It just isn’t fall without apple pie, warm apple cider donuts and pumpkin bread. Let’s face it, the cooler whether puts us in the mood for good, old-fashioned comfort food. While it may be tempting to grab some off the bakery shelf in the grocery store, it’s more nourishing for the body and the soul to bake them in your own kitchen. Plus, you can add an extra nutrition boost that you won't find in that Entemann's box (although there's a place for that too!). There are many creative ways to shape up your recipes. Following are some tips for common ingredients.
Sugar is getting a lot of bad press these days. And while I agree, it is something we need to eat in moderation, it's not quite the villain it's made out to be. That sweet taste provides us with one of life's greatest pleasures. However, if you have a health condition like diabetes that precludes you from eating sugar or you find your body feels better with less, here are some great ways to ease up on it in recipes without sacrificing flavor.
: It’s debatable whether this is actually a “better” alternative. While it has a lower glycemic index and you can use less of it for the same sweetness, it does contain a high concentration of fructose. A recent brain study
showed fructose increases appetite more than glucose. However there is no evidence that fructose is worse than sucrose found in sugar -- basically, we should try to limit both. That being said, if you want to shave off some of the calories from sugar with the same amount of sweetness, use this conversion: for every 1 cup of sugar in a recipe, use 2/3 cup of agave nectar and reduce the liquid by 1/4 to 1/3 cup. You can also use agave crystals if liquid is not desired.
Stevia: Stevia is an extremely sweet, non-caloric herb, native to Paraguay. It has been used for centuries as sweetener and flavor enhancer but only recently in the U.S. Here is a stevia conversion chart.
Note: There is really no difference between sugar, high fructose corn syrup, maple syrup, coconut crystals or even honey (although honey has other immuno-preventative properties) in terms of sucrose & fructose contribution to the diet.
Baking soda: Did you know that most baking soda contains aluminum? Aluminum is a common additive in most processed foods and many personal hygiene products like deodorant. So, it must be safe, right? Yes, in certain amounts but it’s a heavy metal that can accumulate in our bodies over time. Aluminum has been linked to neurological disorders including Alzheimer’s. Make sure to read the label and look for “aluminum-free” varieties. Choosing organic baking soda ensures there is purely bicarbonate of soda, what baking soda is intended to be.
Flour: Many recipes call for All Purpose Flour (APF). For a gluten-free (GF) APF, mix a ratio of 2:1:1 rice flour: tapioca starch: potato starch or look for a premixed version at the grocery store. For extra fiber, consider substituting whole wheat flour but make sure to add an additional 2TBS-1/4c of liquid ingredient. Almond, coconut and bean flours have great nutritional properties like additional protein and can provide nice flavor and texture to baked goods. With the popularity of gluten-free eating and paleo diet, you can find oodles of recipes with these flours on the web. One more tip here; chia flour can add some extra structure or “glue” to gluten-free recipes and also pack in some extra protein and fiber. Try substituting 1/4 of the main flour (i.e. rice in the case of GF) with chia powder for a recipe you’ve already tried and see what you think.
Shortening: Shortening is vegetable oil (soy or corn) that is chemically processed to remain somewhat solid at room temperature. It contains a large amount of trans-fat which we now know is worse than saturated fat for heart health. Companies including Crisco, removed (most) trans-fat from their recipes in 2006 when FDA required it be shown on label and last year, categorized it as an “illegal food additive”. Unsalted butter is a better alternative to shortening. An even healthier option is Spectrum® organic palm oil. Palm oil is one of few vegetable oils that is highly saturated and semi-solid at room temperature and maintains the properties of shortening. You may also consider coconut oil which has revealed a number of health benefits recently. It works wonderfully in frosting recipes too. Just be for-warned, your food will have a slight coconut taste.
Eggs: Choose organic, free range eggs that also have omega-3 fatty acids. Free-range means the chicken was able to roam outside eating grass and getting plenty of exposure to sunlight (hint: vitamin D). The omega-3 comes from the feed, often containing flax meal. Organic eggs do not contain any hormones and receive organic feed. Don’t assume that if an egg is free-range and/or contains omega-3 that it is automatically organic. Read the label carefully.
Milk: Choose 1% or skim milk in recipes. If you want to ensure some of the properties the full fat milk provides, replace the milk equivalent with ½ skim milk and ½ yogurt (see the next section). You may also want to experiment with almond or coconut milk which have fewer calories but contain some unsaturated “healthy” fat as well.
Replace Mayonnaise, Buttermilk or Heavy Cream with Nonfat Yogurt: Mayonnaise, buttermilk and cream offer wonderful properties to baked goods. They offer fat to create the moist texture we love. Buttermilk contains acid which activates baking powder and baking soda. The bad news is they also contain a lot of saturated fat which is linked to heart disease. The good news is you can cut down or eliminate this fat but replacing some or all of the ingredient with yogurt. It’s simple, 1 cup yogurt = 1 cup sour cream, buttermilk, heavy cream or mayo. See Stoneyfield’s website for some great recipes using yogurt .
Check out the blog healthy seasonal recipes for even more great fall recipe ideas and healthy baking tips.
And last, but most certainly not least, here's Eating Well's yummy, healthy version of the all-time fall favorite, apple pie! And if you're a stickler for your mom's version, that's fine too. So am I! Whatever treat you choose, make sure to enjoy it.