A Gluten Free Holiday I: Healthier Over the Holidays with Lower Carb, Date-Free Squares

gluten-free, sugar-free, vegan date squares

[Date-free Date Squares! Photo credit: Celine Saki.]

Let’s get ready for the holidays! This is Week One of A Gluten Free Holiday–2011 Edition, so get those ovens fired up, pull out the fancy china, polish the silverware*, and start planning those place settings! The event is the brainchild of our lovely hostess, Amy over at Simply Sugar and Gluten Free, and continues on Thursdays from now through December.  Today, Amy is kicking off the festivities on her blog.  Our topic is “Healthier Over the Holidays” and she’s offering Seven Tips for Healthier Holiday Baking.  Hop on over and see what she’s got to share, check out the linked recipes, link up your own, and enter to win a copy of Amy’s wildly popular cookbook, Simply Sugar and Gluten Free!

Being on the anti-candida diet since March 2009, I’ve been hyper aware of everything I eat and how it affects my health in a direct fashion since then. You’d think that, given my current diet (you can read about how I eat here), there would be precious little more I could do to healthify my eating habits throughout the holiday period.

Except if you did think that way, you’d be mistaken.

As someone who’s struggled with ups and downs of the scales throughout my life, I felt a certain alarm when I gained five pounds a year after losing 45 of them on the ACD.  Since then, the scale has fluctuated up and down some more, coming to rest at a place that, I must admit, doesn’t feel comfortable to me.  And while I’m still not counting calories, points, or carb grams, I have come to accept the fact that, despite my über healthy menus and six-days-a-week visits to the gym, it is still possible to gain weight. Reasons may include eating too much of a good thing (even a sugar-free good thing); hormonal changes that have occurred along with menopause (Mother Nature, isn’t it about time you stopped playing these nasty tricks?); or, simply, too much stress (can you say “computer virus”?).

[I love a healthy, high-protein, high-fiber, lower glycemic dessert, don’t you?]

So what am I doing to stay healthy over the holidays, you ask?  Well, I’ve decided that the best way to avoid those typical weight fluctuations is to focus on lower-carb and lower-glycemic foods this season.  Simply, what this means (for me, anyway) is fewer flour-based recipes, and more bean and legume-based ones–especially in my desserts.

I already make great use of beans and legumes in savory dishes, but it’s only recently that I began baking with them as well (thanks, Kelly!).

Today’s recipe is a great dessert that employs legumes in place of fruit.  These babies may think that they’re date squares, but they’re not!  As you may already know, the ACD does not permit dates as one of the “approved” foods; they are considered too sweet.  (A friend and I engaged in an energetic debate on this very issue recently: dates, which are real, whole foods with fiber, vitamins, minerals and even a modicum of protein, are forbidden; while agave nectar and coconut sugar, both sweeteners and partial foods, are permitted.  Go figure).

Much in the way that Chinese Red Bean Cookies use cooked adzuki beans in their filling, regular ole black beans here stand in for dates (combined with a few other flavors, of course).  The result is a sweet, slightly lemony filling nestled between layers of crumble topping.  You’ll think you’re eating dessert when really, you’re savoring a protein-packed, grain- and fruit-free, lower-glycemic, high fiber, treat.  How’s that for a healthier twist on a treat this holiday season?

The HH loved these bars and couldn’t guess what the filling was made of.  When I offered to let him in on the secret, he replied, “No, don’t tell me.  Just let me enjoy them as they are.”  Sounds like a very healthy attitude to me.

Don’t forget to check out Amy’s post today and enter the giveaway!

* I know, seriously, who ever polishes silverware any more?  But it sounds good, right? 😉

I’m also submitting the recipe to this week’s Wellness Weekend and Allergy-Friendly Fridays.

Last Year at this Time: Sweet or Savory Sweet Potato Spread (GF, ACD all stages)

Two Years Ago: Roasted Red Pepper and Apple Dip (GF, ACD Stage 2 and beyond)

Three Years Ago: Roasted Garlic and Pumpkinseed Pesto (GF; ACD all stages)

Four Years Ago: Lifting Weights

© Ricki Heller

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  1. Beautiful, Ricki! Looks DELISH. 🙂

  2. As much as I adore beans, I have never tried them in dessert form. I should remedy that soon! 🙂

  3. Ricki, this recipe looks so completely amazing. I want to try this one this weekend. The flavors sound so intriguing. And this is definitely a fabulous way to stay healthy this season! 😉

    • Thanks, Kim! Though I suspect it’s not *quite* as healthy if you eat three bars in a day. . . . (not that I know anyone who did THAT, or anything. . . !!) 😉

  4. these look amazing ricki! i think i might finally bite the bullet and go out and buy some stevia. i have no idea why i’ve been holding out, but after seeing these i’m convinced.

    • Jess, I used stevia primarily because I’m trying to cut back on glycemic load. However, if you’re okay with coconut sugar, agave, maple syrup or even sugar, you can certainly use that instead. I just wanted something “safe” for those on the ACD. 🙂

  5. Wow these look good! I keep meaning to make a sweet bean recipe but haven’t done so since my adzuki beans oh-so-long ago!

  6. Gorgeous! These look wonderful thanks 🙂

  7. These look awesome Ricki! I love how the filling looks! I have been considering catching the beans in your baking train. I’m thinking of starting with chocolate chip cookies – I’m not quite as adventurous as you 🙂 YET! xo

    • Maggie, I agree–it’s time to try out those sweet beans! Don’t excpect something quite as gooey or caramelized as real dates, but this is perfectly yummy in its own right. 🙂

  8. These sound fabulous! I have to make them. Soon.

    BTW, I love the HH’s response to your wanting to tell him what was in the squares 🙂


  9. Pears and black beans for dates! Ricki, you are incredible. Bookmarked!

    P.S. HH’s response = best.

  10. Who decides the RULES of the ACD diet? For instance, who decided that dates are a no-no but coconut sugar is a-okay? Shouldn’t each individual on the ACD decide what sweeteners work for him or her?

    • Becca,
      I couldn’t agree more: ultimately, you have to do what works for your own body. That said, the basic diets (and there are certainly more than one) have all been developed either by MDs or naturopaths (or other health professionals) who either know the science, have worked with hundreds of patients, or both. The Whole Approach team (whose diet I am following–mostly) have personal experience, scientific studies, a clinic filled with doctors and naturopaths, and legions of patients to back up what they created. Because of that, I decided to trust their recommendations and followed their diet for the first phase of the diet. After that, I worked individually with my naturopath to create a diet that works for me. At this point (over six months on Stage 3 and steady), I am ready to begin reintroducing some whole foods that may not have been appropriate before. Dates, it would seem to me, should be at the top of that list! 🙂

  11. Ricki, I love your attitude about what works for your own body. Nd this is another of your many ‘must make this’ recipes for me.

    On another note, how did *good for you food* come to equate to *gross food* for so many people? Like HH, my husband is beginning to trust that I won’t feed him something that he hates and even once suggested a recipe for me to modify so that we could share it – now THAT is progress.

  12. I love that you specified date-free!! Too funny. I have to admit, the date thing seems out of control on blogs, and lately when I was using dates in a recipe, I was blown away by the amount of sugars in them. Granted, I prefer to stick with a whole food over straight sugar, but seriously, I could eat sweetener by the tablespoonful for an equivalent to two medjool dates!

    • Ha, ha! I have to tell you though that I adore dates and really miss them. . . this was my attempt at “faking” a date square. But I wanted people to know that this one had no fruit. . .hence the name. 🙂 I agree about sweeteners, though.

  13. Ha! Mr. Dude never wants to know what’s in things anymore, either…I think he’s finally gotten used to the fact that unusual can be just as tasty! These look truly terrific.

  14. Oh those bars look good!

  15. you continue to push the envelope and amaze me with your innovations – this sounds interesting – I am less excited about beans in sweet stuff but if they can fool HH then I am sure I would be none the wiser unless told – pairing pears and beans sounds very interesting

    that does seem odd about the dates and sweeteners on ACD – makes my mind reel – “sugar” seems such a complex beast

    • I suppose it’s the type of sugar, but even that point doesn’t convince me! And just to be clear, yes, it fooled the HH, but he certainly didn’t think it was dates! He just wasn’t sure what it was. . .and didn’t care. 🙂

  16. hi, I’m making these right now…should be interesting. Love your site however I wanted to point out you didn’t state at which temp to bake these unless I totally missed it. Going to try 325

    • Oh my gosh, Dana, so sorry I forgot that! I’ve corrected it now. The heat I used is 350F, but if you see this after the fact, 325 would work, too–but you probably had to bake it a bit longer. I’ve also added the pan size. Somehow, that first section got lost. Can’t wait to hear how the squares turned out for you!

  17. oo those crumble bars do look pretty tasty!

  18. Ricki, I totally feel your pain, right there with you on those few extra pounds! For pretty much the same reasons, too. (Especially with the menopause-like symptoms – now isn’t that ironic!) I love that your H couldn’t guess what the filling was at all; definitely makes me want to try these out on my nearest and dearest 🙂

    • Thanks, Cara! And thanks for commiserating. 😉 I wouldn’t take the HH as a culinary expert in any situation, but considering that he’s the one in the family who can eat real date squares, the fact that he enjoyed these made me very happy!

  19. Hey Ricki, I noticed lots of replies from people who hadn’t baked and tasted these but how about people who had? So far I’m enjoying what I have read and will be baking these date squares…just seems like a lot of work if it’s just a trial.
    I’m interested in feedback.

    thanks Ricki,

    • Hi Michelle,
      Now that your comment is out there, let’s hope others reply! Since the recipe is fairly new, I haven’t received a lot of feedback yet. I’ve heard from one person who made the squares and really enjoyed them. She did say that she felt the flavors mellowed overnight in the fridge and they were better the next day–I would totally agree. Refrigerating overnight helps the filling to set up and brings out the lemon flavor. The biggest part of the prep for me was stirring the filling, which is some work. If you’re not feeling the love (or if you don’t have to avoid fruit), you may decide not to go there. 😉

  20. Woah! Ingenious!
    However, I am not on ACD and was wondering if the beans could maybe just be used to replace SOME of the dattes? Like make a proteinacious lower sugar datte square that could be healthy enough to be a post-workout treat? Im starving after the gym and since i dont have dessert before going, im always tempted to eat something sweet! Its also pretty important to replenish in protein for those muscles we just mistreated, so I had a “eureuka” moment when i saw your post! If I did replace, say, 2/3 of the dattes with black beans, do you think i could leave out the coconut sugar? what about the pears, do you think they should stay for moisture? Im excited!

    • Ooh, I love this variation, Frederique!! I’d guess that you could replace 2/3 with black beans, but you’d still need some coconut sugar, as that is what “binds” the beans (and sweetens them). I’m not sure that so few dates would be sweet enough for all those beans. . .then again, it would depend on how sweet you like the squares. If you omit the sugar, you’d still need to add some maple syrup or molasses to stick it together, though. Please do come back and let me know how it comes out if you try it!! (And note that coconut sugar actually contains less natural sugar than dates–so the overall “sugars” in the squares will be lower with coconut sugar than with dates. I know, crazy!). 😉


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