9 unbelievable ways to make baked goods healthier
Your 2014 New Year’s resolution to eat healthier doesn’t have to involve giving up sweets. Enjoy nutritious yet decadent desserts with these healthy tips
Replace regular sugar with coconut sugar
Desserts’ number one diet enemy is no doubt sugar. For a sweet and healthy alternative, replace regular sugar with its coconut cousin. “Coconut sugar is less refined, and comes with some minerals and is lower on the glycemic index than regular sugar,” says Lauren Breuer, a Toronto-based chief dessert designer at Shockingly Healthy Inc. (producer of Shockingly Healthy Brownies and Blondies). Coconut sugar can also be ground up in a coffee grinder or high-speed blender to replace regular icing sugar.
Use spelt flour instead of white
Another easy and healthy substitution is replacing white flour with spelt flour. “Spelt is from the wheat family, but it has a better nutritional profile,” says Breuer. Spelt boasts more protein and fibre plus “the grain itself hasn’t been altered the way wheat has.” This ancient grain is a strong source of manganese, which helps your body absorb other nutrients, and is a friendly alternative to wheat products for those with sensitivities.
Antioxidant rich and a great source of fibre, flaxseeds are touted for their powerful benefits, such as reducing the risk of cancer, heart disease, stroke and diabetes. Just one tablespoon of the ground variety-which is more digestible-boasts 1.8 g of omega-3 essential fatty acids. Flaxseeds are particularly amenable to baking as mixing them with water makes them an excellent binding agent that can be used instead of eggs for vegan recipes.
Sneak in nutrient-rich spinach
Wouldn’t it be great if baked goods were delicious and nutritious? Breuer insists they can be: “I like hiding veggies in desserts-and this can go beyond a zucchini bread or cake.” Take, for instance, spinach, which is famous for its anti-inflammatory properties, disease-fighting antioxidants and vitamin K, essential to bone health. Even more good news: “Spinach is surprisingly neutral” according to Breuer, so you should be able to add it to your recipe without drastically changing the taste.
Breuer recommends pureed spinach: Simply combine spinach with a recipe’s wet ingredients in a blender and they’ll mix together nicely.
Detoxify with spirulina powder
Another veggie Breuer enjoys adding to recipes is spirulina, a nutrient-dense detoxifier. This blue-green algae is rich in B vitamins, minerals, carotenoids, disease-fighting antioxidants and protein. Note that it might change the colour of your baked goods, but will also provide a host of nutrients.
When experimenting with veggies, Breuer says, “Use your imagination, and as long as the ingredient doesn’t have too powerful a flavour, you can probably hide it.”
Incorporate health-promoting spices
Spices are a superfood that’s bursting with flavour and health benefits. Breuer says, “Cinnamon regulates your blood sugar, for example, so amping up the cinnamon in any dessert will help mediate that sugar.” Not to mention cinnamon lends itself well to many chocolate- or apple-based desserts.
Breuer also bakes with cayenne, which improves blood circulation and adds an extra kick to any dish.
Add extra oomph with seaweed-derived salt
While not the most obvious baking ingredient, salt is sometimes used to bring flavour from bland to grand. Breuer recommends replacing regular salt with a seaweed-derived variety-it’s a stronger source of iodine, which is good for your thyroid.
Bake with recipes that use dates as a sweetener
“Dates are my number one pick as a recipe sweetener,” says Breuer. Not only are dates sweet and easy to make into a paste, but they’re also rich in fibre, antioxidants and potassium.
“I think that refined sugar is the most empty of empty calories,” Breuer says. “Refined sugar also spikes your blood sugar, feeds cancer cells, and makes you crave more. It’s not pretty! I always try to get sweetness from a food or sweetener that has some other benefit or nutritional quality.”
To sample the sweetness of dates, try Breuer’s recipe for The Most Sneaky Mint Chocolate Cupcakes.
Try recipes that incorporate legumes
A nutritious alternative to grains, chickpeas and black beans give recipes extra fibre and protein. Breuer says many desserts are made up almost entirely of carbohydrates and lack vital macronutrients and micronutrients, which “gives you more of that roller coaster effect of eating something sweet, and then craving more and more. Having protein and fibre included in a dessert will help you feel more satisfied, and will provide a source of these essential nutrients.”
Find out just how well beans and baking go together: indulge with this healthy recipe that includes black beans (feel free to replace them with chickpeas).