Favorite Things Friday: Zeno Bars

In this edition of Favorite Things Friday, I share a new snack find of mine that I really enjoy: Zeno Bars.

I received this 3 bar sampler pack at no cost to me, shipped out by the Zeno Bar team. This is an unpaid review of a free product. This is my honest review of the product. My words were not influenced.

Now that we’ve got the full disclosure stuff out of the way, let’s dive into my review of…Zeno bars! I saw these bars in a post published by Beyond Type 1 and was instantly curious about them. They claimed to be not only delicious, but also low-carb, low GI (glycemic index), gluten-free, and vegan. In my experience, it’s rare for a bar to actually taste good but also be a healthful treat. So I decided to contact the company to see if I could get my hands on some bars. A major thank you to Sue Papuga, one of the co-founders, for making this possible and for her warm correspondence via email.

Without further ado, here’s my thoughts on each of the three flavors I tried:

Strawberry Nut – This was the first Zeno bar that I tried. As I unwrapped it, I was instantly reminded of another kind of snack bar: Lara bars. The texture and appearance of the Zeno bar was practically identical to a standard Lara bar, which made me excited because I love Lara bars. I don’t buy them often, though, because they have a high carb content that can make them tricky to bolus for.

But this wasn’t the case with the Zeno bar. I ate the strawberry nut flavor one afternoon as I was out and about running errands. I didn’t take insulin for it and, sure enough, my blood sugar didn’t budge for hours (until I ate some ice cream for a late lunch, that is). The bar was the perfect midday snack – soft, chewy, slightly sweet and zippy from the strawberry flavor. It almost tasted a bit like a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, minus the bread. So far, I was off to a good start with the Zeno bars.

My rating: 8/10

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Flashing a big smile after enjoying the Strawberry Nut Zeno bar!

Cocoa Chip – Like Strawberry Nut, I really enjoyed how Cocoa Chip tasted. It was reminiscent of a Chewy chocolate chip granola bar, except I found the Zeno bar to be much more satisfying (and with hardly any carbs compared to the Quaker-branded bars). The only reason why I didn’t score it a touch higher was that it tasted like many other granola bars out there that also have the chocolate chip flavor profile. But just like the Strawberry Nut flavor, this one was soft and chewy, and didn’t raise my blood sugar at all.

My rating: 7/10

Almond Nut – This one REALLY surprised me, because I assumed almond nut would be the blandest flavor of the bunch. I’m happy to report that it was actually my favorite. It was practically like eating almond butter, which I’m crazy about, but in bar form. What’s not to love about that? Just like the other two Zeno bars, Almond Nut only had a few net carbs overall, and I experienced zero blood sugar spikes after consuming it.

My rating: 9/10

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All 3 Zeno bars from the sampler pack.

All things considered, it’s safe to say I had a great experience with Zeno bars. All three were yummy, made for quick and convenient snacks on the go, and (the best part) cooperated well with my diabetes. I’m especially looking forward to stocking up on the Almond Nut flavored bars, because they were so unique compared to other snack bars I’ve had, but also totally delicious.

After reading this blog post, I’m sure you’re wondering how you can obtain some Zeno bars to try yourself. Check out their website, zenobar.com, to order some bars and read more about their origin story.

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Adventures in Low-Carb Snacking

I’ve logged a lot of miles on the road this summer. From planned trips back to my home state of Massachusetts to weekend getaways to neighboring states, I’ve spent many hours in the car. Conversations with my partner and friends on the phone, as well as podcasts, have helped time pass…but so has snacking on a variety of road-ready foods.

I admit that I often don’t choose the healthiest road trip snacks. I tend to gravitate towards “comfort” foods – anything from peanut M&Ms to cheese-flavored chips. I wish that I craved something better for me, like carrot sticks or celery stalks, but my intense dislike for long hours on the road coupled with the need for convenient foods only (i.e., nothing that needs refrigeration) results in me making less desirable snack choices.

In turn, my junk food cravings are typically disastrous on my blood sugar. I do bolus for the junk, but since I’m forced to sit idle in the car, I face more frequent and intense blood sugar spikes than I would if I were able to get some movement in shortly before or after consuming the food. So not only do I end up eating food that’s bad for me, I also have to deal with the consequences on my blood sugar, and it’s a lose-lose situation.

That’s why I created a little game for myself during my last long car ride. When my boyfriend and I stopped at a gas station to fill up the tank before driving for four hours, I decided to go into the convenience store that was located there and scour the shelves for the lowest-carb snack foods I could find that were also remotely appetizing.

Enter…”pork skins”.

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The big selling point of this snack? The fact that it’s 0 carbs per serving!

The name itself is positively revolting, but the actual snack is a savory wonder for a T1D. It’s got 0 carbs in the ENTIRE bag. It also happens to be chock full of protein and is relatively low in calories. What a find! We totally crushed the entire bag in about two hours flat.

Other findings from this particular trip include a lower-carb bag of trail mix that was incredibly satisfying. I was pleased to have found one that wasn’t a mix of 20% nuts and 80% candy/dried fruit, because the latter is what always messes up my blood sugar. I also snagged a bag of beef jerky, because I can always count on that to be a delicious low-carb treat.

And my drink of choice? I found a blue Gatorade Zero, which I’d never had before because it’s not sold in stores I go to when I’m up north. I loved it and was especially appreciative for it after a weekend of not getting enough fluids.

All in all, it was kind of fun to see what kinds of snacks I could find that wouldn’t do damage to my blood sugar. I wound up finding some stuff that’s bound to become staples for future road trips, and was so sated by the combination of them that I didn’t even need to cook dinner when I got to my apartment. Turns out that low/lower-carb snacks pretty much rule!

My Low-Carb Baking Fail

Ever since I was old enough to be trusted in the kitchen, I’ve loved baking everything from cupcakes and cookies to cheesecakes and breads. There’s so much I enjoy about baking: measuring out ingredients so satisfyingly precisely, smelling sweet aromas waft from the oven, and naturally, sampling the tasty final products.

But this hobby of mine has been a bit hazardous at times, seeing as just about every recipe I’ve ever followed has been far from low carb. Mainly, this was due to the fact that I never really had low-carb recipes on hand; rather, I was following tried-and-true, blue-ribbon-winning recipes from my mother’s collection of cookbooks. Plus, I figured that family and friends would be more willing to try baked goods that were made from “real” ingredients, not artificial sweeteners or alternative flour mixes. There was never a reason why I wouldn’t be able to try my creations, either – that’s why I had insulin, of course.

Now that I have a kitchen of my own to experiment in, though, I find my interests turning to lower-carb cooking and baking. I don’t follow a low-carb diet, but I will occasionally cut carbs here and there to see whether my blood sugars benefit from it and to find out if my taste buds like it.

Besides my lack of experience, I was hesitant to try low-carb baking because it seems like the core ingredients needed for most recipes are so hard to find…and expensive! Coconut flour, xanthan gum, and erythritol aren’t exactly the most common items on the typical grocery store’s shelves. But thankfully, I am fairly close to an Aldi supermarket, where I’ve had incredible luck finding things that are priced significantly cheaper compared to other grocery stores. So, after a couple of slowly rotting bananas on my counter top inspired me to search for a low-carb banana bread recipe, I gathered up my low-carb baking supplies on a trip to Aldi and set about baking my first keto-friendly banana bread.

My Low-Carb Baking Fail
Maybe one day, I can make low-carb cupcakes that taste good AND are as pretty as the ones above.

It did not go as expected. I intended on baking two breads, seeing as the recipe called for one banana per loaf and I had two to be used. The actual process of making the first loaf of bread was actually very straightforward – mixing dry ingredients, then wet, then combining all of them together. The bread had to go into the oven at 350 for an hour, and when it finally was done, it looked totally normal and even tasted pretty good. The walnuts I’d mixed in added the perfect crunch and helped the banana bread taste like the “normal” kind.

So I felt fairly confident as I started to make the batter for the second loaf. The only difference this time was that I added dark chocolate chips, which I think are the perfect complement to banana bread. I even dotted the top of the bread with the chips in a pattern to add a little extra flair.

I knew something was wrong immediately upon taking the bread out of the oven one hour later. The chocolate chips I’d artfully arranged on the top had disappeared. WTF? It only got worse when I removed the loaf from the pan…because half of it stuck to it. That’s right, half of my banana bread was not salvageable, and the other half that came out was looking pretty damn ugly.

The taste? It was fine…not great, though. The chips had melted into the dough in an unappealing way. The bread itself seemed less like a banana bread and more like a weird banana-chocolate chip mush. It was definitely not the outcome I wanted. And no, I did not take a picture of the fail…I didn’t want the reminder that it was a bit of a hot mess.

Does this mean I’m done experimenting with low-carb baking? Absolutely not. I’ll take a little break from it for now and search for new, promising recipes at another time. But one thing I’ll do for sure the next go-around? I won’t get cocky and add any mix-ins…unless they’re specifically called for in the recipe instructions.

 

My New Favorite Low-Carb Recipe

The other night, I had two of my close girlfriends over for a couple hours of chatting and snacking. I’d thrown together a veggie tray for us to munch on and mentioned to my friends that I had tons of vegetables in the fridge that I wanted to try and use up in the next few days. They asked what I had, and I went through the list: tomatoes, snow peas, carrots, celery, peppers, and zucchini. At the mention of “zucchini”, one friend asked if I’d ever made zucchini pizza before.

My ears perked up. Zucchini pizza? I’d heard of making low-carb pizza using keto crust or even cauliflower crust, but not zucchini.

She told me how easy it was to make what she described as zucchini pizza bites: Cut up a zuke, top the slices with marinara sauce and cheese, and toss it in the oven. It was such a simple recipe that I decided to scour the Internet for ways to zest it up a bit.

That’s how I came across zucchini pizza boats, my new favorite way to consume pizza-esque food without all the guilt.

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One half is shorter than the other…because I couldn’t resist tasting my creation before snapping a pic. Oops!

Here’s how I made ’em:

  1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Cover a baking sheet with tinfoil – this makes clean up easier.
  2. Cut zucchini in half, lengthwise. Pat the insides dry. Place both halves onto the baking sheet.
  3. Brush olive oil on each half. Sprinkle garlic salt on top.
  4. Spoon marinara sauce (or any kind of red pasta sauce) on top.
  5. Sprinkle any kind of shredded cheese you like on top (I used a Mexican blend), followed by Parmesan cheese.
  6. Add mini pepperonis on top. Bake in the oven for 12-15 minutes or until the cheese has melted nicely on top.

And that’s it! Incredibly quick, easy, tasty, and filling. I ate these with a small serving of roasted Brussels sprouts and chicken meatballs and I was super satisfied. The best part is that I barely bolused for this meal and wound up with a fairly straight CGM graph.

I’ll definitely be prepping zucchini pizza again in the future, and maybe I’ll even add a few more carbs into the mix to see how my blood sugar fares.

Peanut Butter Paradise

Family members, friends, coworkers, and really any one person who is the least bit acquainted with me all know one thing: that I, Molly Johannes, have an addiction to peanut butter.

Creamy, chunky, even the powdered stuff that you mix with water – it’s all positively delicious to me. I’d like to blame it on the fact that peanut butter is a lower-carb food item; when I was little, it was the first thing I’d reach for when simultaneously experiencing high blood sugar and hunger. Okay, okay, it still is my go-to snack even now.

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Living my best life in peanut butter paradise.

What’s not to love about peanut butter? It’s rich and thick, somehow sweet and savory at the same time. It pairs excellently with a number of foods, from apples and bananas to toast and crackers. It also comes in a wide array of flavors; beyond traditional, I’ve seen peanut butter fusions containing white chocolate, dark chocolate, honey, strawberry, and pumpkin. I can honestly say I’ve yet to come across peanut butter in any iteration that I truly disliked.

It’s a problem. A peanut butter problem. But an oh-so-tasty (if highly caloric) one to have, and one I’m happy to live with because it coexists so blissfully with my diabetes.

Low Carb Lasagna Exists, and it is Amazing

Nothing screams “comfort food” quite like a hot, cheesy, and utterly delicious slice of lasagna. Unfortunately, though, said lasagna has a tendency to make my CGM scream, because consumption of the carb-laden food usually skyrockets my blood sugar.

On the bright side, a very low carb version of this dish exists, and it is just as wonderful as its starchy counterpart. The ground beef, pasta sauce, and mozzarella-parmesan blend are all there – the only bit that’s different is what’s used in lieu of pasta.

Instead of pasta, use cabbage leaves. No, I’m not kidding.

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Cabbage lasagna looks and tastes just like its carb-ier alternative.

The cabbage soaks up the flavors of the sauce, meat, and cheese. As the concoction is baked, the cabbage also takes on the same consistency as pasta. It slices just as easily, and no, you really can’t taste the cabbage flavor (unless you pick out several chunks of it to eat on their own, but honestly, who does that?). It’s such a satisfying meal that I promise you won’t miss the carbs from the pasta.

Besides, if you’re like me and enjoy eating a healthy amount of carbs daily…you can always add a slice or two of garlic bread to your meal. I did just that, and in addition to having a well-rounded meal, I experienced great post-dinner blood sugars: a diabetes win!

Favorite Things Friday: Zero-Carb Beverages (Beyond Water!)

Water is crucial to life. Half of the human body is water, nearly three-quarters of Earth is water, and it’s recommended to drink half a gallon of water per day. Clearly, there’s no disputing its benefits. Especially when it’s a naturally zero-carb beverage – a benefit to people with diabetes, who must keep careful track of the amount of carbs consumed in a day. That’s why it’s usually easier for a PWD to stick with diet or sugar-free drinks as opposed to alternatives.

But let’s face it, water can get boring. Sometimes, a drink with flavor is the only way to quench a thirst. So I decided to assemble a list of my favorite simultaneously diet/low-carb, tasty, and refreshing drinks that I enjoy and are a notch above ole H20:

  • Diet Cranberry Juice. Ocean Spray makes a classic flavor as well as a variety of blends – my favorite is cranberry lime. It runs at about 2 grams of carbohydrate for 8 ounces, so to curb this, I typically pour 2-3 ounces and fill the rest of my glass with water.
  • Unsweetened Vanilla Almond Milk. A few years ago, I started drinking almond milk with my cereal instead of traditional dairy milk, and I haven’t looked back. It’s both a low-carb and low-calorie alternative that satisfies just as much as other milks.
  • Seltzer water. Look beyond plain old lemon seltzer water – there’s a whole world of flavors out there! Polar beverages makes a seemingly endless array of seltzers. They even had a unicorn variety over the summer that tasted like cotton candy and rainbows. I love experimenting and trying new flavors frequently, which helps assure that I don’t get tired of seltzers.
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My favorite “magical” seltzer water.
  • Sparkling water. This tends to pack a bit more of a punch in terms of flavor than seltzer water. I’ve found a bunch of great-tasting bottles at the supermarket, from coconut pineapple to açai blueberry.
  • Bai drinks. Sometimes, I take a break from the carbonation and stock up on bottles of these antioxidant fusion drinks. They’re made with erithytrol, which is a kind of sugar that has no affect on blood glucose levels. They’re seriously tasty and come in several tropical flavors that make you feel like you’re lounging on a beach. Plus, their advertisers get bonus points because they used a favorite N*Sync song as part of their marketing.
  • Drink packets. There’s about a million different kinds of drink packets, drops, and mixes out there. Just about all of them clock in at zero carbs, and few to no calories. It can be fun to try all the mixes out there to find out which ones taste the best.
  • Tea. A great alternative hot drink and another beverage with tons of flavors out there. I drink tea black, and most do not have carbohydrates, so it’s another “freebie” drink option that hydrates as well as warms me up.

Do you have any favorite zero-carb or diet drinks that I didn’t mention on this list?