Healthy Vegan Nanaimo Bars Recipe | Gluten Free, Dairy Free

Healthy Vegan Nanaimo Bars

As a true, born-and-raised Canadian I thought I would make a classic dessert from the country currently above me here in the US.  It might not have maple syrup in it, but it sure is Canadian  😉

Reduced Fat Nanaimo Bars

We call this dessert, “Nanaimo Bars!”  Strange name, right?  Well, it might ring a bell because this isn’t the first time I’ve made it…  I made Nanaimo Bars last February but I decided to revisit my recipe.  Even though my bars were absolutely friggin delicious and were gobbled up in less than five seconds minutes flat, I got some flak from a commenter saying, “Nanaimo Bars they are not.”

*sad face*

Reduced Fat Nanaimo Bars

But I totally agreed with him, the “crust” was a no-bake base made of not-so-authentic ingredients (like coconut butter, coconut milk, chocolate and oats).  At the time I hadn’t made my graham cracker recipe yet and didn’t want to purchase crackers from the store that were full of refined sugars, starches and processed flours.  I was also living at a high altitude so I wouldn’t be able to post a recipe that everyone could make (that means the majority of you who live at sea-level!) because baking at different altitudes has an effect on the baking temperature and measurements…  such a hassle, but that’s the science of baking for ya.  The filling in my older recipe was suuuper delicious, but it was a tad bit gooey.  Once again, not so authentic.  Oh, and then my chocolate topping layer was “too thick.”  Like that’s a crime.  Let’s sue everyone who likes a little extra chocolate on their desserts!!


Just kidding, I’m totally not mad!  If the layer of chocolate was supposed to be thinner, I will make it thinner.  But to fit in some extra chocolate (because that’s what every chocoholic thinks about doing to their food) I would just eat the Nanaimo Bar with a glass of chocolate almond milk  😉

Focus on the good things in life and make these Healthy Vegan Nanaimo Bars — a soft graham cracker crust infused with chocolate and coconut, a filling with a sweet vanilla flavor and a topping of rich dark chocolate.

Because a decadent (yet healthy) dessert is what turns an “OK” day into a “holy-crap-freakin’-AMAZING” day.

Print Recipe Pin Recipe
5 from 1 vote
Did you make this recipe? Leave a review »

Healthy Vegan Nanaimo Bars

Servings: 16 Bars
Prep Time: 40 minutes
Cook Time: 20 minutes
Total Time: 1 hour




Chocolate Layer:


For the Crust:

  • Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit and line an 8" brownie pan with parchment paper both ways.
  • In a large bowl, stir together the graham cracker crumbs, coconut, cocoa powder and salt.
  • Stir in the applesauce and butter extract, then the optional nuts (mixture should be soft yet thick cookie dough).
  • Press mixture into the prepared pan and flatten. Dock the crust every inch or so, bake for ~22 minutes, or until firm to touch. Let sit on the counter while you prepare the rest of the recipe.

For the Filling:

  • In a large bowl, whisk together the almond milk, nut butter and extracts.
  • In a small bowl, whisk together the protein powder and custard powder. Dump into the wet ingredients and fold together (mixture should be very thick, like cookie dough). Scoop over the slightly warm crust and flatten.

For the Topping:

  • Add the chocolate to a small, microwave-safe bowl. Microwave at 30-second intervals, stirring between each one, until melted.
  • Stir in the coconut oil, then stir in the stevia extract. Pour over the filling layer and tap the pan so that the chocolate spreads to all the corners of the pan. Refrigerate for 1-2 hours, or until chocolate is just set.
  • Take the pan out of the fridge and slice into bars.

Recipe Notes

**If you don't have the custard powder, this is the filling I used the other time I made these bars:
  • ¾ cup Light Coconut Milk, canned
  • 2 tbs Coconut Oil, melted
  • 1½ tsp Stevia Extract
  • 126g (6 scoops) Vanilla Brown Rice Protein Powder
  • 180g (1½ cups) Powdered Erythritol
Nutrition Facts
Healthy Vegan Nanaimo Bars
Amount Per Serving (1 bar)
Calories 160 Calories from Fat 72
% Daily Value*
Fat 8g12%
Saturated Fat 4g25%
Sodium 95mg4%
Carbohydrates 16g5%
Fiber 3g13%
Sugar 4g4%
Protein 8g16%
Vitamin C 3.3mg4%
Calcium 40mg4%
Iron 1.8mg10%
* Percent Daily Values are based on a 2000 calorie diet.
Course: Dessert
Cuisine: Bars, Blondies & Brownies

As a reference, this is the nutrition label for a typical Nanaimo Bar.

What a difference, eh?  The Desserts with Benefits Nanaimo Bars are nearly half the calories of the typical bars you would find in Canada.  Not to mention, mine are lower fat and made up of healthy fats (no butter or cream in these babies), and far lower in carbs and sugar.  The typical Nanaimo Bar out there has about 1 tablespoon of butter and 2 tablespoons of sugar per bar.  That is crazy.

So make the Healthy Vegan Nanaimo Bars and you can grab a second serving.  These are the most delicious guilt-free treat ever… like, in the entire world!  It’s like magic.  And you need it in your life ASAP (Canadian or not).


With love and good eats,


– Jess


17 comments on “Healthy Vegan Nanaimo Bars”

  1. This looks great. YUMMY!!
    Congrats in your post. I will try to make it this week.

  2. girl, i prefer your first ones 😉

  3. You write that you no longer use whey protein, because you are sensitive to dairy.

    I just wanted to tell you (and I know that everyone is different), but I too am sensitive to dairy, but only casein and lactose, I can have isolated whey.

    Maybe somethin you’ll experiment with one day.
    After all, whey is so good for the liver and detox…

    • dessertswithbenefits

      For some reason I have totally fine with yogurt but I CANNOT have milk… I’ve done a bit of research on why but I’ll definitely try to find out if whey is okay with me. Thank you so much for sharing that with me, I don’t feel so alone anymore! 🙂
      And 1.5 cups of graham cracker crumbs weighed 176g for me (I used my gluten free/vegan graham cracker crumbs for these bars)

  4. sorry to bother you again…how many grams is the 1.5 cups of graham cracker crumbs?

  5. These look so good! I have yet to make Nanaimo Bars. I had never heard of them until just a few months ago. They look irresistible! What is bird’s custard powder?

    • dessertswithbenefits

      Bird’s is just a brand, I have found it at many grocery stores, including Whole Foods. It is mostly just starch. Custard powder is commonly used in Nanaimo Bars, however I didn’t really taste it at all! If you don’t want to buy it I would just use more protein powder 🙂
      If you make these I hope you LOOOOVE them!

  6. HI,
    I come from holland and i’ve visited Canada three times already. One thing I really love is the canadian Nanaimo bar. I’ve made it ones by myself, delicious, but with a lot of sugar 🙁
    I’ll thank you so much, for sharing this recipe!
    I hope I can make this soon..

    Bye and lots of love from Holland.

    • Wow, you visited Canada three times?! Lucky! And did you get to try poutine and all the Canadian maple syrup you can handle? 😉 Because that’s exactly what I do when I get to go back to my hometown 🙂
      I hope you like the recipe. I mean, it’s delicious! Who needs all that sugar? 😉

  7. Hi Jess,

    Yes 🙂 A part of my family lives there. So, it’s my holiday adress 😛

    No, I don’t know Poutine.. Whats that?

    I think and I will make it this afternoon, but I don’t have actually time for it, but how cares :p


    • OH MY GOODNESS! Poutine is amazing (yet unhealthy, sadly). It’s french fries topped with gravy and cheese. But it’s a dish that you share on special occasions 🙂
      Also, butter extract is like vanilla extract, only with butter flavor instead of vanilla! It isn’t made from real butter, so it’s dairy-free. But don’t mistake it for imitation butter extract, which is artificial. The brand I use is linked in the recipe, and it’s all-natural, sugar-free, gluten-free and vegan.
      As for the brown rice protein powder, I’m afraid there isn’t really a good substitute for it. It absorbs a lot of liquid and firms up the mixture. Whey, casein and egg protein powders don’t work for some reason, they turn really gooey and liquidy and sticky 🙁
      Although, you can try using organic soy protein powder, pea protein powder or hemp protein powder.
      You can replace the custard powder with an all-natural vanilla pudding mix. I’m not sure what spelt custard powder is, so I’m not sure if it will work here.
      Hopefully I answered all your questions, and I hope the substitutions work out for you if you make the recipe!! 🙂

  8. And what is Butter extract? Do you know what I can use for it. (things in Holand, I don’t think we have this in Holland to)

    What can I use insteed of: •126g (6 scoops) Vanilla Brown Rice Protein Powder (I used SunWarrior)
    •24g (3 tbs) Bird’s Custard Powder (more protein powder might replace this if you don’t have it)
    I’ve spelt custard powder, can I use that one?

    Thanks for helping me!

  9. I do not like custard but I might just make these with pb and protein. Yum!

  10. Ok made these last night- really good but I think I’ll use them more as a packable dont-eat-the-skittles at work snack rather than a post dinner dessert. I am going to try it again and use more stevia in the chocolate topping (I had 100%cacao and didn’t think about that until after it was in the fridge) as well as use a whey protein powder and a different nut butter. (I had coarse almond butter and plant protein powder. The almond flavor overpowered all others the first bite and then mellowed out to the rest) I personally love mint and added some to the topping and loved it. I also added additional vanilla extract to the filling because the powder didn’t provide all the flavor I wanted.5 stars

    • Yay I’m glad you got a chance to make the recipe!
      Yeah, 100% cacao chocolate is extremely bitter… I remember trying a little bite one time and totally cringing lol. A little more stevia should help 🙂
      Good idea with the extra vanilla and mint! I never would’ve thought to add mint to this! Thanks for letting me know how the recipe turned out 😀

  11. wow! those look unbielivebly good!

  12. You can never have enough chocolate, even atop Nanaimo bars.
    Everyone’s trying to make it healthy, which is cool but some things you should just never change, lol.
    You’re not eating it every day so indulge once in a while. :}

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

Recipe Rating