I was hesitant to call my protein ball recipe “Amazeballs,” thinking that this is a slang term that might be lost on many, but the internet tells me that the word was added to the Oxford dictionary in 2014 (at the same time as “neckbeard,” “cray,” “clickbait,” and “YOLO” — look them up if you need to). For those who don’t follow pop and internet culture, “amazeballs” simply means amazing. As in, “Living in Greenville is amazeballs.” And these protein balls are amazeballs. More on that later; first, let me back up.
I’ve spent the month of April following one of those healthy eating and food elimination challenges. I chose the Arbonne plan, but there are others. Most have similar goals: have more energy, sleep better, lose weight. And most achieve results by eliminating foods that work against these goals (caffeine, sugar, simple carbs) while focusing on foods that support these goals (vegetables, fruit, lean protein, complex carbs). The formula is simple: Don’t eat junk + eat healthful foods = look and feel better. Anyone can do it without joining a program or challenge, but many of us (I know I do) need the structure of rules to really pull it off. It’s a change in mindset, from “I probably shouldn’t eat that donut” to “I can’t eat that donut [because it’s against the rules]!”
Back to the amazeballs. Protein ball recipes are all over the internet and are touted as healthy snacks. The vast majority of these use sweetener to keep them bound as a ball (and, let’s be honest, because we like the taste of sugar). Honey, agave, maple syrup, and even dates are sticky and work well for this purpose. Certainly these sugars are better options than plain ol’ white table sugar because they contain other nutrients (i.e., are not empty calories) and have a low glycemic index (do not cause sharp spikes in blood sugar). But unfortunately, the sugar content of the protein balls starts to approach that of a dessert. If weight loss is a goal, as it is for many who embark on these healthy eating challenges, the “better alternative” sugar is still extra calories that are working against the goal. I wanted to eat protein balls during this challenge, but also wanted to lose weight (I have a 9-month-old!), so I had to get crafty in the kitchen to pull off a low-sugar, yet tasty, protein ball.
The amazeballs recipe here can be made using either vanilla or chocolate protein powder. I chose a vegan protein because one of the “rules” of my program was no dairy, but you shouldn’t have an issue making these with whey protein. The protein powder that you choose will affect the flavor of the final product, so make sure you like the taste of the protein (I like the Arbonne one because I think it tastes like cake batter). Most protein powders have some sugar, but it tends to be low and serves as the only sugar source in the amazeballs.
The secret to keeping them glued is creamed coconut. This is not to be confused with “coconut cream” or “cream of coconut.” Creamed coconut is simply the meat of the coconut ground into a paste. In this recipe, it blends with the almond butter (unsweetened, of course) to create a paste that effectively binds the other ingredients together. It’s important to follow the recipe as stated, mixing ingredients in order, so that they bind properly. If you try to dump all the ingredients into a bowl and stir, the end result will be less than amazeballs.
True confession: I only made these into actual balls for the photo. Digging into the mound of ingredients with a spoon is also an option!
Vanilla Cinnamon Amazeballs
1 tbsp. creamed coconut
2 tbsp. unsweetened almond butter
1/8 tsp. cinnamon
1/4 c. vanilla vegan protein powder
1/4 c. unsweetened coconut milk
2 tbsp. roasted, unsalted sunflower seeds (without husks)
2/3 c. rolled oats (not quick-cook)
In a large dish, warm the creamed coconut for 10-15 seconds in the microwave, until it softens. Mix in the almond butter to make a paste, and then stir in the cinnamon. Mix in the protein powder and coconut until well combined and protein powder is fully incorporated. You want the consistency to be like that of cake frosting, so add more coconut milk if needed. Finally, stir in the oats and sunflower seeds. You can add more oats if you like, so long as you have enough of the wet mixture to bind them together. Place the “dough” in the refrigerator for a couple of hours to help solidify the mixture before rolling them into balls. Store in the fridge.
Same recipe as above, except (1) sub chocolate protein powder for vanilla (2) sub 1 tsp. cocoa powder for the cinnamon.
Emily Yepes is an advertising representative at Community Journals and a fitness instructor. She is “just” a home cook whose favorite hobby is to test and perfect recipes for her annual family cookbook.