Thursday, December 23, 2010

"Guilt-free" Holiday Baking

Ladies and gentlemen everywhere are feeling drawn to their kitchens during this time of year.  When the winter turns colder we start creating a variety of baked treats and other sweets ranging from peppermint bark to secret family cookie recipes and everything in between.  I love to get my hands and the kitchen dirty spending all day cooking!   Here are a few tips to make your holiday goodies more nutritious and health promoting without sacrificing all the flavor!  

1.  Substitute 100% whole grain, whole wheat, oat, almond or other whole grain floursfor white processed flour.  White processed flour is highly refined and broken down.  When we eat white flour it turns very quickly into sugar and in turn raises our blood sugar levels.  White flour raises your blood sugar levels faster.  By substituting whole grain flours which have less processing and lower glycemic indexes we are raising the blood sugar less and gradually.  The body like most things works best when there is regularity and the avoidance of constant  dramatic changes.

2.  Whole grain flours are also more nutritious overall - the secret is to balance the ratio of whole grain flour to the white flour you are working with.  When working with whole wheat flour you can typically use an equal portion of the whole wheat and white flour.  Other whole grain flours vary in terms of the ratios in which they should be used and can be utilized for people with an intolerance to gluten.

3.  Reduce the fat content of your baked goods by substituting fruit purees such as unsweetened applesauce.  For chocolate baked goods substitute prune, blueberry, pomegranate, or other flavored applesauce and baby food to enhance the richness.  You can omit half or all of the fat.  I recommend personally only omitting half of the fat in order to keep a nutritional balance.  Believe it or not fat is an essential nutrient to our diet - it's all about choosing the right ones! You can also substitute eggs with fruit puree!  

4.  Reduce the sugar.  Quite simply...add less of any of the sugars!  I like to play around with my recipe by beginning to omit 1/4 cup of sugar at a time and taste testing to see if it was even missed!  In reality a sugar is a sugar whether its honey, cane sugar, agave syrup, brown sugar, maple syrup, or white refined sugar so no matter what kind you use it's good to reduce it.  Be careful substituting artificial sugars because some of them are not meant to be heated and the research on these products are often times new/questionable.  

5.  Use dark chocolate over any other type of chocolate to boost your antioxidant load!  Dark chocolate is higher in antioxidants and may have less sugar.  Some research even suggests that consuming moderate amounts of dark chocolate promotes heart health!  

6.  Go nuts!  Add nuts which contain healthy fats and protein that will help reduce the rate at which the body absorbs the sugar from your holiday goodies!  It's better to raise blood sugar gradually over time so this and adding nuts to your baked treats is an easy way to encourage that!  Use almonds or walnuts preferably as they are some of the most nutritious nuts!  

7.  Sneak is some secret power ingredients like flax seeds, pureed lentils, or real oats! 

8.  Follow the recipe according to directions unless you are adding more of healthy ingredients or less of the unhealthy ones :-)   Use measuring cups and spoons!  

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