorate the skin’s collagen”).
1 cup dried apricots (choose organic)
2 tbsp flaxseed (“Contains omega 3 fatty acids, but also helps with hormone balance in the body. Therefore it's great for female health related skin issues").
1 tbsp coconut oil
¼ cup unsweetened shredded coconut and more for dusting
Zest of 1 large lemon
½ tsp ground cinnamon (“Not only is it anti-inflammatory, but it also helps promote blood sugar balance in the body - key for naturally great skin”).
1. Place the flaxseed in the mill attachment of the food processor and grind. Set aside.
2. Place the brazil nuts in the main container with the S blade and pulse until they are finely chopped.
3. Add the apricots, coconut, lemon zest, ground flaxseed, coconut oil and cinnamon and pulse until the mixture forms a ball and sticks to itself.
3. Remove the mixture from the food processor and roll into golf ball sized balls.
4. Place some shredded coconut in a bowl and dust each ball making sure it's fully covered.
5. Place on parchment paper and on a plate and put into a fridge for 30 minutes.