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Shock and Ossify: Raw Fig and Cherry Bars

 [Yep, another raw bar. . . and so soon!  But there’s a good reason. . . ]

Well, it’s finally happened:  after years of needless anxiety before every annual medical check-up (only to be told each time that nothing’s wrong). . . this time, something was wrong.  And I must admit, I’m shocked.

When I saw my doctor a few weeks ago, she sent me off for all the standard tests appropriate for “someone my age.”  Then yesterday at the call-back appointment, I was informed that I have osteopenia.  Sounds scary initially: osteopenia is the (potential) precursor to osteoporosis, as the word means “thinning of the bones.”  Osteoporosis means “porous bones” and is a greater danger. 

Even as she was speaking, questions caromed around in my mind:  What, exactly, does this mean?  Doesn’t everyone experience thinning of the bones as they age?  How serious is my situation?–etc. Apparently, the test, called DEXA (“Dual Energy X-Ray Absorption”) works by measuring the density of my bones and comparing it against the bones of an imaginary 25 year-old woman (the “gold standard,” as my doctor says.  But hey, shouldn’t that be the “greyish-white” standard?).  Statistically, my bones were a 1.3 per cent standard deviation from that (no idea what that means).  A 2.5 per cent deviation equals “osteoporosis.”  When I asked how I compare to other women my age, she noted that I was still a bit below average.  

Now, I simply cannot express how much this news ticks me off! I mean, isn’t being fat good for anything these days?? One of the health issues I never (I mean, never) considered as a possibility was osteoporosis; you see, being overweight is actually a preventative in that area (bones rebuild and strengthen in accordance with “weight-bearing exercise,” and I have definitely been bearing excess weight the past few years.). I do, however, have some of the other risk factors (such as being female).

Well, I’m trying not to get overly stressed about this (stress, as it turns out, is one of the factors that contributes to bone loss. Bien sûr).  Even my doctor noted that, should nothing change over the next few years, she wouldn’t give it another thought; it would only be considered a problem if I keep losing bone density.

This shocking diagnosis got me moving (in the sense of “getting hyped up,” though of course also in the sense of “walking more”–gotta increase that exercise now!).  I pulled out a bunch of my old texts from nutrition school and started reading.  Seems that the absolute amount of calcium and other essential bone-building nutrients is irrelevant, if you’re not digesting them properly.  Bad digestion=malabsorption=too few minerals in the bloodstream (at which point your opportunistic bloodstream leaches them out of your bones, teeth, and whatever else it can find–the nerve!). In other words, you can consume calcium out the yin-yang, but if your body isn’t absorbing it properly, you may as well be eating matchsticks (actually, no, don’t do that–too much sulfur isn’t good, either).

A highly acidic diet (as in, “those heinous, calcium-siphoning, bone-sucking junk foods and chocolate bars that have wooed me too many times in the past”) will also cause you to lose minerals from the bone (chocolate is a particular culprit, apparently, as it contains both caffeine AND refined sugar–both mineral-leachers).  And believe it or not, meats and most dairy products are equally bad, as they are also highly acidic (too bad I grew up in a household where we ate meat every day, usually more than once).  Oh, and let’s not forget that surreptitious bone-stealer: stress.  So, in a contest to see who possesses the most negative traits contributing to malabsorption–well, all I can say is, “Yay!  I finally won a contest!”

So now I have a real reason to eat better and exercise more:  unlike my Stone-Age ancestors, I am partial to walking upright, and would prefer to retain that ability. 

For those of you who are interested, you can prevent (and some even say reverse) osteopenia with the proper diet.  This includes ingesting sufficient calcium, of course (think green leafys, almonds, legumes, figs, blackstrap molasses and, if you’re so inclined, sardines, salmon and yogurt); sufficient Vitamin D (at least 10 minutes of sunshine per day, or 1000 IU in supplement form); lots of magnesium (green leafys and beans/legumes again), and a complement of other vitamins and minerals, such as B’s, K, and boron, in smaller quantities.  Basically, a diet high in vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds, beans and legumes. Because it’s been a while since I practised nutrition directly, I’ll be heading for a trip to my naturopath next week to see what she has to say.  And this will mean a bunch of new, ultra-healthy recipes on the blog!

All this got me thinking about Susan at Food Blogga’s Beautiful Bones” event in honor of National Osteoporosis Month. I’d actually been planning to submit this very entry to Susan.  Now, however, I’m also motivated to go make another batch, just for me. (Oh, and Susan also offers a list of calcium-rich foods on her event page.)

I came up with this recipe when I first started teaching cooking classes a few years ago. Each of the classes was assigned a theme, such as “Glorious Greens,” “Tricks with Tofu” (foods, not making it disappear), or “Great and Gluten-Free.”  One class, called “Bone Builders” (which now sounds to me more like an architectural firm on The Flintstones), was the impetus for these bars.  They were a great hit with the cooking classes, and later, a popular seller at the organic market where I sold baked goods for a few years. And since they were designed specifically to improve bone health, these treats seem the perfect contribution to Susan’s event.  

In the past few years, I’ve discovered that these are terrific as a mid-day energy booster, a great portable lunch on the go, or a substitute for trail mix.  You can keep a wrapped bar in your drawer at work for an emergency nibble, or bring it along during a walk through the woods.  Once made and wrapped, the bars will keep for up to 2 weeks in the fridge (they have honestly never lasted that long over here). With a texture like that of a protein bar you’d buy at the store, these are much more flavorful, with tart lemon peel, dried cherries accented by sweet dried fig, and the crackly, popping crunch of fig seeds alongside ground almonds.  They’re very filling and a fabulous bar to have on hand. 

When I first created these, I ran a quick nutritional analysis to ensure that they’d provide a meaningful boost of calcium.  Courtesy of almonds (the nut with highest calcium levels), dried figs (the fruit with highest calcium levels), tahini (made from sesame seeds–yep, the seed with highest calcium levels) and sour cherries (no slouch in the calcium department), these bars are a powerhouse of bone-building minerals. The stats confirmed my expectation: each bar offers 140 mg. of calcium per bar (about 1/10 of the daily requriement) along with 6 grams of protein and 7 grams of fiber (bonus!).  I’m not sure how much deviation that represents from the statistical norm, but no matter–they’re delicious all the same.

[EDIT, January 2012: I finally took my own advice in 2010 and embarked on a year-long quest to improve my bone density, with the help of my naturopath, a changed diet, and more exercise. Read about how I reversed the bone deteroriation here.]

[This recipe will also appear in my upcoming cookbook, Sweet Freedom, along with more than 100 others, most of which are not featured on this blog.  For more information, check the “Cookbook” button at right, or visit the cookbook blog.]



39 comments to Shock and Ossify: Raw Fig and Cherry Bars

  • Ricki, I’m terribly sorry to read that you have osteopenia – here’s a great resource for you to check out (lots of readily-available information here, since May is Osteoporosis Awareness and Prevention Month): http://www.nof.org/

    Those raw bars are right up my alley!! Yum!! :0)


  • Thanks for the informative post and the recipe. Hope these bars help your bones 🙂

    I never knew about osteopenia and will try to be more conscious of getting calcium in the future!


  • Oh Ricki, I’m so sorry to hear about your diagnosis. Take care of yourself. My mother has osteoporosis, and I can tell you, it’s not pretty. I’m hoping an improvement in her diet will help with the symptoms. Best wishes!


  • you are the new raw diva! thanks to you ill never need to buy lara bars ever again!


  • Courtney

    I actually have (had) osteopenia too. I am sorry to hear about your diagnosis, but I have no doubt that you can overcome it! I got my diagnosis about a year and a half ago, and was put on mega-doses of vitamin D (blood tests found I was deficient, my levels are now “normal”). You sound like you did your research and know what you are doing, and with these delicious sounding bars, you are certainly on the right track! Wow…they look beautiful! Your photos are always so lovely.



  • I know that diagnosis was so scary to hear. Every time my bones hurt I worry about osteoporosis, and I’ve been weight training for the past eight years. It seems like calcium is easy to get, but also easy to lose.

    I can’t tell you how much I love sour cherries! Those bars looks fantastic and I can’t wait to make them.


  • Raw bars?

    Bring it on.

    Can’t get enough of them.


  • Sorry about your diagnosis, but I might be able to understand how you feel. I have osteopenia in my left hip, and full blown osteoporosis in my spine. Thankfully, it was discovered pretty early, so I know to take in a lot of extra calcium to prevent further problems. These bars sound like a really tasty way to do so as well. 🙂


  • Geeze, Ricki, that’s just icky news (why do we rarely get great news from our Dr?). Sugar (which I we do eat in our house) is one of the worst culprits because it needs nutrients to be digested so it pulls them from everything- the bones in particular. At least you don’t do meat anymore. You’re super-smart and driven, so you can make the changes you need to now!
    These bars are so beautiful- look like an ad spread for Veg Times or something! I cannot wait to try them, because we chicas all need more calcium!


  • Celine

    I am so sorry to hear about the diagnosis! I hope things can be improved so that you don’t have to worry about it.
    your bars look absolutely stunning, by the way.


  • sorry to hear about the osteopenia – but you sound like you have a lot more awareness of your diet than the average Joe so hope this will help you – and having to eat more of these bars is a good side effect – they look fantastic – I just wish dried cherries were easier to find!


  • Hi Ricki,

    I can honestly say I know how you feel. I was shocked too when I discovered that I had osteoporosis (being the over-achiever I am, I skipped right over osteopenia). 😉

    I admire your humorous perspective. You made me giggle more than once in this post. I’m also glad you’ve already started your research. Good for you!

    Thanks for the fig and cherry bars (two of my all-time favorite foods–how did you know?). This is great travel food. I’m definitely making it soon.



  • I’d better make some of these right away!

    (Prunes seem to be in the research news lately as a means to build bones.)


  • giz

    In spite of the fact that this type of news is never welel received and always feels a little shocking, I’m very impressed to see how seriously you’re taking it. The research you’re doing, the changes you’re prepared to make for the sake of good health – all add up to one smart cookie – just like the one you just made. I’m your cheerleader here yelling – you go girl!!!


  • Ricki, I was sorry to read about your diagnosis. However, it’s better to know this before the condition advances. You a wise woman to start your research.

    These bars sound like just the perfect thing to cheer you up. I made a slightly modified version of your cocoa nibbles and though I have only sampled a small piece (they are chilling in the fridge), they are awesome. Thanks for the idea.


  • That news just sucks, Ricki! But, I am glad you are being positive about it and these bars look gorgeous 🙂


  • Ick. Sometimes things like this are just destined to happen, no matter how hard you try to prevent it and no matter how unlikely the odds are! You certainly stepped it up fast though as far as looking out for your health goes — some people get diagnosed with things and don’t even attempt to improve their diet to alleviate the problem!!! But these raw fig and cherry bars are definitely a good that has come out of the situation. I would love to make these — they look like a great way to eat up my calcium!


  • VeggieGirl,
    Thanks so much for your good wishes and for this great resource! Glad you like the look of the bars, too 🙂

    I had learned about it in nutrition school, but it was still a surprise. Thanks so much for your kind comment!

    Sorry to hear about your mom, too, and thanks for the sweet comment. Changing her diet certainly won’t hurt, right? And I’ve read that it can really help. 🙂

    Sounds good to me! I used to adore LaraBars, but have found lately that they’re not the same formula as they were originally. These will do just fine, instead, I think!

    Thank you so much for your good wihses and helpful comment. I am really glad to hear that things turned around for you! And thanks for your kind words about the photos, too–I never think of them that way, so it’s great to hear (well, read)!

    Wow–sounds to me like you’d have no worries, as weight training is one of the key things you can do to prevent this! From what I’ve learned about taking in calcium, it depends a lot on how well your body digests and absorbs it more than how much you actually take in. So working on having a good digestive system is also one of the goals in prevention.

    Thanks so much for your comment, and for visiting my blog! Hope you like this particular version of raw!

    Thanks for your comment and for sharing your own diagnosis. I’m glad to hear that you’re dealing so well with it and it hasn’t slowed you down (one bit)! It’s great to know that there are others out there in a similar situation who’ve handled it so well.

    So true about doctors delivering bad news!! Unfortunately, even though I was aware of the dangers of sugar, I’ve still had a hard time over the years giving it up. Am still working on it. . . Thanks, too, for your kind words re: the photos. I never know how they’re going to come out, so glad this one worked out!

    Thanks so much. I am a worrier by nature, but have to say I’m not really that freaked out by this, as I know I can change my eating and hopefully maintain where I am right now, which apparently isn’t THAT bad. 🙂 And glad you liked the bars!

    Well, I hadn’t considered the bonus of being able to eat these bars more often. Are dried cherries tough to find in Melbourne? You can get them pretty easily here, but they are VERY expensive. (Though worth it in this, I think).

    Well, I’m sure you can relate given your own diagnosis! Sounds like you have handled it very well. And your event is a fabulous way to increase awareness, too! I’m so glad you like the ingredients in the bars–hope you enjoy them!

    Thanks for letting me know about the prunes–I hadn’t heard that one (though as a dried fruit, they’d already have a higher mineral content than fresh). Will look this up–thanks!

    Thanks so much for your wonderfully supportive comment. When it comes to food, I’m usually pretty good at trying new things–would much rather change my diet than take medication (which I would likely not agree to anyway) 🙂 .

    Thanks so much. And I am delighted that you liked the nibbles–would love the know the modifications you used (a new flavor?).

    I have to agree! But I’m always up for trying out new foods, I guess 🙂

    ruby red vegan,
    I like your attitude–it’s true, sometimes no matter what you do, stuff happens. I’m glad you like the sound of the bars, too. They make a great take-along snack (filled with calcium, of course) 🙂


  • Hey Ricki,
    Very sorry to hear of your osteopenia. As someone with a legacy of osteoperosis in the female members of my mother’s family, I’ve been taking extra calcium and D for a few years now (in addition to adding strength training to my exercise routine).

    Oh, I’m about sick of eating all that spinach, so I’m truly happy to see your creative forces at work developing some tasty, calcium-laden alternatives! Good job!

    How’s that for turning something difficult into something very positive and yummy!


  • God Ricki, I am so sorry… osteopenia/osteoporosis runs in my family (great-grandma, grandma, mom), so I’m terrified of it. My mom was shocked too, when she was diagnosed, because she is a bit overweight (my grandma is a stick, so it makes sense that she got it). But I guess part of it is just genetic.

    It’s just not fair that even people like you, who eat so well and take such good care of themselves, can get this disease.


  • Sue

    Ricki, that’s hard news to hear. But I know you’ll make something good for yourself out of it. One of the things I often think to myself about this food/health/intolerance thing (when I’m not moaning!) is how it enables us to ask the question ‘what is this teaching me?’ and takes us deeper into our journeys. And wow – if the first thing you come up with is these bars, what a result already!


  • Well, I for one, am NOT sorry to hear the diagnosis. Pleased, I am, that you got the news well in time.

    And I’m VERY pleased to be reading a calcium-rich recipe that ticks all the correct boxes. I mean, the more I read about dairy, the more I KNOW we’ve been conned.

    The choc-date things went down a treat. This will be next on the list. Lovely, as usual.


  • It’s good that you found out sooner then later, now you can fix the problem.

    I love raw fruit and nut bars, these look delicious and picture perfect! Lucky for me I do have a source of organic, unsweetened sour cherries that are amazing. They cost a small fortune but are worth it.


  • dried cherries are so hard to find that it is really exciting to discover them – but I am hopeful now that the supermarkets are starting to expand the range of dried fruits (not quite at cherries but have started to include strawberries and mango)


  • Ricki, sorry to hear about your recent diagnosis. I’m sure just hearing that caused enough stress to not absorb calcium! It sounds like you have started doing your homework though and will soon be well on your way to reversing this. Those fig and cherry bars look like the right way to do it.. with those who need calcium leaching chocolate anyways?


  • veganhomemade

    It’s no fun to hear a diagnosis like that, I’m sorry. It sounds like you’re well equipped to make sure it doesn’t worsen! These bars look like a great way to pack in the calcium.


  • Deb,
    Thanks so much–and sorry that you can relate all too well. Sounds like you’re doing all the right things as well. And glad you like the bars! 🙂

    Well, I know how your mom felt! I do think you’re right, there’s a huge genetic component, so I’m not feeling too guilty. And will just continue to eat all the right stuff as much as I can!

    I’ve also contemplated that question (no clear answer yet). But I agree there is a lesson in here somewhere. And the bars, at least, were a good outcome 🙂

    Yes, I do feel the same way about dairy these days. I mean, what about all those cultures who don’t eat it and have lower rates of osteoporosis than we do? And so glad you enjoyed the choc nibbles!

    I am glad that I found out now rather than later, before things could get worse. And the cherries are definitely worth it–glad you can get them! 🙂

    I’m pretty lucky here that the cherries are fairly common (though uncommonly expensive). But I’m sure other dried fruits would work, too–I’ve considered apricots and hear that prunes are lovely in these!

    Vegan Noodle,
    Ha–hadn’t thought about the stress aspect! Well, another reason to get back to meditation. And while I do love these bars, I’m afraid they’ll never replace chocolate in my affections. . .

    Thanks so much! I guess they’re a better calcium source than supplements, right? 😉


  • Sorry to hear about the osteopenia. Good thing to catch something like that early though. I should be going for annual checkups. And these bars look just amazing. This is exactly the kind of stuff I’ve been wanting to make (these and the cocoa nibbles).


  • […] 2, 2008 by shellyfish A few weeks back Ricki posted a most excellent raw bar she created. The “Fig and Cherry Bars have become my favourite raw bar and I’ve made these puppies 4 times already! (This is indeed […]

  • lea

    Wow! I screwed these up and they were still amazing. Had no agave so subbed maple syrup- I know, not raw. Only had one lemon so I added a splash of lemon juice. Then Vitamix decided they were too thick and gave up. So I finished kneading in the cherries by hand (whole)and some of the figs were still in large chunks. Thank you for such a great recipe!


  • Thanks for sharing your story, and this excellent recipe! I love the way you came up with a beautiful, healthy, nutritious treat – from a not-so-great diagnosis (and out of dietary necessity): creative and positive.

    (Thanks for your comment on my blog! Wonderful to meet another Canadian healthy baker :-))


  • […] cake for AOF’s event (which will take some time as all good fruit cakes do) and in Ricki’s Fig and Cherry Bars. But when I finally got to the one place in Melbourne that I know sells them (David Jones) there […]

  • Jon M

    Hello. This is in response to your physical condition that you stated which may lead to osteoporosis. I may have some help for your condition. I have done a lot of research on my own health issues, and in the process have researched the possible causes of other degenerative diseases and conditions. Take heart. Please read the book about “Water” ISBN: 0446690740 and read pp 213-218. Coffee, tea and carbonated beverages remove water from our system, and most people don’t drink enough water. Thank you for the raw bars recipe.


  • -

    I was wondering what kind of dried figs you used in this recipe, it looks great I cant wait to try it.


  • Hi Blank Name,

    Hope you come back to read this! I used organic Turkish figs for my squares. They’re the bigger, fatter, slightly softer ones. 😉


  • Anon

    I know this is from a long time ago, but just to say that I’m really sorry to hear about your diagnosis. It’s terrifying. I also suffer from osteopoaenia and I am only 18. These bars look good – do you have any more of the nutritional breakdown, such as calories and fat? I know I should be more worried about the calcium, but I can’t bring myself to eat many nuts, seeds and oils due to the fat content.

    Best wishes, hope you manage to reverse it – it can be done!


  • Amie Sue

    Hello there, I have a quiet little raw food blog that i do for friends and family. Would you mind if I posted your picture and recipe of these bars on it? I will put a link to your site, giving you the credit. Please email me and let me know.



  • Hi Ricki,

    I made these last night. I halved the recipe and planned roll it into balls for bite sized snacks instead of bars. I found the mixture very crumbly and it almost didn’t stick together. I added 1-2 tbsp more agave and it held together a bit better, though I doubt they would hold up as bars. Maybe it was because I used black mission figs instead of the Turkish ones you mentioned in a comment above? Anyway, just wanted to add this little note 🙂


    Ricki Reply:

    Heather, that could be it, or it could be the age of the figs. They have to be soft. My “dough” looks crumbly in the processor but does stick together when pinched with the fingers. . . if yours is too dry, you can always add a tablespoon or two of water to the mix, until it’s moist enough to stick together. I also have to pack it very firmly in the pan for it to stick together after being refrigerated. Hope you managed with them in the end, either way! 🙂


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