By: Kelley Herring
If you follow the healthy, low glycemic diet our ancestors enjoyed, cookies, cakes and breads just aren’t on the menu.
But that all changes today…
Thanks to a new breed of all-natural sweeteners and flour alternatives, you can whip up delicious treats that pack serious nutrition too.
In today’s article you will discover:
- How to develop structure in your baked goods so they come out of the oven fluffy, tender and moist – without the use of gluten (or any grains at all).
- How to achieve all the sweetness you desire using all-natural sugar substitutes that won’t spike your blood sugar or sour your health.
- Which healthy fats you can rely on to create buttery-richness in your baked goods.
Healthy Flours: Grain Free Goodness
The first step in making healthier baked goods is to take a close look at the flour you use. Many bakers now choose whole grain flours over refined white flours. However, whole grain flours are still very high in carbohydrates and score high on the glycemic index.
And when it comes to your health, that’s a really bad thing. High glycemic foods cause your blood sugar to spike, raising insulin levels. Your blood sugar is directly linked to nearly every chronic disease including diabetes, cancer, heart disease, metabolic syndrome, obesity, macular degeneration, PCOS and many more.
And because insulin is the “fat-storage hormone”, eating high glycemic foods promotes weight gain too.
So, if you want to avoid that “muffin top” then stay away from grain based flours.
And here’s another reason to avoid traditional flours: Most are made from wheat and contain gluten – an allergenic protein that causes health issues for many people.
But what about gluten-free flours and baking mixes?
Unfortunately, most gluten free flours use a combination of high glycemic ingredients like rice flour, potato starch, tapioca flour and sorghum flour. So while the gluten is missing, all the blood sugar-spiking effects are still there.
The good news is that there are healthy, low glycemic, gluten free options you can use: Nut flours!
Nut flours are surprisingly versatile and lend buttery richness to all kinds of baked goods – from biscotti to cupcakes. And unlike grain-based flours, they are gluten free and low carb too. Here are the best nut flours to use in your baking:
- Almond Flour: This staple flour can be used to create everything from fluffy pancakes to crispy cookies. Opt for “blanched” almond flour which contains no skins. Unblanched almonds can add an unpleasant aftertaste when baked.
- Coconut Flour: Coconut flour might look light and fluffy, but it is actually a dense, fiber-rich flour. So take note: a little goes a long way. A good rule of thumb is to use one egg for each tablespoon of coconut flour in your recipes. Also, most recipes that call for coconut flour specify “sifted coconut flour”. One half cup coconut flour does not equal one half cup sifted coconut flour. If you don’t sift and then measure, your baked goods can end up dry and dense.
- Hazelnut and Pecan Flour: These are richer nut flours that can be used in combination with almond flour to punch up the nutty flavor. They are great in pie crusts and cookies of all kinds.
Store nut flours in airtight containers away from light and heat. Preferably, they should be refrigerated. If you buy in bulk, freeze in airtight bags.
Now that we’ve explored the healthy “flour” options, it’s time to tackle the one ingredient with which we all have a love–hate relationship: Sugar.
Low Glycemic Sweeteners: All of the Sweetness, None of the Guilt
Few of us have the willpower to resist a freshly-baked, meltingly delicious, chocolate chip cookie. The smell wafting out of the kitchen and the sight of their gooey goodness is just too enticing to pass up.
Unfortunately, most of us go through life indulging, only to suffer from post-dessert guilt and sugar-induced sluggishness. Or we deprive ourselves for the sake of our health and waistline.
But thanks to all natural, low glycemic sweeteners, desserts are back on the menu for the health-and-body conscious crowd – guilt free!
Unlike the chemical-laden, artificial sweeteners (like sucralose, aspartame, neotame, and ace-K), these new natural sweeteners provide a powerful punch of sweetness, without the toxic side effects.
And because they are low glycemic, they won’t spike your blood sugar the way sugar does.
Here’s the rundown on nature’s sweetest sugar substitutes that won’t sour your health:
- Erythritol: Considered the “almost sugar” by health experts and pastry chefs alike. Erythritol is a “sugar alcohol” with a glycemic index of zero and zero calories. It has no effect on blood sugar or insulin levels and is safe for diabetics. It can be used cup for cup in recipes just like sugar, and provides about 70% of the sweetness. You can help erythritol dissolve in recipes by grinding it in a blender or Magic Bullet. The powdered version also doubles as “powdered sugar”. Erythritol is derived from corn and should be avoided by those with a corn allergy.
- Stevia: A super-sweet herb native to Paraguay that is up to 300X sweeter than sugar. Stevia is best used to increase the sweetness of a sugar alcohol, like erythritol, rather than the sole sweetener in a recipe. Pure stevia extract can be used sparingly – ¼ to ¾ tsp is the common range for most recipes.
- Xylitol: Like erythritol, xylitol is also a sugar alcohol. It has the same sweetness as sugar but with 40% fewer calories and a glycemic index of 11. Xylitol tends to have “cooling” or “minty” effect, which can be reduced by combining it with erythritol. Most xylitol is derived from corn, but some varieties are derived from birch, which are suitable for those with corn allergies. Xylitol has a number of health benefits ranging from reducing cavities and Candida, to boosting bone health.
- Luo Han Guo: Consider this the Asian cousin of stevia. A member of the pumpkin family, the extract of this gourd is also about 300 times sweeter than sugar and rich in antioxidants. Luo Han Guo (or just lo han) has been used medicinally in China for centuries for treating cough and sore throat. Like stevia, use sparingly in baked goods.
- Palm Sugar: Made from the evaporated sap of the coconut flower, palm sugar (also called coconut sugar) tastes very similar to brown sugar. But unlike sugar’s score of 65 on the glycemic index, coconut sugar ranks 35. A word of caution – while lower on the glycemic index, palm sugar still has 60 calories and 16 grams of sugar per tablespoon. So this should only be used sparingly to add a rounded, rich, brown-sugar taste to baked goods primarily sweetened with the above zero calorie options.
Healthy Fats for Baking: Get Slim By Eating Fat!
Now that we’ve got the sweetness and the structure aspects of baking covered, it’s time to tackle the fats.
Fats provide moisture and tender texture to baked goods. They give rich mouth feel to soufflés, the silky finesse to mousse and golden, flaky goodness to pie crust. But what they do in your body is even more important than what they do in the kitchen.
The fats you eat influence inflammation and metabolism. They affect how cells communicate with each other. They affect how your genes express themselves! And when they are used at the wrong temperatures (above their flashpoint) they can cause oxidative damage that can mutate cells and encourage cancer.
But using the right fats, in their appropriate temperature range, is one of the best things you can do for your health. Healthy fats can help reduce inflammation, boost brainpower, discourage wrinkles and even flip your body’s fat-storage switch “off”.
Stock your pantry with these heat stable, REAL fats for delicious baked goods with benefits:
- Grass-Fed Butter: When it comes to baking, it’s hard to beat real, grass-fed butter. With its creamy flavor, high vitamin A content and versatility, butter can be used in almost any baked good. Be sure to choose pastured/grass-fed butter that contains no hormones and the healthy fat CLA.
- Coconut Oil: Coconut oil provides rich, buttery flavor to your favorite baked goods. Coconut oil is slow to oxidize and resistant to rancidity. It’s also rich in medium chain triglycerides (MCTs) and lauric acid which kill a myriad of bacteria, protozoa and fungus, including Candida albicans – the fungus responsible for yeast infections. Because MCTs are not metabolized by the liver, they’re used as energy – not stored as fat.
- Palm Shortening: Another great alternative to traditional shortenings (that contain trans fat) or butter (if you are intolerant to dairy) is palm shortening. This can help you achieve light, tender, flakiness you desire in crusts and cookies. Like coconut oil, it is resistant to rancidity thanks to its high saturated fat content.
- Macadamia Nut Oil & Almond Oil: These light and delicious oils can be used in any recipe that calls for liquid oil (ie- melted butter, canola oil). Plus, they’re rich in inflammation-fighting and belly-flattening monounsaturated fat.
The fats to avoid in your baking include hydrogenated oils/trans fats (like Crisco) as well as fats that are high in omega-6 including: vegetable oil, corn oil, canola oil, peanut oil, grapeseed oil, and soybean oil.
Healthy baking, like any art form, takes practice and a little bit of patience. Be prepared to have a few flops at first. But once you get the hang of using these healthy, all-natural ingredients, you’ll delight over how easy it can be to make healthy and delicious, grain-free goodies.
Ed Note: Kelley Herring is the Founder and Editor of Healing Gourmet – the leading provider of organic, sustainable recipes and meal plans for health. She is also the author of Guilt-Free Desserts, the world’s leading resource for making healthy, delicious, low glycemic desserts. Click here to learn more and find out how you can get Kelley’s book, Better Breads – Absolutely Free!
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