April 15, 2014

Losses in her life led her to create superfood energy bars

It’s difficult to keep Isabel Gallego down.

It’s difficult to keep Isabel Gallego down.

When she was 8 years old and her mother passed away, Gallego vowed to become a doctor to save lives. Years later, when her two dogs were diagnosed with a heart disease, she dropped out of college and waited tables to pay for their treatment.

After they died, she went in her kitchen and whipped up a recipe for a raw energy bar now sold at fitness centers, doctors’ offices and Smoothie King stores.

“My mother’s death taught me the most beautiful lesson, how precious life is,” Gallego said. “Everything that has happened in my life has prepared me for this.”

“This” was the launching of her raw energy bars, labeled U RAWk, in 2012. Working out of a warehouse in Allapattah that she shares with four small business owners, she brings her recipe to life daily. (She has been certified by the Department of Agriculture and the Department of Environmental Resources Management.)

She pops open large air-tight canisters filled with raw superfoods — including Pink Himalayan Sea Salt, organic Blue Weber Agave Nectar, Brazilian nuts, raisins, almonds, pumpkin seeds, coconut, cacao and maca powder made from a root native to the Peruvian Andes.

Gallego and her two assistants chop and grind up everything in industrial mixers. The sticky sweet mass is then rolled out, cut and molded into squares and hand packaged. No chemicals, additives or preservatives are added. They make about 1,100 bars per week.

“Everything I use has a purpose,” said Gallego, a Cross Fit enthusiast.

Gallego’s energy bars, original and cacao versions, are part of a small but growing market of energy bars that require refrigeration. With a shelf life of six months refrigerated and a year frozen, the bars retail for $4 and are sold at Smoothie King stores in nine states, local gyms, juice bars and farmers markets and through her website,

Because the 250-calorie bars are not cooked or processed, they contain living enzymes, which Gallego said help stabilize pH levels in the body, which determine the body’s acidity. She plans to release a new flavor, Macadamia Coconut Lime, this summer.

Dr. Mickey Cohen, a chiropractor in Plantation and Miami Lakes, is among her loyal customers. He orders a hundred bars a month and eats one a day himself.

“When you search for an energy or protein bar and you look at the labels, it’s filled with preservatives. Her bars don’t have artificial stuff,” Cohen said.

Gallego, 39, never made it to medical school. Born in Colombia, the oldest of six siblings, she was raised in New York and Miami. She graduated from Sunset High, earned an associate’s degree at Miami Dade College and attended Florida International University, where she majored in biology and chemistry. In 2009, a semester away from graduating, her 9-year-old boxers got sick and she left school to work and pay for their medications. The vet gave them six months to live.

By then Gallego had adopted a raw food diet, consisting of organic, uncooked and unprocessed foods. Desperate to save her dogs, she researched their illness and found a company that made raw food patties for dogs. She believes they lived another year because of the change in diet.

“In a matter of months, I lost everything I loved, so I threw myself into my kitchen to make something,” she said.

Almost instantly, the original recipe for her energy bars was born. She thinks back on that day as a surreal, spiritual moment, a sign from above to do something for the good of others.

Cohen said one of his patients who complained of abdominal pain and constipation claims his symptoms subsided after he began eating a U RAWk bar daily.

Gallego says she’s had offers from investors to mass produce her bars if she’s willing to put preservatives in them to extend their shelf life. She turns them down.

“I want to stay true to the ingredients. The money is not what motivates me,” she said. “If I can shed that light down the path for someone else, that’s what matters. This is my medicine to the world, this is what I bring.”

When she’s not in her work kitchen, Gallego sponsors 17 Cross Fit athletes at competitions and donates time and money to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA), Big Hearts for Big Dogs and Habitat for Humanity.

“I want to do philanthropy with animals,” she said. “I do want to leave this world a better place however I can.

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