December is a wonderful month for returning to the traditions of the kitchen; to revelling in it so much that many of us feel touches of nostalgia and warmth as we gift our great-grandmother’s favourite date square, or as we whip up from memory our favourite shortbread cookie from childhood.
December is also a wonderful month for packing on unwanted pounds, as we overindulge in the fruits of our labours, and as we participate in and sample the traditions of others. There’s no reason why an old recipe can’t be brought into the year 2014 with a few healthier-for-you substitutions. If you are giving up the grain and going gluten-free, try substituting a gluten-free flour blend with white flour in a recipe (you may need to add xanthan gum to retain the integrity of the baked good). And read below as we take a closer look at what’s in every baked treat: sugar.
Which Sugar Should I Choose for Healthier Baking?
White sugar is highly refined. Brown sugar is also a refined product, but with the molasses added back in, which is what gives it the rich brown colour. Many people assume that brown sugar is better for you than white sugar; in fact they have a very similar nutritional profile: white sugar is 99.9% sucrose and brown sugar is 97% sucrose. The beneficial nutrients that are in molasses, and therefore present in brown but not white sugar (where the molasses is removed) are in such a small quantity they offer nothing to the body. In fact, there are no essential nutrients in sugar, making it a high-caloric substance that offers zero benefit to the body. This is of course not to mention why sugar is BAD for you – with such a high level of fructose, sugar is hard for the liver to process; sugar contributes to obesity, has been suggested as a substance that contributes to cancer, is shown to have effects on the brain similar to drugs like cocaine and can raise insulin levels in the blood.
For your sweet holiday treats, try substituting coconut palm sugar for refined white sugar. At least coconut palm sugar has retained some nutrients, and is shown to be lower on the glycemic index than table sugar. It is, however, still high in fructose – as are honey and agave nectar, two popular liquid sweeteners. Honey, at least, offers other nutritional benefits, including the possibility that it can act as an anti-diabetic substance.
Another option is to try sweetening desserts with date paste – blend medjool dates in a food processor with a little water. Turn it into a paste that can be added as a liquid sweetener to baked goods like cookies. In fact, date paste and ginger are a match made in heaven!
You may also want to reach for the natural sweetness of applesauce (high in fructose but closer to nature – make your own to ensure quality and no additives) or banana puree. These can be used in brownies, cakes or loaves.
And whatever you do, stay away from artificial sweeteners! There is mounting evidence that these substances are not only “not good” for you, but harmful to your body.
As with all things, practice moderation. It’s ok to have a few pieces of dessert here and there, but balance that intake with plenty of water, and lots of water-filled, good-for-you veggies.