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February 21, 2012

Black Bean Brownie Bars: High Protein Bar for Vegans

Let’s get the obvious out of the way, I am not a vegan and don’t see a point in my life where I’d ever become one. Although I love vegetables and believe a diet centered around vegetables is essential to optimal health and body composition, eschewing meat entirely is difficult to reconcile with human physiology and biochemistry.

Don’t get me wrong, I have nothing wrong with people choosing to become vegan if it aligns with their personal value system and life goals. However, I see veganism much the same way I see marathon running, competing in a figure competition or deciding to take up powerlifting: it’s asking your body to do something outside of what it is genetically and biologically designed to do.

This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t pursue any of the aforementioned activities, but they aren’t exactly approaches that promotes optimal health for the population at large.

Possible? Yes. Universally recommended? No.

Now that my public service announcement is out of the way, I am actually going to talk about why I created this recipe in the first place.

Basically, I’m always on the lookout for ways to help my vegetarian athletes and clients get more protein in their diets. When it comes to maintaining leanness, the science quite clearly shows that maintaining a calorie-controlled, high protein diet is one of the best strategies for long-term success.

And although it’s possible to get enough protein to meet sedentary protein-needs on a strict vegetarian or vegan diet, trying to get an athlete 120-200 g of protein a day from strictly vegan sources is damn near impossible without loading up on so many legumes that anyone living within 50 miles of these individuals would require a Hazmat suit.

On top of that, I also aim to make foods taste good enough so that people aren’t feeling as though they have to choke something down… a nuance missed by most vegan protein supplements on the market today (ahem, VEGA I am looking squarely in your direction).

So after much experimenting, I’ve finally created a vegan protein bar recipe that fits the following criteria:

  • tastes good
  • provides a large amount of protein per serving
  • is 100% vegan
  • doesn’t contain a boatload of Agave nectar for consistency

I’m not sure why vegans have decided that adding such a concentrated source of fructose is a “health promoting” habit. Although I’m not an anti-fructose zealot like some people, I fail to see why people need more fructose in their diets than what is already provided by typical North American foods.

And as an added touch, I made this recipe so that it doesn’t require any baking! Maybe it’s just me, but I always find baking protein bars leads to an increased rate of “unusable brick” outcomes… so this version is quite simple.

Alright, enough rambling – here is this recipe, I hope you enjoy it!

Black Bean Brownie Bars
Black Bean Protein Bars (printable version) 

  • 1 can (540 ml) black beans
  • 3 scoops pea protein isolate
  • 1 cup almond meal
  • 1/4 cup cocoa
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 cup canned pumpkin
  • 1/2 cup stevia (or splenda)
  • 1/4 cup dried cranberries or chopped nuts or chocolate chips



In a food processor (or use a potato masher. Consider it my new and improved biceps workout technique), mix beans, pea protein, cocoa, pumpkin, vanilla extract and stevia until a soft batter forms. If the mixture appears too solid, add 1/4 cup of water to assist wth the mixing.

Remove mixture from food processor and add to a bowl. Stir in almond flour and continue mixing until a dough forms. You may need to tweak the amount of water you add… pea protein absorbs quite a bit.

Stir in chocolate chips (optional), dried fruit (cranberries work well) or chopped nuts.

Press in wax-paper lined 8 x 8 baking pan and refrigerate for 30 minutes. Remove and cut into 8-10 bars. Wrap each individually with plastic wrap and store.

** If you don’t care about keeping the recipe vegan, you can obviously swap in whey protein into the recipe. Another benefit of not having to bake this recipe… whey protein is terrible for baking! **

Nutrition facts (per bar): 18 g protein, 23 g carbohydrate (8 g fibre) and 9 g fat.

Although you can use any vegan protein powder with this recipe, I would recommend using a high quality pea protein for best results. Pea protein is pretty easy to digest wise, is very affordable, tastes good and doesn’t come with some of the controversy surrounding refined soy products.

Lately, I’ve been using and highly recommend True Nutrition’s (formerly True Protein) gemma pea protein isolate.  You’ll need to order this one online (and the shipping to Canada is kinda slow), but at that price – it’s worth the wait!

And I can’t stress this enough but pea protein does absorb liquid to a much greater extent than would a whey protein for example, so you might need to play with your liquid ratios a little to get the recipe “just right”. But give it a try and you won’t be disappointed.

Till next time, train hard and eat clean!


Kristy Small says:

So, my pea protein came in and I tried the recipe subbing out the pumpkin for banana and the cranberries for raisins and the almond meal for oat flour.  It never set into brownies.  I guess it’s my fault for changing it up so much, but I used equal parts for the wet/dry replacements.  I ended up adding more oat flour, a tsp of baking powder and throwing them into mini muffin tins.  The kids love them and get their protein, so I’m happy.  :)

graemethomasonline says:

Awesome – glad you tweaked the recipe to best serve your family! Love that your kids are loving them.

Kristy Small says:

Also, what size scoop because the company has several options available.

Kristy Small says:

Of the pea protein isolate, how many “servings” is the 3 scoops using of the product.  The site says there are 15 servings of 30g and I want to know how many of these I need to make enough for a while without reordering.


graemethomasonline says:

Hey Kristy,

1 servings would be ~25-30 g (this is the somewhat generic size of protein powder scoop (70 cc), occasionally you get a 40 g scoop… but most are closer to 25 g).  So in 1 lbs of powder (454 g), you get about 15 servings if each serving is about 30 g.

So if you plan on ordering, you can assume you’ll get 15 (70cc) scoops per lbs.

Colm says:

You obvoiusly don;t have a clue what you are talking about. Animals get ALL their protein from plants. So why should be eat animals and recycled protein when we can get it right from the source and with fiber and antioxidants and no fat. Why kill an animal for nothing? If you like to bbq beef Just eat the steak sauce and let the animal live Colm from wellolistic.com

graemethomasonline says:


I don’t suppose you care to explain the physiology behind how a lion, wolf or shark gets its protein from plants?

Given we all know the answer to that question, let me restate your hypothesis: herbivores get all their protein from plants. Omnivores get varying amounts of protein from consumption of both vegetable and animal protein, whereas carnivores get all their protein and essential amino acids from the consumption of other animals.

The reason herbivores are able to derive all their essential amino acid needs from plant material is due to their digestive system having evolved to contain the presence of the fermentative microbes. Neither the digestive tracts of ominovores (the class humans belong to), nor carnivores contain these fermentative microbes, signaling that we evolved to meet a significant portion of our essential amino acid requirements through the consumption of animal protein.

Not only are these fermentative microbes able to produce the essential amino acids, they also produce vitamin B12 (an essential vitamin) that isn’t found in vegetable products in sufficient quantities to support human life.

Now through selective agriculture over the past hundred some odd years, we’ve been able to mass produce enough protein-dense plant-based foods to allow for humans to adopt a vegan lifestyle if they so choose.

More critically, we have developed means of producing essential nutrients like vitamin B12 and iron through synthetic means. This has allowed us to fortify vegan diets with these essential nutrients, providing vegans today the choice of following a 100% vegetable-based diet without jeopardizing their chance for survival.

It’s pretty clear that humans are neither inherently herbivore (we lack the digestive tracts functioning to thrive off cellulose like most herbivores), nor inherently carnivores (as our dentition and digestive tracts do not resemble those of straight carnivores). Rather, humans quite clearly are ominovorous and designed to eat both vegetable and animal matter.

What proportion of each you choose to eat is your choice, and no business of mine. But please, let’s not ignore 2,000,000 years of evolution or basic physiology and biochemistry.