Tis the season for Christmas baking! With gingerbread houses, shortbread cookies, peppermint bark, fruit cake and more Christmas is abound with delicious and not so nutritious treats. If you or the people that you’re baking for are feeling health conscious this season here’s what you need to know if you’re considering trying to make some healthy recipes.
Be wary of the Google
Be careful when you are searching for healthy recipes. While some recipes declare themselves healthy because they’re gluten free, Paleo, Keto, vegan, low carb, clean, organic, no sugar or some other hashtaggable food trend, it really doesn’t make them any better for the general population. What you should look for is a reduction in calories and sweetener and maybe some additional fiber. If you don’t have the nutritional info for a recipe and are curious to see how recipes stack up nutritionally just paste the ingredients in here.
Sugar and Spice and Everything Nice
While the reduction in calories is pretty self explanatory and easy to look at, looking at sweeteners is a little more difficult. Many “healthy” recipes have started using maple syrup, honey or agave syrup as a sweetener instead of sugar in the guise of health. While some of these may deliver a few more nutrients than sugar, they all contain sugar in various forms and have the same detrimental affect on your body. Using apple sauce or fruit juice as a sweetener are better options but are also a lot less sweet than the above. Artificial sweeteners can be a good way of reducing sugar and are commonly used for people with diabetes. They also aren’t perfect healthwise though as some studies have linked artificial sweeteners to weight gain. When cooking with artificial sweeteners they can have an aftertaste and will require some recipe alteration if you are substituting it in place of a traditional sweetener.
One of the best things to do to curb your sugar intake is to simply reduce the amount of sweetener that you are using. Generally it’s hard to tell if there’s less than a 25% reduction, and in my experience many people actually find many recipes more enjoyable with a 25% reduction in sweetener. Compensating for the reduction in sugar is also easy, you can just add in a bit more flour. Reducing the sweetness is also a good opportunity to make other flavors stronger if you feel like it by adding in more fruit in a fruit cake, some more ginger or nutmeg in gingerbread or some more lemon in lemon bars.
Is chocolate a golden ticket?
If you’re a chocolate lover you’ve probably heard the news that dark chocolate is good for you. While this may be a bit far fetched, especially in large quantities, if you like dark chocolate, you’re better off using it instead of milk or white chocolate. While there’s not much difference calorically, dark chocolate has less sugar and more fibre, iron and magnesium than milk chocolate does. Dark chocolate also has antioxidants called flavanols which have been shown to improve blood flow. Cacao which are the cocoa seeds before they get turned into chocolate also has these same benefits. With a more intense and slightly bitter taste than dark chocolate, using cacoa nibs can provide a distinct flavor change from the usual sweetness.
A fine dusting of flour
While sugar may be sweet flour is the main ingredient in baking. If you are not baking for a celiac, avoid gluten free flour. It has no nutritional advantages compared to regular flour and has less protein. When it comes to whole wheat vs regular flour, as you probably already know whole wheat is the better choice due to it’s higher fibre content and lower glycemic index ranking. While it does change up the texture, switching up 25% of regular flour for whole wheat wouldn’t impact a recipe too much. One of the bonuses of using whole wheat flour is that it’s hard to overmix so if you’re baking with kids, or don’t bake much yourself it can make recipes a little more foolproof.
Is fat in or out?
While fat was once vilified, it’s now being worshipped. Butter, one of the key ingredients in baking has gone from being something to be avoided to something that you should add to all of your food. Here’s the quick lowdown on fat from the current research. For many years it was thought that saturated fat, which butter mainly is played a large role in increasing cholesterol and contributing to heart disease. While recent research has suggested that saturated fat plays a lot smaller role in increasing cholesterol than was previously thought, it is still one of the more unhealthy fats that people should try to limit their intake of. Monounsaturated fats are considered the healthiest fats with olive oil, canola oil and avocados falling into this category. Avocados can easily be substituted in for butter in cakes, brownies, and muffins using half the amount of avocado in place of butter. It reduces the number of calories and also adds more protein and fiber. Avocado can also be used for icing and with it’s green color it makes it perfect for Christmas time.
Another good way to reduce the amount of butter used is to cut down on the amount of shortcrust/pie crust which generally is made with 1/3 butter. The easiest way to do this is to skip the top crust, saving you time and helping to highlight the filling flavor. Switching to phylo pastry is another option saving you calories and fat and is a good time saver for anyone that doesn’t want to struggle making a pie crust or buys the pie crust from the store already. Using a low fat cream cheese is also an option if you are using cream cheese icing.
This is ruining my favorite recipe
Some things just aren’t meant to be changed. If you have that one favorite recipe that’s been passed down for generations and has a delectable and distinct taste that reminds you of years past, it may not be worth tinkering or finding alternatives to. While altering a recipe can make it more healthy, remember that swapping out some ingredients aren’t going to transform some cookies and cake into celery. Some treats are just meant to taste deliciously good and be enjoyed occasionally, like during Christmastime.