Vegan Cookie Recipes with Skratch Labs Cookie Mix
As many of you know or are learning, our Cookie Mix is pretty versatile stuff; you can make savory cookies, sweet cookies, berry cookies, chocolate chip cookies, s’mores bars….did you know that you can also make vegan cookies with our Cookie Mix? And the best part, it’s just as easy as making our mix according to the box directions!
On our Cookie Mix box, you’ll see that there are no animal or dairy ingredients in the mix. However, we do call for one egg and a stick (1/2 cup) of butter to make cookies in the most straightforward way. Therefore, to make vegan cookies with the Cookie Mix, all you need to do is substitute the egg and butter.
This may sound rather straightforward, and it is, so long as you keep a few things in mind: the butter and egg called for in our basic cookie recipes serve several purposes – the butter provides fat and that fat contributes to the moist, frankly-addictive texture of the baked cookies. The egg provides moisture and binder to the baked cookies. If you don’t add in that moisture, fat and binding agent you’re likely to have baked cookies that are dry, and crumbly and they’ll fall apart in your pocket. In a nutshell, they’ll be less delicious, less functional on the go and then you won’t have cookies to share with your friends! Horror!
So! How do you successfully substitute for the butter and eggs in vegan cookies? There are many straight butter substitutes out there; if you follow a vegan diet, you likely have your own favorite butter substitute and it will absolutely work in this case. The best butter substitutes have a good amount of fat suspended in water (just like butter!) We prefer not to use soy, or canola based butter substitutes in our own test kitchens, and instead have found slightly warmed coconut butter or coconut manna (NOT coconut oil!) is our favorite. You can typically find coconut butter in the nut butter aisle of well-stocked grocery stores, or in the natural foods section. Simply warm the coconut butter and mix it into the mix in the same way you would with dairy butter. Coconut butter still has a good amount of water content because it’s literally pureed coconut, but it doesn’t have as much water as butter so depending on where you live, you might find you need to add a bit of additional moisture. In this case, add water in 1 tablespoon increments until you have a moist dough. We like the flavor of the coconut butter particularly well in chocolate chip cookies, or in the Carrot Cake Cookie (recipe below.)
If you don’t have access to coconut butter, don’t fear – there are lots of other ways to substitute for the butter. The best way to do this is to combine a few ingredients, for example a bit of fruit puree plus a small amount of coconut oil will do the trick (because, you’ll need to be adding back in some water, ad some fat!) We also use nut butter paired with a bit of extra maple syrup and/or water (see the Peanut Butter + Jelly Bar recipe below!)
For the eggs, there are also many direct egg substitutes – egg replacer being among them. In our test kitchens, we like to use ground flax seed bloomed in a bit of water. (1 Tablespoon ground flax seed + 2 Tablespoons of warm water = 1 egg.) These two substitutes have provided us with the most reliable results when it comes to texture of baked cookies.
Below, you’ll find a handful of our favorite vegan cookie recipes using Skratch Labs Cookie Mix. These recipes go above and beyond the basic substitutions and we hope that these recipes serve more as examples of all the possibilities the Cookie Mix offers, instead of limiting you to these formulas alone. Aside from giving you the permission to eat cookies (!!) the most wonderful part about our Cookie Mix is that it provides you the opportunity to create your own favorite flavors and recipes. Sports nutrition is personal – not merely physiological – and so we encourage you to be brave, try new ingredients and new flavor combinations to make your best vegan cookie. Then get out there and be Cookie Powered!
Vegan Apple + Almond Butter Cookie Bars
1 box Skratch Labs Cookie Mix
½ cup + 2 tablespoons almond butter
1 tablespoon ground flax seed + 2 tablespoons warm water
5 tablespoons applesauce
1 cup diced apple
Preheat the oven to 350°F degrees and line a pan with parchment paper. Mix the flax with the water an allow to sit for 2-3 minutes. Follow the directions on the back of the cookie mix box – combining the almond butter, bloomed flax, apple sauce and cookie mix in a bowl. Sprinkle ½ of dough over the bottom of the prepared pan, then sprinkle the apple, then the remaining ½ of the dough. Press into the pan and bake until golden brown, cool completely, cut and enjoy!
Vegan Carrot Cake Cookie Bars
1 box Skratch Labs Cookie Mix
1 cup coconut butter, warmed
3 tsp of egg replacer + 2 tablespoons water
¼ cup raisins
½ cup shredded carrots
¼ cup chopped pecans, lightly toasted
3 tablespoons maple syrup
Preheat the oven to 350°F degrees and line a pan with parchment paper. Mix the egg replacer with the water an allow to sit for 2-3 minutes. Follow the directions on the back of the cookie mix box – combining the warm coconut butter, bloomed egg replacer, maple syrup and cookie mix in a bowl. Sprinkle ½ of dough over the bottom of the prepared pan, then sprinkle the raisins, carrots and pecans, then sprinkle the remaining ½ of the dough. Press into the pan and bake until golden brown, cool completely, cut and enjoy!
Blueberry + Banana Cookie Bars
1 box Skratch Labs Cookie Mix
1 very ripe banana
1 tablespoon ground flax seed + 2 tablespoons warm water
3 tablespoons coconut oil
1 cup fresh blueberries
Preheat the oven to 350°F degrees and line a pan with parchment paper. Mix the ground flax seed with the water an allow to sit for 2-3 minutes. Follow the directions on the back of the cookie mix box – combining the banana, bloomed flax, coconut oil and cookie mix in a bowl. Sprinkle ½ of dough over the bottom of the prepared pan, then sprinkle the blueberries, then sprinkle the remaining ½ of the dough. Press into the pan and bake until golden brown, cool completely, cut and enjoy!
Vegan Peanut Butter + Jelly Bars
1 box Skratch Labs Cookie Mix
¾ cup creamy peanut butter
1 tablespoon ground flax seed + 2 tablespoons warm water
5 tablespoons water
1/3 – ½ cup of your favorite marmalade or jelly
Preheat the oven to 350°F degrees and line a pan with parchment paper. Mix the ground flax seed with the water an allow to sit for 2-3 minutes. Follow the directions on the back of the cookie mix box – combining the peanut butter, bloomed flax, water and cookie mix in a bowl. Sprinkle ½ of dough over the bottom of the prepared pan, pressing down a bit to make a bed for the jelly. Then, dollop the jelly over the bottom cookie dough layer. Lastly, dollop the jam and sprinkle the remaining ½ of the dough over the top. Press into the pan and bake until golden brown, cool completely, cut and enjoy!
Before your next ride, trail run, climb, or hike, you can whip up this recipe from the Feed Zone Portables: Gluten-Free Banana Waffles. And of course you can squash your favorite jam, jelly, butter spread, lunch meat, or cheese in between waffles to make a delicious Waffle Sandwich.
The Little Picture:
The consumption of carbohydrate during exercise has been shown to be a critical part of maintaining and enhancing performance during intense and prolonged exercise (1, 2, 3, 4).
At the same time, the overconsumption of carbohydrate during exercise has been associated with gastro-intestinal distress (GI-distress), which can be exacerbated by dehydration, heat stress, and highly concentrated carbohydrate sources that empty from the stomach at a faster rate than they can be absorbed by the small intestine (10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19).
While overconsumption of carbohydrate and under-consumption of fluids is at the heart of GI-distress, a number of factors may help alleviate GI-distress including the use of more than one type of carbohydrate (i.e., glucose & fructose), the addition of fiber like pectin (to help slow the emptying of carbohydrate from the stomach), and the removal of excess food additives (20, 21, 22, 23, 24, 25, 26, 27, 28, 29, 30).
We’ve always believed in fresh portables made from scratch to quell GI-distress. But we also recognize, that in the same way we were able to greatly improve the sports drink, there were many opportunities to improve carbohydrate supplements. With that goal in mind, we developed our Fruit Drops - a pectin based energy chew with a specific ratio of glucose and fructose that is flavored only with real fruit and that does not contain the coloring agents, flavoring agents, and waxes common to many similar products.
Made in a convenient bite size drop that contains 4 grams of carbohydrate or 16 Calories per drop, our Fruit Drops are a simple way to regulate carbohydrate consumption during exercise for when we don’t have the time or resources to make fresh food portables from scratch.
Use our Fruit Drops as an easy and convenient source of carbohydrate to help maintain blood sugar and performance during prolonged exercise. As a starting point, for activities lasting longer than 2 hours, consume 1 package of Fruit Drops, containing 160 Calories (40 grams carbohydrate), each hour, beginning the first hour. Realize that the upper limit for carbohydrate absorption and use is about 100 grams per hour (2.5 packages of Fruit Drops). So keep in mind other sources of carbohydrate that you might be consuming like our Exercise Hydration Mix, which contains 80 Calories or 20 grams of carbohydrate per 500 ml serving, to avoid upsetting your gut.
The Big Picture:
Our “Fruit Drops” were made for people who need an easy and convenient source of carbohydrate to fuel their exercise performance. The rationale for their use is based on the simple fact that the consumption of carbohydrate is a critical part of maintaining and enhancing performance during intense and prolonged exercise (1, 2, 3, 4).
While designed for sport and an active lifestyle, it’s not lost upon us that this product is essentially a source of simple sugars and that an excess of sugar is often blamed for obesity and disease (5, 6). While excess of any sort is likely dangerous, it’s important to realize that obesity is a complex and multifactorial issue as are the metabolic diseases associated with it (7). A clear example of this is the fact that artificial sweeteners, which have no calories, are also associated with obesity (8, 9). That all said, we developed our Fruit Drops with physical activity and the problem of maintaining blood sugar during exercise in mind and do not advocate their use outside of the context of athletic performance. Which is to say, use common sense and don’t eat them if you’re just sitting around and don’t need the fuel.
Ironically, for some, the problem of sustaining adequate carbohydrate intake during exercise can result in gastrointestinal distress (GI-distress) in endurance events if too much carbohydrate is consumed at once or at rates that exceed the ability of the small intestine (i.e., gut) to absorb all of the carbohydrate presented to it (10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15). GI-distress is especially common with hyperosmolar (i.e., a molecular concentration or osmolarity greater than blood) or high calorie liquid and semi-liquid carbohydrate solutions that empty rapidly from the stomach into the gut and can be exacerbated by the use of only a single type of carbohydrate, by food additives not recognized by the gut that increase tonicity (i.e., the number of molecules unable to cross the intestinal wall), and by dehydration or heat stress which can damage the intestinal membrane (12, 16, 17, 18, 19).
While eating too much too fast without enough water under extreme stress is at the heart of GI-distress, there are a few things that may help. For example, adding pectin, a form of fruit fiber, to carbohydrate can slow the rate that carbohydrate empties from the stomach, which may theoretically smooth and temper the load on the gut without significantly affecting carbohydrate absorption or the post-prandial glucose response (20, 21). In addition the use of multiple-transportable carbohydrates in the form of glucose and fructose can improve the absorption of carbohydrate across the gut while reducing the potential for GI-distress (22, 23, 24, 25, 26, 27). Finally, food additives like coloring agents and emulsifiers may harm beneficial intestinal bacteria or microbiota and may negatively affect the intestinal barrier already under stress from the transport of normal foodstuffs like sugar and salt (28, 29, 30). Thus, eliminating ingredients not critical to a carbohydrate supplement may further reduce the stress on the small intestine, not only by reducing the overall osmolarity and tonicity, but by limiting any harmful effect on the intestinal wall.
Although freshly made portables is our preferred solution for maintaining adequate carbohydrate intake during exercise, it was in balancing the need for a convenient and simple fuel for athletic performance with the potential for GI-distress that is common to carbohydrate supplements that our Fruit Drops were developed. Effectively, our Fruit Drops are a pectin based energy chew or gumdrop containing a specific ratio of glucose and fructose, flavored only with real fruit, and without excess ingredients like flavoring agents, coloring agents, perfumes, or waxes common to many energy chews – modifications that attempt to eliminate many of the problems associated with some prepackaged carbohydrate sources.
A single package of Fruit Drops contains 10 drops, at 16 Calories a piece for a total of 160 Calories or 40 grams of carbohydrate per package. With maximal rates of exogenous carbohydrate absorption and oxidation in the range of 70-100 grams per hour (1, 2), a single pack of Fruit Drops along with 1 to 2 servings (500 ml per serving) of our Exercise Hydration Mix (20 grams per serving) each hour, is adequate to meet the upper limit of carbohydrate need in the fittest individuals during the most strenuous exercise.
Still, the intake of carbohydrate during exercise to improve or maintain performance is individual and specific to one’s energy expenditure – something that is highly variable depending upon individual fitness, exercise intensity, the intensity pattern, and exercise duration. Moreover, the maintenance of performance during exercise is not just about adequate carbohydrate ingestion it’s also about adequate hydration and electrolyte replacement (31). While our Fruit Drops can easily provide enough carbohydrate for even the fittest individuals, no modifications, including those made to our Fruit Drops, can prevent GI-distress if carbohydrate is over-consumed, especially without adequate water and sodium. Like all things in the realm of performance and nutrition, it’s up to the individual to determine what works best for them, to use common sense, and to have a well thought out plan for replacing fuel, water, and electrolytes during exercise; which might even mean abstaining from drinking and eating for very short and intense exercise bouts where internal stores are probably more than adequate to meet energy needs and sweat loss.
It’s with this sense of pragmatism that we created our Fruit Drops using the same thinking and process that we used to develop our Exercise Hydration Mix. In the same way that we were never happy with sports drinks until we made our own, we were never satisfied with energy chews until we literally reimagined them from scratch. Although we weren’t sure if we were going to be able to change this category of sports nutrition, we did know that we weren’t going to bring a product to market if we didn’t. It’s for this reason that we truly believe our Fruit Drops change energy chews in the same way our Exercise Hydration Mix changed sports drinks – for the better. Like our drink mixes, our Fruit drops are based on sound science without neglecting taste or real world performance. So for those times when you don’t have enough time to prepare your favorite cookie, rice cake or other real food portable, our Fruit Drops provide a simple and convenient alternative to help fuel your hardest and longest adventures.
When we first created our Exercise Hydration Mix, our goal was to solve the persistent complaint from athletes that sugary sports drinks upset their bellies and left a bad taste in their mouth – complaints that ultimately hampered hydration and hurt performance. To quell complaints and improve performance we began mining the scientific literature, tinkering in our kitchen, and experimenting in the field. This led us to develop a sports drink from scratch with a number of key features: 1) less sugar, 2) a specific ratio of sugars in the form of glucose and fructose, 3) a lighter taste profile created by using real fruit, 4) a profile of electrolytes that better matched what was actually lost in sweat, and the 5) elimination of excess ingredients like coloring agents, emulsifiers, preservatives, and flavoring agents. The result – a very light and clean sports drink with an extremely low molecular concentration or osmolarity (160 mOsmol/L) that transformed how athletes and the industry view hydration.
Our goal in making our “Fruit Drops” was to apply the key lessons we learned when formulating our Exercise Hydration mix to the category of “energy chews and blocks.” To be clear, we were never fans of energy chews for the same reason we were never happy with sports drinks before we made our own. We also didn’t know if it was possible to transform the common energy chew into something we wanted to use ourselves or give to our friends and family. But in the same way we reimagined sports drinks and hydration, we thought it worth a try to reinvent the energy chew. Moreover, we realized the benefit of simplicity and convenience for those needing more carbohydrate than provided by our Exercise Hydration Mix, especially since cooking real food portables from scratch isn't always possible.
To reinvent the energy chew, we took the basic recipe for a gumdrop and made the following modifications:
1. We made our Fruit Drops less sweet by adding slightly more water. This makes our fruit drop softer, less sticky, easier to chew, and more palatable. Gram for gram, this also makes our fruit drop about 15% less sweet or energy dense than competing energy chews. Although this reduces the total calories per bite, it makes eating more fruit drops easier on the palate and gut, which improves one’s ability to stay fueled over the long haul.
2. We made cane sugar the primary ingredient followed by tapioca syrup to get a specific ratio of two sugars – glucose and fructose – that we believe better matches the ratio of fructose and glucose transporters in the small intestine. This allows improved absorption of carbohydrate by taking advantage of the two key sugar transporters in the gut. Our ratio of sugars is significantly different than what is found in competing energy chews – a ratio we put considerable time and effort in developing.
3. Compared to other products we increased the sodium content of our fruit drops to help replace a small portion of the sodium that is lost via sweat. The increased sodium content also has the benefit of satiating the craving for salt that people often get during exercise. Finally, adding sodium along with glucose helps to facilitate the transport of water into the body.
4. Rather than using natural or synthetic flavoring agents we used real fruit for flavor. This gives our Fruit Drops a subtle and light flavor. It tastes like real fruit because it’s made with real fruit.
5. We eliminated a number of ingredients that we consider to be excess that aren’t easily recognized or managed by the body. These ingredients include carnauba wax, coloring agents, additional vitamins, and strong perfumes and flavoring agents.
6. To prevent our Fruit Drops from sticking together we added a sour sugar coating using a combination of apple acid (fumaric acid) and crystalized sugar. Not only does this make each drop easier to handle, it gives our drops a unique and salivating taste. Most importantly, it allowed us to eliminate wax and oils from our fruit drops.
To our delight, the process of tinkering, testing, and trying eventually led to modifications that profoundly changed the taste, feel, and function of our Fruit Drops compared to other energy chews. Admittedly, we didn’t begin with high expectations that the transformation we achieved was even possible. At the same time, we did have extremely high expectations that we weren’t going to put out a product that didn't completely blow us away. The epiphany is that we were all blown away by the end product. We developed something we wanted for ourselves – something we were so happy with that the difficulty and stress of brining something new to market as quickly as possible became moot. Ultimately, we get that there’s a demand for energy chews, but as athletes, coaches, and people our first priority was something better for ourselves and our active friends and family.
Thoughts on Usage:
The use of our Fruit Drops really depends on two things – calories and convenience. Do you actually need the calories? Is your blood sugar low? Are you even hungry? And, most importantly, are you lacking the time and resources to prepare something from scratch?
If the answer to the questions above are yes, then for most people having a package of Fruit Drops, containing 160 Calories (40 grams of carbohydrate), for each hour of exercise is likely more than enough to fuel most activities, especially if adequately hydrated with something like our Exercise Hydration Mix which contains an additional 80 Calories (20 grams of carbohydrate) per 500 ml serving.
Carbohydrate need and usage, however, is a highly individual thing and specific to the type, intensity, and duration of exercise. Thus, regulating carbohydrate consumption is ultimately the responsibility of the individual. It’s a responsibility that can be vetted through direct metabolic measurement in an exercise physiology lab or through careful self-experimentation in the field. With that in mind, realize that our usage recommendations – to have a package on hand for each hour of exercise – is simply a starting point that doesn’t trump an individual’s specific needs or their responsibility to assess them.
It’s also important to realize that the upper limit for external or exogenous carbohydrate absorption and usage during exercise for the fittest individuals is about 100 grams of carbohydrate per hour or 400 Calories. That’s not to say that we don’t burn more than 400 Calorie in an hour. What this means is that most people can’t actually absorb and use more than 400 Calories of ingested carbohydrate each hour – that above 100 grams of carbohydrate in a single hour, the extra fuel is not likely to be absorbed or used, and only increases the risk for gastro-intestinal distress, even if more calories are actually being burned by the body. The reality is that the energy we use during exercise is highly dependent upon the fat and carbohydrate (i.e., glycogen) we have stored in our bodies. The exogenous carbohydrate we consume only supplements what is stored.
With all that in mind, a solid foundation for better understanding the calories that one needs during exercise can be found in the Feed Zone Portables cookbook (32). As a general rule, for activities lasting 2 to 6 hours in length, a reasonable goal is to replace half the calories burned per hour. Measuring calories accurately is it’s own problem that is addressed in detail in the Feed Zone Portables. But, for perspective, a 154 lb person walking at 3 mph will burn about 230 Calories per hour. At a 12-minute mile or 5 mph, the energy requirement goes up to 600 Calories per hour. At a 6-minute mile or 10 mph, the energy needed will be just over 1000 Calories per hour. So unless you’re able to hold an exercise intensity equivalent to a 6-minute mile pace for more than 2 hours, it’s unlikely that you’ll ever need to consume more than 100 grams or 400 Calories per hour, which just happens to be the upper limit of what our gastrointestinal system can even absorb per hour while exercising. What this means is that we don't think anyone needs or can consume more than 2.5 packs of Fruit Drops per hour.
Ultimately, usage is about context. Energy rich foods and simple sugars like those found in our Fruit Drops are great if we are exercising for prolonged periods of time, but not great if we are sedentary or exercising for short durations. Moreover, even for the fittest athletes there is an upper limit for how much carbohydrate that can be consumed and absorbed, so relying on and improving our ability to use stored glycogen and fat to reduce our need for exogenous carbohydrate is an important key to endurance performance. When all is said and done, our Fruit Drops are simply a convenient and extremely simple carbohydrate supplement that is a great alternative to freshly made portables when we don’t have the time to be in the kitchen or as a safety net in our pocket or pack for situations when we find ourselves needing more energy than we thought. So keep a pack or two handy for whenever you’re on the move.
Allen Lim, PhD
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Health agencies refer to the formula in our Rescue Hydration Mix as an “ORS,” which stands for “Oral Rehydration Solution” or “Oral Rehydration Salts.” An ORS is a drink specifically intended to rehydrate children and adults who are dehydrated from diarrhea. Compared to common sports drinks, our Rescue Hydration Mix, which is based on recommendations developed by the World Health Organization (WHO), contains more sodium, less sugar, as well as and a small amount of zinc. Unlike the WHO formula, however, our mix also includes the use of real fruit and higher quality electrolytes for taste and function without any of the excess flavoring agents, artificial sweeteners, coloring agents, or emulsifiers found in some commercially available oral rehydration solutions. Use Rescue Hydration mix as a non-synthetic alternative to oral rehydration solutions laden with excess ingredients, to rehydrate anytime you or your kids need to quickly replace water and electrolytes.
The Story Behind Rescue Hydration Mix
We developed our Exercise Hydration Mix to rehydrate people when they’re sweating without the insult of neon colors and excess ingredients common to many sports drinks. But sweating isn’t the only way that people can become dehydrated.
Dehydration is also a huge problem when people, especially kids, are sick and experiencing diarrhea. In cases of diarrhea, large amounts of fluids and electrolytes can be lost when the intestinal wall becomes impaired due to a virus or bacteria. The result is that water and important electrolytes like sodium spill from inside the body across the intestinal wall into the gut and down the bowels where dehydration eventually announces itself in an explosive crescendo. As uncomfortable as this might be, it’s not the discomfort of diarrhea that is the issue; it’s the risk of death from dehydration and the loss of electrolytes. In fact, the World Health Organization (WHO) and the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) report that in developing countries dehydration due to diarrheal diseases is the second leading cause of death in children under five years of age – deaths that are easily preventable with the use of Oral Rehydration Salts (ORS) (1, 2, 3).
Oral Rehydration Salts (ORS) are powdered mixes containing a relatively high amount of sodium and a little bit of sugar or glucose that, as the name implies, rehydrates people by optimizing the replenishment of water and electrolytes (1). The mechanism behind an ORS is relatively simple. Not only does an ORS help replace what is lost, the addition of sodium and glucose to water actually helps improve the transport of water across the small intestine, or gut, back into the body.
The water we drink can move across the intestinal wall into the body in two ways. The simplest way is passively through a process called osmosis. Osmosis is driven by the difference in the concentration of dissolved molecules or solutes on either side of the intestinal wall. The important fact to understand is that water moves from the side with the lower solute concentration to the side with the higher solute concentration. The solute (or molecular concentration) of a solution is measured as a solution’s osmolarity (Osm/L). The osmolarity inside the body is measured as blood osmolarity, which is normally about 280 mOsm/L. Thus, if someone drinks a solution with an osmolarity lower than blood (<280 mOsm/L), water will move passively from inside the gut into the body (low to high). Likewise, if someone drinks a solution with an osmolarity greater than blood, water will move from inside the body into the gut, potentially causing bloating or diarrhea. This highlights one of they key problems with osmosis; that water movement depends on a favorable concentration gradient, which may or may not be present depending upon what someone is drinking or eating.
Fortunately, water transport into the body can also be facilitated by the active co-transport of sodium and glucose. When sodium and glucose are present, they are actively transported together across the small intestine into the body through the use of energy requiring pumps, which also opens a channel for the entry of water. Specifically, for every 2 molecules of sodium and 1 molecule of glucose that are transported into the body, 210 molecules of water are also transported (4). Thus, the addition of sodium and glucose to a solution greatly improves the movement of water back into the body – an extremely simple remedy that can literally save lives.
Because of this, the World Health Organization has provided guidelines for the production of Oral Rehydration Salts. These guidelines are part of the public domain and are used to help encourage the production of a cost effective ORS for developing countries and the general population (3). They call for specific amounts of sodium (1700 mg/L), potassium (784 mg/L), glucose (13.5 g/L), and zinc (10 mg/L) at an osmolarity lower than blood (245 mOsm/L). Sodium and potassium replace the two most important electrolytes lost due to diarrhea, while the addition of glucose along with sodium improves water re-absorption. Finally, zinc has been shown to help prevent diarrhea and is now considered a critical ingredient in the formulation of ORS. While the mechanism behind how zinc works is not entirely clear, it’s thought that zinc improves immune function at the intestinal wall, helping to repair the initial intestinal damage or insult causing the diarrhea (5, 9). All said, the ultimate goal is a high sodium, low sugar, low osmolarity drink that facilitates water and electrolyte replenishment and absorption by both osmosis and the active transport of sodium and glucose while also providing small amounts of zinc for improved gut health.
While the guidelines provided by the WHO are profound and extraordinarily important to public health, the biggest problem with ORS is the taste. Making ORS exactly to WHO specifications results in a taste profile that we can only describe as a chalky sweat with slightly bitter and metallic notes. It may be for this reason that in the United States, it's common to find that many commercially available ORS use less sodium (1000-1200 mg/L) and include artificial sweeteners, flavoring agents, chemical colors, and emulsifiers in their formula. This raises the osmotic pressure of some commercially available ORS from the osmolarity recommended by the WHO (245 mOsm/L) to values greater than blood (> 280 mOsm/L)*, which hampers functionality in an attempt to improve the look and palatability. The irony is that, we feel, these ingredients only marginally improve the taste, masking the salt and electrolytes with a synthetic and unnatural flavor by using ingredients that aren’t recognized by the body and that may contribute to additional gastrointestinal distress due to the higher osmolarity.
This problem of excess synthetic ingredients was the same problem that we at Skratch Labs experienced with sports drinks – a problem that motivated the formulation of our Exercise Hydration mix. Thus, we saw an opportunity to not only improve the taste of the WHO ORS formula but to eliminate the excess chemicals used by some manufacturers of ORS. We didn’t want our kids, our loved ones, or ourselves to be drinking something when they were sick that was akin to a toxic waste dump. More importantly, we knew we could help and we wanted to help.
This hit home for us when our friend, Audie, a Peace Corp worker in Mozambique asked if we could donate some drink mix to the village she lived and worked in. What we learned from Audie was that the kids in her village wouldn’t drink the WHO formula that they were provided by relief agencies because of the taste and she needed an alternative. So when Audie’s family went to visit her in Mozambique we sent as much of a high electrolyte and low sugar drink mix as they could deliver to try. That little trial was a huge success. Both the kids and adults loved the mix and when a number of the kids became sick with diarrhea, it proved highly effective as a remedy to treat their dehydration, not just because of the high level of electrolytes but because they actually wanted to drink it.
That experience pushed us to consciously formulate a product that more closely met the guidelines set forth by the WHO. In doing so, we learned that the formula recommended by the WHO was a balance between cost and efficacy. It’s a formula that not only has clinical relevance; it’s a formula that also has to be made cheaply in developing countries. Not bound by cost, we decided to make a formula that met the WHO guidelines but that used more of the very expensive and preferable citrate based salts like sodium citrate and potassium citrate instead of relying on cheaper chloride based salts like sodium chloride and potassium chloride. We had previously discovered that, for some athletes, high amounts of chloride could be irritating to the gut when we used those salts to make our sports drink. We also focused on the taste of our formula using real fruit for flavor and a ratio of cane sugar and glucose that helped improve the taste and enhance the absorption of sugars (6).
The result was our Rescue Hydration Mix - a formula with 1500 mg of sodium, 500 mg of potassium, 17 g of glucose (32 gram total sugar), and 10 mg of zinc per liter of water with an extremely low osmolarity of 225 mOsm/L*. By avoiding excess ingredients, we were able to make our drink slightly sweeter than the WHO formula, by using real sugar instead of artificial sweeteners, and still have a significantly lower osmolarity than either the current WHO formula or other pediatric electrolyte solutions. At the same time we kept the appropriate ratio of glucose to sodium in the mix to maximize water absorption by the co-transport of glucose and sodium (4). Finally, we lowered the overall electrolyte content slightly compared to the WHO formula to improve the taste, while still using significantly more electrolytes than similar commercially available ORS. Ultimately, by not being constrained by cost, we were able to make subtle changes that we believe improve on the WHO guidelines with respect to taste and function.
Although our Rescue Hydration Mix was specifically based on the WHO guidelines for kids and adults experiencing dehydration due to diarrhea, many of our customers have found that the high sodium and lower sugar content also make it a great product for use when dehydrated for any reason. What we know is that while most sports drinks and electrolyte replacement products are not optimized for the dehydration associated with diarrhea, we have found, like many of our customers, that our Rescue Hydration Mix is very effective for remedying other forms of dehydration not associated with diarrhea - a fact that is often shared with us by many late night revelers.
Ultimately, our Rescue Hydration Mix with its high sodium and relatively low sugar content is designed to improve the absorption of water and electrolytes back into the body. At 1500 mg of sodium per liter, our Rescue Hydration Mix has about twice the sodium of our Exercise Hydration Mix (720 mg Na+/L) and about half as much sodium as our Hyper Hydration Mix (3500 mg Na+/L). Given that sweat sodium can be highly variable (7), for those who lose more sodium than either our Exercise Hydration Mix or other sports drink formulas provide, our Rescue Hydration Mix can be a great way to replace lost sodium especially after a bout of exercise that causes a large fluid and sodium loss.
The one caveat is that our Rescue Hydration Mix contains 45% of the USRDA for zinc (5 mg per 500 ml serving & 10 mg per liter). While a number of papers have shown that zinc can be important to immune function when sick or for general health (8, 9), it’s important to realize that drinking too much of our Rescue Hydration Mix when not sick may lead to consuming an inappropriate amount of zinc. Chronic (60-450 mg per day) or acute over-ingestion (>450 mg) of zinc can result in nausea, vomiting, a loss of appetite, abdominal cramps, diarrhea, and headaches (10, 11). The Food and Nutrition Board (FNB), lists the upper daily limit of zinc in infants to young adults at a range from 5 to 34 mg (7-12 mo = 5 mg, 1-3 yrs = 7 mg, 4-8 yrs = 12 mg, 9-13 yrs = 23 mg, 14-18 yrs =34 mg) and adults at 40 mg (10). For an adult, to reach this upper daily limit, one would need to drink 4 liters or 8 x 16.9 ounce servings of our Rescue Hydration Mix in one day. For that reason, we don’t recommend that anyone drink more than 8 servings of Rescue Hydration Mix per day. Simply put, it is not an alternative to our Exercise Hydration Mix or Hyper Hydration Mix when high volumes of fluid are required during activity.
In summary, we designed our Rescue Hydration Mix to help kids and adults who are dehydrated due to diarrhea. We developed our mix when we realized the importance of ORS to public health, especially in developing countries and saw room to improve the taste of the WHO formula while eliminating the excess ingredients common to a number of commercially available formulas. The net result is an ORS that we believe tastes better and that does not contain excess ingredients like emulsifiers, coloring agents, flavoring agents or artificial sweeteners, giving it an extremely low osmolarity. That low osmolarity combined with the addition of sodium and glucose ensures the rapid absorption of water by both passive (osmosis) and active mechanisms (facilitated transport). Because other drink mix formulas are not designed specifically to deal with dehydration associated with diarrhea in either kids or adults, our Rescue Hydration Mix fills a very unique market and need. That said, our Rescue Hydration Mix can also be used in any situation that involves severe dehydration. But since our Rescue Hydration Mix contains zinc, which has been shown to be important to the cessation of diarrhea by enhancing immune function in the gut, no more than 8 servings of our Rescue Hydration Mix is recommended per day. Like our other drink mixes, this product fits our mission to provide people with products that help them take care of themselves and their families. While we started Skratch Labs because we care about sport and performance, the reality is we care a lot more about people and their health.
Allen Lim, PhD
1. End preventable deaths: Global Action Plan for Prevention and Control of Pneumonia and Diarrhoea. World Health Organization / The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), 2013.
2. Diarrhoea: Why Children are still dying and what can be done. World Health Organization / The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), 2009.
3. Oral Rehydration Salts: Production of the new ORS. World Health Organization / The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), 2006.
4. Wright, E. M., & Loo, D. D. (2000). Coupling between Na+, sugar, and water transport across the intestine. Ann N Y Acad Sci, 915, 54-66.
5. M Imran Qadir, A Arshad, B. Ahmad. Zinc: Role in the management of diarrhea and cholera. World J Clin Cases. 2013 July 16; 1(4):140-142.
6. Jeukendrup, A. E., & Moseley, L. (2010). Multiple transportable carbohydrates enhance gastric emptying and fluid delivery. Scand J Med Sci Sports, 20(1), 112-121.
7. Shirreffs, S. M., & Maughan, R. J. (1997). Whole body sweat collection in humans: an improved method with preliminary data on electrolyte content. J Appl Physiol, 82(1), 336-341.
8. Maywald, M., & Rink, L. (2015). Zinc homeostasis and immunosenescence. J Trace Elem Med Biol, 29, 24-30.
9. Basnet, S., Mathisen, M., & Strand, T. A. (2014). Oral zinc and common childhood infections-An update. J Trace Elem Med Biol.
10. Lewis MR, Kokan L. Zinc gluconate: acute ingestion. J Toxicol Clin Toxicol 1998;36:99-101.
11. Institute of Medicine, Food and Nutrition Board. Dietary Reference Intakes for Vitamin A, Vitamin K, Arsenic, Boron, Chromium, Copper, Iodine, Iron, Manganese, Molybdenum, Nickel, Silicon, Vanadium, and Zinc . Washington, DC: National Academy Press, 2001.
*Osmolality in mOsmol/kg, which is used synonymously with osmolarity measured in mOsmol/L, was measured at the Applied Exercise Science Laboratory in the Department of Integrative Physiology at the University of Colorado at Boulder using a Wescor VAPRO® Vapor Pressure Osmometer, manufactured by EliTech Group Solutions, Princeton, NJ using commercially available oral rehydration solutions purchased at a local grocery store. 2015.
In Malcom Gladwell’s book “David and Goliath,” Gladwell describes the defeat of the monstrous Goliath by the weaker David, not as an improbable underdog victory, but as a highly misunderstood sure thing. Despite seeming weaker with only a rock and sling to defend him, David was likely a professional “slinger,” not just a simple sheepherder packing the ballistic power and accuracy of a 45 magnum. In contrast, Goliath, despite appearing bigger and stronger, probably suffered from acromegaly – a pituitary tumor, which can result in excess growth and double vision – making Goliath slow, clumsy, and a total mismatch compared to the quick and nimble David.
Like any misconception, outside appearances don’t typically reveal the truth. And while the story of David and Goliath might seem entirely disconnected from the idea of eating a cookie instead of a pre-packaged energy bar, the reality is that when it comes to taste and performance, our experience has been that in the right context, the simple and unassuming cookie is generally the better bet.
At first mention we often think of a cookie as a treat or a dessert – a guilty pleasure that connotes bad behavior that we sneak into our mouths when no one is looking. Rarely does a cookie impart the idea of health and fitness. For most, it’s a decadent snack, not a performance fuel. Even worse, when I was a teenager in need of food to fuel my long rides or Boy Scout hikes, I use to feel embarrassed when I would pull cookies or weird Chinese snacks out of my pocket when my friends pulled out their PowerBar®. I had it in my head that if I wanted to optimize my performance or fit in, I had to use products that were specifically engineered to make me better, faster, and stronger. It was a false belief.
To be clear, we did not design some new food with the intent of optimizing athletic performance or health. We set out to help people make really delicious cookies - to make the process of making cookies from scratch more convenient and foolproof with an end product no different than a more time consuming and error prone homemade cookie. While our cookie mix is not a ready to go solution it does go a long way in getting folks into the kitchen to bake when they normally wouldn’t. It’s a little bit of effort paired with a little more ease and confidence. It’s something we wanted to take on because even if we didn’t set out to design a better food, it just so happens that for a number of reasons, a freshly prepared cookie is better for athletic performance and health than many prepackaged energy bars. Plus, let’s face it, we all love cookies.
With that in mind, compared to prepackaged energy bars, a freshly prepared cookie from scratch has a similar nutritional profile, contains more moisture, has fewer and simpler ingredients, and tastes better. At the most basic level, when I study the nutritional panel and ingredient list of many prepackaged energy bars I find it difficult to justify how they are different than what I might put in a batch of cookies made from scratch. But there’s more than just nutrition at play here. There’s also form and function. With respect to form, a cookie is portable, small, and easily wrapped making it just as easy to eat, once prepared, as anything that comes in a package. Functionally, a cookie has a higher moisture level, making it easier to chew, swallow, and digest. In addition, consuming solid food that actually needs to be digested, helps to ensure that the rate at which fuel empties from the stomach (gastric emptying) doesn’t outpace the rate at which the small intestine can absorb fuel (intestinal absorption). This goes a long way to preventing gut rot and to keep a slow trickle of energy entering the body continuously during hard exercise. Lastly, keeping the ingredient list minimal and avoiding synthetic agents minimizes short-term mal-absorption and any long-term harm we may be inadvertently exposing ourselves to.
The real benefit of a cookie compared to a dry prepackaged food is taste. While this might seem self-evident, it’s important to recognize something less evident – the fact that the physiology of digestion begins when we smell and see beautiful food. When that happens, there are a host of physiological changes that ensue, which range from the release of various hormones and enzymes to changes in blood flow and the up-regulation of transporters that prepare us for the absorption and use of nutrients. When something appeals to us, our senses know there is something tangibly different, even if intellectually, those differences are marginal. The bottom line is that the human brain, especially when it comes to food, is much better at believing than reasoning. It’s a fact that can be a positive or a negative. Most prepackaged foods are designed to trick us into thinking they are delicious and good for us, when they are in fact bad for us with a shelf life designed to survive the apocalypse. With this in mind, the question I always had is why not just eat the real thing? Why not eat something that we naturally know is delicious and maybe even a bit decadent, when we need real fuel quickly and efficiently?
The irony is that just like cookies, most people aren’t eating prepackaged energy bars in the context of a physically active lifestyle or to enhance their athletic performance. They are overeating these prepackaged products as convenient snacks because they think that they are better for them than something like a cookie. The reality is that like so many of our food options, there is no better or worse. It’s not really about whether David and Goliath were actually well matched or a mismatch. In the end it’s context that matters. It’s a game of rock, paper, and scissors. And depending on the context, kale or a cookie may be the optimal choice.
Ultimately there’s no bad food, just bad behavior. So in the context of the right behavior – of a physically active lifestyle, of hard work, of freshly prepared foods, we hereby give you permission to have a cookie – to give yourself a little reward for making an effort to be better.
Allen Lim, PhD
If you love the idea of using cookies as a great real food alternative to prepackaged energy bar, but can't use our Cookie Mix because you follow a gluten free diet you're in luck!
Watch the video below and download the complete recipe details for free right here.