Friday, January 22, 2010

Healthier sweets

As you may have guessed, I love to cook. I also love to bake, but I have a husband who is diabetic and a daughter, who, like most young children, would rather eat junk than healthy food. And I admit it, I have a sweet tooth, too!

One of the things I like to do is try to make the sweets I bake as nutritious as possible, without sacrificing taste. Here are a few tips I use:

1) Replace half the fat (oil, butter, margerine) with applesauce or pureed fruit. This not only reduces the fat content, it adds vitamins. Good replacements include banana, apricot, or pear. If you use canned fruit, purchase fruit that is no sugar added or packed in light syrup (NOT heavy syrup), and drain before pureeing.

2) Replace half the eggs with egg white, an egg substitute such as Egg Beaters, or soy milk. Generally, 1/4 cup = 1 egg.

3) Replace half the white flour with a more nutritious grain, such as whole wheat flour or oat flour. I also supplement some extra nutrition and fiber by adding a little wheat germ and/or milled flax seeds.

If you really want to get ambitious, drain a can of small beans (black beans for chocolate dishes, white beans for vanilla or other light-colored sweets). Measure out a little more than one-third the amount of flour the recipe calls for--for example, if the recipe calls for 2 cups, measure out 2/3 cup of beans, plus a few extra tablespoons. Mix with one of the liquids the recipe calls for, and puree till smooth. Use the resulting mixture to replace one-third of the flour. This will really increase the fiber in the dish, and once it's baked, you can't taste the beans.

4) Replace half the sugar with a sugar substitute. If you want a natural option, honey and agave nectar are good choices, and can replace sugar on a 1:1 basis. Please note that honey, while more nutritious than sugar, is still high on the glycemic index (a scale that indicates how much a food raises blood sugar levels), while agave nectar is lower on the glycemic index if blood sugar is a concern. Stevia ia also a natural sugar replacement, but I haven't been able to find the ratio of how much stevia to use if you're replacing sugar.

You can also use artificial sugar substitutes such as Equal or Splenda if you don't mind the baked item being less than 100% natural. If you're using the single-size packets, 6 packets= 1/4 cup. More and more, I have seen half sugar/half sugar substitute options prepackaged in the store (under such names as "Splenda for Baking"), so you can often buy what you need ready to use.

The reason why everything is halved is that reducing the fat/sugar/etc. more than that, in my opinion, begins to sacrifice taste.

Happy baking!

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