Healthier Holiday Baking
Amongst the mounds of appetizers, cheese balls and wine circulating at holiday parties, is the ever-presence of the irreplaceable dessert table. What would a holiday be without the Christmas cookies? Thanksgiving dinner without the pumpkin pie? How about the figgy pudding? (Ok, I still have no idea what that is. Let's stick to the cookies and pie. The cookies and pie!!). It simply would not be the same if you showed up to an event around the holidays and there were no sweet treats to indulge in. We all love treats. At least, I know I do- and most of my clients do, as well. At least 80% of my clients claim sweets to be their 'dietary nemesis'. But the interesting thing about treats, is that it is SO easy to make them just a little healthier, and have no one realize they're the healthier version of their holiday favorites. It's all about making the right adjustments. So today I wanted to share my top tips for healthier holiday baking, so you can start fooling your friends and family with healthier holiday treats, today. As a side note, as a nutritionist- I need to say this: these are still treats. They are much, much healthier than their sugary, white flour counterparts but remember it's still dessert! Making it healthier doesn't give you license to go hog wild on the cookie tray, but maybe you can go for a second without feeling like you've lost all control. Happy Baking!
5 Tips for Healthier Holiday Baking: 1. Switch to healthier oils.
This might just be the easiest swaps you can make. Switching from inflammatory vegetable oil and trans-fat filled crisco to more natural options is seamless, as most oils work 1:1 in recipes. A few simple swaps for using healthier oils: Instead of vegetable oil: use avocado oil or melted coconut oil Instead of melted butter: use melted coconut oil (but I have nothing against butter if you don't have an intolerance-- just make it grass-fed!)
Instead of crisco (or other shortening): organic palm oil shortening or softened grass-fed butter
Instead of butter: greek yogurt makes an awesome swap in baked goods such as cakes and muffins (1/2 cup for 1 cup of butter). If you're looking for a dairy-free alternative, pureed avocado works well.
2. Change the flour. This one is undeniably the most difficult, but in my opinion, the most health-promoting. White flour is not only nutrient-void, but it raises our blood sugar, causing an undesirable hormonal cascade, increasing cravings and causing more hunger (much like sugar). Swapping out white flour and choosing a more nutrient-dense option like almond flour or coconut flour not only lowers the glycemic index of your sweet treat (stabilizing blood sugar) but is health promoting, too (they're also gluten-free, which is a problem for many-- so that's an added bonus!). Now, take note-- there is no 1:1 swap with almond flour and coconut flour, so when you start to experiment, it's important to use a recipe designed for such a flour and learn as you go. A few tips for baking with almond and coconut flour: Almond flour: Almond flour is finely ground BLANCHED almonds; if there are brown flecks, it's almond meal and will not deliver the same results. It is moist and delicate, so it's important to keep that in mind when baking. -Bake almond flour treats 25 degrees LESS than you would regular or coconut flour -Flour ratio varies recipe to recipe; but in most cases, 1 cups of white flour = 1- 1 1/4 cups of almond flour.
-Almond flour requires more binding agents to stay together; so you'll need an extra egg or flax/chia eggs here.
-Almond flour tends to stick, so using glass or silicone for baking works best. Always use parchment paper or a silpat mat when making cookies.
-Make sure to cool almond flour products completely to avoid crumbling.
Coconut flour: Coconut flour is dehydrated and finely ground coconut meat. It is high in fiber, and not much else, so it produces a very flour-like product, when mixed with the right proportion of ingredients.
-Bake coconut flour at the same temperature as white flour.
-Because of the fiber density, ratio is generally 1 cup of white flour = 1/4-1/3 cup coconut flour
-Coconut flour needs a LOT of liquid and leavening agents, especially. In general, this means about 6 eggs per 1 cup of coconut flour, and 1 cup of liquid per 1 cup of coconut flour (yes, both).
-Like almond flour, be mindful of the nonstick nature of the baking vessel, and remember to cool completely.
Using them together: almond flour and coconut flour together make a wonderful grain-free baking blend. Try using them in a 3:1 ratio of almond to coconut flour.
Other alternative flour notes: Cassava flour is a new one on the scene, and though I don't have much experience with it, it can be a wonderful swap for white flour. Tapioca starch and arrowroot starch work well in lightening up baked goods that are made with almond flour and coconut flour, especially, as it can be quite dense alone.
3. Swap the sugar.
I won't get on my sugar soapbox here, but I will say that the amount of sugar we consume is directly related to the amount of weight we gain and fatigue we feel around the holidays. No question. So why not do what we can to reduce the sugar we consume-- or at the very least, choose healthier sweetener options.
A few simple swaps for switching out sugar: Honey and maple syrup are always my go-to sweetener options. Though they are still high in natural sugars, our body responds to them better than white sugar due to the mineral content, and even better-- they can be found locally for many of us. Try using 1/2- 2/3 cup of maple syrup or honey for 1 cup of white sugar (reduce liquids in recipe by 1/4 cup). Coconut sugar is one of my favorite sweetener options because it is not only low-glyemic, but you can use it 1:1 with sugar. It has a more molasses-y brown sugar like taste, so be mindful of that. Xylitol and stevia baking blends: If you absolutely need a low-carb/sugar option, xylitol and stevia baking blends are a good swap, though be mindful of the amount you are using them- as they are more processed (stevia in it's simplest form is natural, however baking blends are more processed). Xylitol can be used in a 1:1 ratio with sugar and stevia baking blends require following the package directions (as this can vary per brand).
Avoid artificial sweeteners like splenda, and fructose-heavy agave nectar.
4. Utilize fruits and veggies for flavor and texture.
One of my favorite ways to add nutrients, texture and flavor to recipes is to add fruits and veggies in place of common ingredients. Applesauce: can be used in place of oil or butter, 1:1 Pureed avocado: can be used in place of oil or butter, 1:1 Pureed sweet potato or pumpkin: can be used in place of oil or butter in a 3/4:1 ratio Pureed black or white beans: can be swapped for 1/2 of flour called for in recipe.
Nut butter: can be swapped for 1/2 of flour called for in recipe (may need to reduce liquid depending on viscosity of nut butter).
5. Add in an extra nutrient boost.
You can always opt to make baked goods healthier by adding in an extra nutrient boost! Some fun options include: raw cacao instead of cocoa powder, fresh ground ginger instead of dried, matcha powder for a green tea taste, chai spices, collagen powder or protein powder.
Whew! I know that was a lot, but I hope it goes to show there are SO many ways to make that holiday baking healthier! Enjoy!
What are your tips for healthier holiday baking? Share with us below!
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